Wednesday 10 December 2014

Attending conferences: a test of intelligence?


The cognitive load imposed by attending a conference is considerable. One must book the conference, then the hotel, calculating whether you will need an extra night before or after the conference. Then you must book flights so as to arrive in good time before, and leave in good time afterwards. If necessary, you must book a car, taxi or a train to get from the airport to the conference hotel, allowing a time for the transfer. If these arrangement mean you stray into another day, then the dates must be coordinated again. The plane must not leave the airport before the car has been returned. It is almost as hard as digits backwards.

You must also ensure you have the necessary currency, passports, travel tickets, and the correct clothing. It is prudent to carry a universal power adapter, extra batteries for devices and a satnav for the car.

Is it any wonder that most people stay at home and read the abstracts afterwards? However, conferences sometimes engender the sensation that something is being achieved, that a contribution is being made to knowledge.

The notion of being a contributor to society runs deep with many citizens, and the distinction between contributors and non-contributors is both interesting and sometimes upsetting. The very young and the very old are understood to contribute less at those ages, though they will generally have contributed much over the bulk of their lifetimes. Setting aside age differences, what distinguishes contributors from non-contributors?

One of the keynote addresses at #IQ2014 looks at this contentious issue.

In “Early childhood origins of an ultra-high-cost segment of the population” Keynote Terrie E. Moffitt of Duke University and Avshalom Caspi of King’s College London
(; say:

Worldwide, the population is aging and children are becoming rare. Nations increasingly view young people as a valuable resource for the economic and social wellbeing of whole societies. There is intense interest in early interventions to help all children achieve their potential. However, evidence is lacking to identify which
childhood risk factors to target, to yield the best return on investment.
Method: We used data from the Dunedin Study, a four-decade longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1000 New Zealanders. We examined risk factors in childhood and measures of social, health, and economic costs in adulthood.
Results: Adult social and economic outcomes fit the Pareto principle: 20% of the cohort accounted for approximately 80% of every outcome: the cohort’s months of social welfare benefits, years of absent-father childrearing, pack-years of cigarette smoking, hospital admissions, pharmacy prescription fills, criminal court convictions, and injury-related insurance claims. Moreover, high-cost individuals with one problem outcome tended to also have multiple problem outcomes. An ultra-high-cost sub-segment of the cohort was identified who accounted for 80% of multiple problems.
Risk factors measured in childhood that characterized this ultra-high-cost group were: low family socio-economic status, child maltreatment, low self-control, and low IQ. Effect sizes were very large. Predictive analyses showed that together, SES, maltreatment, self-control, and IQ measured in the first decade of life were able to predict 80% of the individuals who are using 80% of multiple costly services. We developed an index of the integrity of a child’s brain at age three years. This age-3 brain-integrity index was a strong predictor of the cohort members who four decades later became members of the ultra-high-cost population segment.
Implications: Much research has shown that childhood risk ‘X’ can predict poor adult outcome ‘Y’, but modest effect sizes discourage translation of findings into targeted childhood interventions. This study illustrates that the vast bulk of a nation’s social services, crime control, and health-care are expended on a relatively small population segment.
During early childhood, this population segment is characterized by a small set of risk factors: low SES, child maltreatment, low self-control, low IQ, and poor brain integrity. Reducing these factors may bring surprisingly good return on investment.

I will give you more details from the conference, that is, if I manage to get myself there successfully.


  1. Attending conferences: a test of intelligence at very low level.

    The bar is really low.

  2. Dear James,
    A university scientist needs also a lot of perseverance, tenacity and patience additional to intelligence and time to manage all requirements and writing all letters necessary for reimbursement.

    1. Agree. A nuisance, and fraught with time wasting obstacles.

  3. It's definitely a test of money.

    1. Yes. Easier at some stages in life than others.

  4. Great study. Now all they need is to repeat it with twins.

    Correction: what they need is to repeat it when an extended-twin sample: why not include everyone?

    Seriously, so much for saying twin-studies are old hat.

  5. "This study illustrates that the vast bulk of a nation’s social services, crime control, and health-care are expended on a relatively small population segment.
    During early childhood, this population segment is characterized by a small set of risk factors: low SES, child maltreatment, low self-control, low IQ, and poor brain integrity."

    How is that news?

    1. I think (will have to listen to the details) that it can be predicted by age 3, which is the newish bit.

  6. I suppose the interesting question is how malleable are these risk factors: low SES, child maltreatment, low self-control, low IQ, and poor brain integrity - as the potential savings run into billions (as Prof Moffitt made clear in an influential paper on this from a couple of years back).

    After I talked with Prof Moffitt about the self-control measure they use in their Dunedin study and its parallels with the ego stage levels developed by Prof Jane Loevinger's work, Terrie actually went back to the original researchers and found that - sure enough - Loevinger's model/assessment had influenced the assessment they developed.

    Why this is interesting to me is that Prof Loevinger's ego stages - at least for adults - do seem to respond to well-designed interventions, but this area doesn't get much attention. Indeed even edcuation itself is partly about enabling such shifts.

    Loevinger actually called her ego stages, a 'master trait' second only to IQ in accounting for human variability on a variety of tasks - yet intelligence researchers seem unaware of the importance of such developmental stage measures (whether from Loevinger or from other researchers broadly in this area: Michael Commons, Elliot Jaques, Robert Kegan, Kurt Fischer et al).

    A more accurate and encompassing model would involve both IQ and ego/developmental stage.


    1. Matthew, I have just begun research on Loevinger's levels of ego development, life history, and IQ. I have a basic understanding of the concept, but I am not that familiar with the procedures for scoring the sentence completion items. Would you be willing to contact me to discuss this work? Thank you for your consideration.

      Curt Dunkel