Does High IQ Spell Success?

Photo: Youngest person accepted by MensaCaters News Agency
Two-year-old Oscar Wrigley from Reading, England would rather be learning about wildlife or the history of Ancient Rome than watching the Tweenies or Button Moon. He has also recently taken to conducting classical music as he listens in the back of the car and identifies the different instruments. So his parents were not surprised when, at the age of two years, five months and 11 days, he became the youngest boy in Britain to be accepted by Mensa. With an IQ of at least 160, he ranks alongside the likes of Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

A typical 1-and-a-half-year-old might wake up his or her parents in the middle of the night asking for a drink of water or needing to be comforted after a bad dream. But Oscar Wrigley had more pressing things on his mind.

"He was very interested in the Romans at the time, and he came and woke us up and said, 'Romans built temple of Claudius! Mummy, wear a toga and daddy, wear a helmet!'" said Oscar's mother Hannah Wrigley, 26, of Reading, Berkshire in the U.K.

Wrigley said she and her husband Joe always knew their alert, curious baby was bright, but intelligence tests administered in July of this year showed that Oscar, now 2-and-a-half, was off the charts smart, with an IQ of at least 160. The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, which was used in Oscar's case, does not go any higher.

"At four months, we would read real children's stories and he'd laugh in all the right places," Wrigley said. "By 18 months, he knew all the British birds. His vocabulary was 600-plus words, where a normal 18-month-old's is about 20."

While having the genius potential of Einstein may seem like hitting the mental jackpot, experts say that hitting the familial and social jackpot is just as important for children like Oscar. As it turns out, the conventional wisdom that being smart assures success -- academic, financial or otherwise -- has little relevance to IQ

High IQ? You Might Do Well in School

"The best thing IQ measures is the ability to do well in school," said Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and director of the Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic at Yale University. "At this age, consider it potential. But you have to have the right environment to nurture this."

A score on an IQ test measures one's mental abilities in relation to their peer group. IQ tests, of which the two most common are the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and the Stanford-Binet, come in adult and children's versions and are similar to standardized tests, such as the SAT.

100 is the average IQ and anything above 140 is considered "genius."

IQ Tests Don't Measure Everything

But Kazdin pointed out that IQ tests are far less general than the public believes. They test very specific areas of knowledge where vocabulary, pattern recognition and problem solving are most important.

The drawback of such tests is that they cannot measure creativity and practical knowledge in areas such as music, art or athletics. Nor can such tests point out a particular talent.

Frank Lawlis, psychological supervisor of American MENSA, a society for people with high IQ, said the tests can emphasize how many different kinds of intelligence there are, but if there is no way to determine a person's skill in an area of interest beyond reading and general problem solving, then they will not be recognized by an IQ test.

"We're going to miss that person's best intelligence," Lawlis said.

A nurturing, varied and intellectually stimulating environment helps a bright child to discover areas of interest and apply their substantial mental faculties to them. However, such an environment is entirely controlled by other people, such as parents and teachers, during a child's formative years.

What Goes On Outside the Brain Is Just as Important

External factors are so influential that studies examining the relationship between environment and IQ have linked the score with everything from breast feeding to medication to parent's education. Older siblings, for example, develop higher IQs than younger siblings, according to a 2007 study published in the journal Science. Another study from the online journal PLoS linked low I.Q. to older fathers.

But Kazdin pointed out that stereotypes linked to "smart" kids -- that they are fond of math and science, that they are socially awkward -- are outdated and imply that proficiency in one area demands a lack in other areas.

"The idea that if you're really good at this then you're horrible at the other thing is not necessarily true at all," Kazdin said.

Still, conditions including Asperger's syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which are sometimes present in those with high IQ, may perpetuate such stereotypes.

Some Children Feel Isolated When They Can't Connect

"Any time you deviate from the normal group, you're going to feel ostracized," Lawlis said.

Hannah Wrigley said her son can feel the difference.

"I think he knows he's a bit different from his friends," she said, adding that, while Oscar makes efforts to try and talk to other children in his play group, he often ends up sitting alone and playing by himself.

"He asks questions about why they do the things they do and I tell him they're little," Wrigley said. "And he says, 'They're not little, they're the same as I am...'

"I do feel a bit sad about that sort of thing."

Wrigley said that, for now, Oscar might prefer to chat with adults about subjects that interest him, such as global warming or chess, and choose to play physical games with friends his own age. But she added that providing him opportunities to make friends and socialize will help combat potential isolation.

"I think he will end up having lots of different friends for different things," Wrigley said.