Friday, 18 September 2015

Bright folk do community stuff


It would be rational for very bright people to concentrate on their work, and ignore their less able neighbours, beyond minimal courtesy and basic interaction. Not so. Turns out they participate in their communities, and volunteer to take on tasks. Perhaps they are responsible citizens, or on the other hand they may have coldly calculated that their neighbourhood is part of their extended domain, and worth protecting for entirely pragmatic reasons. I would like to think that the former answer is more likely, and certainly accords with the link between high intelligence and generally responsible and socially liberal behaviour. I know I cannot argue that because I do community work that I have high intelligence, but it is a tempting non sequitur.

I have often blogged about this particular research team, and their long term study of very bright kids, so if you search for Lubinski on the blog you will collect the background, which is mostly about their scholastic, occupational and financial achievements, which are all very high.


BEYOND HUMAN CAPITAL: CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AMONG INTELLECTUALLY PRECOCIOUS YOUTH AT MIDLIFE Harrison J. Kell1 , David Lubinski2 , Camilla P. Benbow2 1 Educational Testing Service (ETS), 2 Vanderbilt University.

It is well-established that intelligence is associated with human capital development, including educational attainment, income, and creative production (Kell, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2013; Lubinski & Benbow, 2006). Much less attention has been paid to intelligence’s role in the development of social capital, such as participation in civic life through voting and community involvement. This study fills this gap by examining community engagement in two samples of individuals in the top 1% of cognitive ability. This research simultaneously informs the debate about the deterioration of social capital in the United States, a concern expressed by academic and popular figures of all political viewpoints (Bishop, 2009; Freeland, 2012; Murray, 2013; Putnam, 2001). A cohort of intellectually talented 13-year-olds was identified from 1972 to 1974 as being in the top 1% of mathematical reasoning ability using above-level testing. About four decades later (mean age = 53), data on many aspects of 1,159 (61% male) of their lives were gathered using a comprehensive survey (Lubinski, Benbow, & Kell, 2014).

Participants’ responses to a wide variety of questions about civic engagement (e.g., voting) and community involvement (e.g., organizations volunteered for, hours volunteered per week) were examined as a function of sex and education. A second cohort of 491 gifted 13-year-olds (top .5%), also longitudinally assessed (mean age = 48), served as a replication sample. Results from both samples were compared to normative U.S Census civic engagement data. Among the top 1% over 80% voted in presidential elections; female participation exceeded male (92% vs. 84%). Volunteering was common, with 71% of females and 55% having volunteered during the year prior to completing the survey. Females volunteered slightly more weeks per year than males (12 vs. 11) but males volunteered slightly more hours per week than females (6 vs. 5). For both sexes voting increased slightly with educational attainment but hours volunteered increased greatly; individuals with doctoral degrees volunteered over twice as much as those with bachelor’s degrees. Patterns were consistently replicated in the second cohort (e.g., over 95% participation in presidential elections). Results compared highly favorably with Census data (e.g., 55% voting rate, 25% volunteering rate).

This is the first large-scale study examining intelligence’s role in the development of social capital and participation in civic life since Terman’s (1925-1959). Results reveal that many highly able individuals are actively engaged in their communities. Results show that the influence of cognitive ability is pervasive across life domains and that it is a general psychological resource supporting adaptive functioning across multiple contexts (Gottfredson, 1997, 2004). Through its influence on social capital, a high degree of intelligence not only promotes the well-being of those who possess it but also the well-being of those around them. Studies of the top 1% in ability often focus on academic and economic outcomes, but these data put a more “human face” on them and their contributions.


  1. If there isn't a WEIRDO bias here...

    The Rise of Universalism

    National Prosperity

    I'd like to see the result replicated in other countries, particularly non-WEIRDO ones.

  2. I can't find the paper online. The overall census data is not the only point of comparison.

    The reported voting rate is in line with the voting rate for college-educated adults of that age.

    I have to say, I love that URL. "skinny exercise freaks who love to vote volunteer and play with children."

    Living in what Charles Murray dubbed a "super zip," volunteering is par for the course. As is the pursuit of college admission for children. It is thought to be difficult to obtain admission to a selective college without volunteering hours. If you live in a super zip, but decline to volunteer, you may find yourself (and your children) left out socially.

    So how much of this is due to intelligence, and how much is due to the community in which one chooses to live? Such choices of course involve intelligence, but it's not a simple relation. It's also not a relationship which necessarily intensifies with intelligence. The upper-class, professional lifestyle is what it is in the States.

  3. I used to spend my Sunday mornings teaching urchins to play rugby. Now, in old age, I spend much time spreading enlightenment around the world by commenting on the more intelligent blogs. So I've done my bit.

    1. Nonsense. There are still fallen women who need attention.