Tuesday 1 September 2015

Life is an IQ test (and so are video games)



Silliness will never end, and clever silliness will never stop getting credulous coverage. In the UK we have to contend with a particular scientist claiming that video games and computer tablets are changing children’s brains, and for the worse. Of course, in a minor way Psychological Comments is changing your brain, but for the better, I hope. When you read some nonsense about IQ in the newspapers you will mutter to yourself: “Wasn’t there a blog somewhere that took this research apart?” thus revealing that in some recess of your cerebral cortex there must be a physical change corresponding to your engraved memory of my wisdom. Brains change to some extent according to how they are used. I doubt any of these changes are as great as those inflicted by normal ageing, or by abnormal drinking of alcohol, but there remains a fear that new technology will change us. The plough changed us. Printing changed us. So did the first representational cave painting, the later adoption of perspective in painting, cinema, television, and video games.

So, what can we say about video games, beyond them being a colossal waste of time, on a par with playing Bridge and visiting relatives?

Quiroga, Escorial, Román, Morillo, Jarabo, Privado, Hernández, Gallego and Colom. Can we reliably measure the general factor of intelligence (g) through commercial video games? Yes, we can!   doi:10.1016/j.intell.2015.08.004

One hundred and eighty eight university undergraduates took part in the study. They played twelve commercial video games under strict supervision in the laboratory and completed eleven intelligence tests. Several factor models were tested for answering the question of whether or not video games and intelligence tests do measure the same underlying high-order latent factor. The final model revealed a very high relationship between the high-order latent factors representing video game and intelligence performance (r = .93). General performance scores derived from video games and intelligence tests showed a correlation value of .963 (R2adjusted). Therefore, performance on some video games captures a latent factor common to the variance shared by cognitive performance assessed by standard ability tests.

remarkable relationships are only achieved when video games comprise moderate levels of complexity, display low consistency across practice sessions, and have no possibility of obtaining benefit from previously acquired skills. Importantly, some video games performance show a medium to high correlation with intelligence, even after extensive periods of practice, leading to the conclusion that performance on some video games cannot be automated (Quiroga et al., 2011).




Unlike a reported 48% of the European population, I am not a gamer, but the games listed in this paper (categorized according to whether they mostly require analysis, visualisation, computing or memorization) seem deathly dull and educational. Years ago Douglas Adams kindly gave me an almost-ready version of his “Starship Titanic” to play with, which was fun, but these particular productions seem to reek of classroom dust. I thought computer games were about stealing fast cars, and then making a getaway. Perhaps that is romantic novels. Hard to keep up with these things.

Incidentally, the authors point out that: video games have been used for training (Granic, Lobel, & Engels, 2014; Green, Pouget, & Bavelier, 2010; Sitzmann, 2011) and for assessment purposes (Zygouris et al., 2014). As discussed by Granic et al. (2014) current video games are much more sophisticated than just a decade ago. Their review suggests that playing video games evoke widespread benefits in the cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social domains.

I particularly like the main finding, which is that good measures of intelligence can be derived from any mentally taxing everyday activity. In that sense we are achieving the goal of an anytime IQ test. Hernández-Orallo and Dowe (2010) Artificial Intelligence 174 1508–1539 Measuring universal intelligence: Towards an anytime intelligence test. It has 4 main features:

•The test should be able to measure the intelligence of any biological or artificial system that exists now or in the future.

•It should be able to evaluate both inept and brilliant systems as well as very slow to very fast systems.

•The test may be interrupted at any time, producing an approximation to the intelligence score, in such a way that the more time is left for the test, the better the assessment will be.

• It utilises the measurement of machine intelligence based on Kolmogorov complexity and universal distributions (a measure of the computational resources needed to specify an object, which were developed in the late 1990s (C-tests and compression-enhanced Turing tests).

It could be that the anytime test will come in the form of a protracted game, for a prize, which takes the contestant up the layers of difficulty, keeping a good record of multi-channel ability. That is the best case. The London tube shows that many passengers are playing versions of Patience, a dull game to distract themselves from a duller journey.

