IQ: Precocity on Parade

Intelligence comes in many guises. Humor, reaction time and fluency of speech are immediate indicators of intelligence. Where do you fall?

The Bully

Using their intellect as a bludgeon, these tyrants terrorize underlings and other mere mortals. “Geniuses tend to be enfants terribles who suffer no fools,” says Martin Seligman. Author and philosopher Ayn Rand fell in that category. She was a bigot about brains, says her biographer Barbara Branden: “As a child and as an adult, the first question she asked about anyone she met was: ‘Is he intelligent?’ It was the first question—and in a deeply personal way, the last.” Robert Oppenheimer could fillet an unprepared student in a split second, and one senior Microsoft executive was taken aback when just five minutes into his presentation, Bill Gates began to bang his head on the table and shout: “Do you think I’m an idiot? Don’t use that logic on me!” Seligman says people who are very bright grow skilled at the art of intimidation, using the power of their intellect like a sword. “They exploit their ability in the same way that Audrey Hepburn exploited her beauty.”


The Wit

These quipsters extract the irony from life, measuring intellect in giggle-bytes. Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, the boy wonder of the Manhattan Project, was a gleeful jokester who liked to use his vast ability to crack safes, pick Yale locks and teach dogs to do counterintuitive tricks. When asked to describe how he won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965, he cracked: “Listen, buddy, if I could tell you in a minute what I did, it wouldn’t be worth the Nobel Prize.” Oscar Wilde may be the foremost example of this group. Upon arriving in the United States in 1882, he informed the customs official: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.”


The Affable

Some luminaries are good at pulling the levers of personal popularity. “People who are highly intelligent but who make no deliberate show of it are usually better off,” says psychologist Dean Simonton. “Clinton and Kennedy, two of our brightest U.S. presidents, used their wits to cultivate a more accessible persona.” Chief Justice John Roberts is noted for his modesty as much as for his brilliance.


The Tongue-tied

Great creative geniuses are often introverted and can be inept in casual conversation. John Adams, a huge admirer of Thomas Jefferson’s intellect, said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Nor was Albert Einstein much for small talk. “In everyday conversation, he could sound terribly naive, and even when speaking about physics, he could often blunder and hesitate,” says Simonton. “He was far from an inspiring lecturer—even on relativity theory.”


The Misfit

They often range from absentminded to mentally ill. There is evidence that mathematical geniuses have higher rates of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar illness. Indeed, mathematicians John Nash, Georg Cantor and Kurt Gödel each suffered from mental illness. Isaac Newton suffered from paranoia, delusions and great fits of rage. Subject to reveries, he once sat through a dinner so lost in thought that a companion consumed his meal. When Newton finally broke off his meditation, he exclaimed, “If it were not for the proof before my eyes, I could have sworn that I have not yet dined.”


Psychology Today Magazine, Mar/Apr 2006
Last Reviewed 27 Jan 2009
Article ID: 4036

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