The researchers have shown that the medium is not the message. If computer games tax the intellect to any extent (and this selection has probably been chosen to do so) then they tap into the same common factor found in a range of more formal tests of intelligence. Yes, the subjects are the usual suspects: university students, but in this case the unrepresentative sample works against the hypothesis. The restriction of range will reduce g loadings, and brighter samples tend to have lover g scores anyway. Assuming that these students are above average in intelligence, then that will account for so many of the results departing from normal distributions, which has been corrected in the analysis, but remains a reality. In sum, finding a common factor is less likely in this selected population than it would be in the general population.

The results may seem predictable, but that is only because the positive manifold is so easy to replicate because……. it’s true.

Disclosure: I do not play video games. I played Canasta with my Granny as a child, but I doubt that counts for anything. I liked Pinball, but it was hardly an intellectual pursuit. My brain has probably been distorted by reading and talking to friends, but it is too late to repair that source of continuing damage.


  1. And gamers (my two older brothers are gamers, specially the older, left handed, with severe mood disorders, assymmetrical face... i'm selling my brother for free... the middle is a silly clever, a bobo) tend to be men as well engineers and automobile mechanics experts. To be good with video games (i stop in the Super Nintendo levels, i love play it, yaaaaaii) seems correlate with testosterone in the womb.

  2. Love the findings since I am very good gamer with online FPS and strategy games.

  3. Strategy games with g factor is obvious. Online FPS games against other players need 1st quick reaction time (which is related to g), 2nd anticipation of other players moves or intentions (outhinking others - g related), 3rd strategic plan on 3-D action map (visual-spacial planning heavily g dependent), 4th chang of player classes or weapons based on need of game dynamics (fluid intelligence for situation).

    No surprise complicated video game is virtual IQ test, or even better.


  4. No surprise that people with good game skill often in real life are in good school, have good jobs, good grades, good income since g is behind all these.

    Your intelligence is based on all these objective measurement. When some idiots call you stupid, it is like a short person yelling at tall person:"you are shorty". People judging smart person (with all above evidence for g) as stupid only reflect their own stupidity. A short person can gain height by calling tall person short.

    Good correlation.


  5. "A short person can gain height by calling tall person short."

    Correction should be

    A short person can not gain height by calling tall person short.

  6. Sometime when I dominate the game so much, I got kicked by server administrators since they are no longer able to enjoy the game any more. Other time, other players accused me of cheating or hacking. Yes there are cheaters who are basically losers with desperation.

    In real life, you will be accused of cheating if you have very high income or wealth. Life is not fair (but it is fair actually).


  7. "Life is an IQ test" The song asserts that life is a cabaret. Which I assume is a a neat allusion to one Willie Shakeshaft's extended metaphors.

    1. Some smarts will be good very good on working memory, others will be very good on divergent thinking.

      Inside a verbal iq test, some smarts will be very very good on verbal analogies but with not so high verbal iq.

      Some people with attention deficits are very creative. Others are creative exactly because their attention dexterity.

      Many hbds continue using iq tests as intelligence synonimous.

      If video games correlates enormously with general intelligence, supposedly, ''gamers WILL BE ultimately smarters''*** Yes** No. Not exactly. The problem of interpretation about so-called ''smarters''.

      The best chess players are real-life brilliant strategistics as they are in chess games*** They are political geniuses**

      Gamers are a variant of nerd-family-types. Nerds tend to have higher general intelligence (less savant-like types and autistic types).

    2. Life is a iq test, like a video game, like a church, like a cabbaret, like a Jagger...

  8. While I expected these general findings, I also protest that these researchers appear to have an ax to grind on the subject.

  9. Replies
    1. I'm not sure, actually. Maybe it's the conflation of education-style games with complex modern games. And I guess I have this preconceived notion that the issue is polarized, therefore the researchers were probably biased in the literature they were familiar with. "Availability heuristic", that's what I was looking for. I sense the use of the availability heuristic here, and can reasonably suspect it.

      Though I only play video games a couple of times per year and am not a gamer, I would be a huge fan of trawling the massive amounts of data they can produce for broad social science purposes. We could open up all sorts of new cans of worms just by doing exploratory PCA analyses.

  10. I am thorougly disappointed by this article, which I consider misleading, for a very simple fact: what they used are not "videogames" in the real sense, but they're brain training games used by people to train stuff like short term memory or executive functions, and most of them were created for that purpose. There is also not much variety, whereas they could have included strategy games, fighting, sports, adventure, etc...but I was dismayed to not see a trace of that. I do believe that there is a correlation between g and gaming ability, but this study is not informative at all.

  11. https://youtu.be/ij0wEHeFQyU

    This is pure strategy game competition involving campaign strategy very much like large scale of military campaign.

    When every thing equal, group with higher IQ should win.

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  13. "Importantly, some video games performance show a medium to high correlation with intelligence, even after extensive periods of practice, leading to the conclusion that performance on some video games cannot be automated"

    "I thought computer games were about stealing fast cars, and then making a getaway. Perhaps that is romantic novels. Hard to keep up with these things."

    That's the Grand Theft Auto the mainstream media obsessed themselves over when it was profitable to go at video games and elicit parental worry.
    Videogames of every conceivable type have been made.
    Most of all are a very efficient proxy for intelligence tests. After all, everything the player does is co-ordinated by the brain.

    There has been a peculiar, but predictable evolution in video game design.
    Games started as software running on the first computers in the early 80's.
    They continued to be computer business, but also began a console business in the mid-80s and increasingly so since then. (A console is a computer-like device that can only play games and is connected to a TV. Thus, a substantially cheaper one.)

    The first console owners where teenagers who spent the whole day indoors, thus, obviously, tendentially high-IQ ones, although not as high-IQ as a yough who in the 80s and early 90s had a computer (those were almost all folks interested in computer programming).

    The PlayStation, a console produced by Sony, popularized gaming; we were in the mind-90s.
    Handheld devices used for other things than gaming, smartphones and tablets, along with Internet in itself (many simple games can be played via Internet browsers) made gaming an universal business.

  14. So, with the tribes of intellect in mind, we can say that games, that are made to maximize economic returns (with the exception of some niche art games), have had as their target audience different people in the early 80s, late 80s, pre-PlayStation 90s, post-PlayStation 90s, 00s, and 10s.

    They have been becoming simpler, and less taxing, in regard with reflexes but especially thinking requirements.

    In the beginning, games were mainly role playing games, text adventures and point & click adventures made by computer programmers for people who had at least an interest in programming.
    Today, well... I don't need tell you more about today.

    There are regional differences as well.
    In the 80s and 90s the Japanese used to simplify their games in their Western releases, as they were usually criticed for being too demanding.
    Since the late 90s, most of the Japanese industry have plus or minus bent their will to the standards of the West in terms of difficulty.
    A tiny fraction of Japanese game developers have continued to make games for the sake of making games, and these have become even harder than they used to.

    I am particularly referring to the shmup genre, where the player manoeuvres a spaceship, and aims to shot down enemy bodies while avoiding contact with all the bullets they fire.
    You can see how stricly related this gameplay is with brain power.
    And you won't be surprised to hear that many more Japanese and Korean gamers found this kind of challenge fitting than Westerners.
    Not only because they tax the very kind of intelligence the Mongolids excel in, but also for temperamental reasons (they are less inclined to complaining, and more to sweat at a task).

    Western tough games are much more likely to stress on verbal difficulty; Asian games to stress visuo-spatial difficulty.

    Life is an intelligence test just like games are.
    I know no statistics, but take it for granted that high-IQ people incur in less car accidents, and the quality of a physician is going to depend tight on their IQ (not only on that, of course).

    And yes, since the primal ages are behind us, intelligence is what braw was until not so many centuries in the past.
    This is why it's become the deepest of taboos. It's the thing most people think about the most, and a form of wealth easily envied more than money.

    It's becoming not much of a problem to tell someone they are physically weak, but I hold it in no doubt that it had to be a prime taboo centures ago, when strenght was the most important attribute to determine a person's social value.

    P.S.: Games like The Great Permutator, or Drod: The City Beneath, or adventures like Grim Fandango and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers would give even you a hard time, doctor, and I don't rule out the chance you could enjoy them a lot.

    Other note: it's been found that straight educational video games measure brain power, and enhance intelligence, less than the most part of other game genders.
    Things like the very popular "Brain Training" game series measure intelligence, don't exercise it.

    It's real games, with their unpredictable situations, that do the job.

    All of this said, I think reading books is the way to go for intellectual deepening, raw IQ is a practically invariable attribute (mine hasn't changed since I was 13. Today I'd solve a puzzle I'd have solved then, and fail to solve one I wouldn't have solved then. Although I guess there is a 5% more conundrums I'd solve today), and what can be improved is knowledge.
    As for brain performance, all what training is for is to avoid it dropping, not to augmenting it.