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Athletic Ability and IQ

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Denis Noble

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1150 words

Proponents of the usefulness of IQ tests may point to athletic competitions as an analogous test/competition that they believe may reinforce their belief that IQ tests ‘intelligence’ (whatever that is). Though, there are a few flaws in their attempted comparison. Some may say that “Lebron James and Usain Bolt have X morphology/biochemistry and therefore that’s why they excel! The same goes foe IQ tests!” People then go on to ask if I ‘deny human evolution’ because I deny the usefulness (that is built into the test by way of ‘item analysis; Jensen, 1980: 137) of IQ tests and point out flaws in their construction.

People who accept the usefulness of IQ tests and attempt to defend their flaws may attempt to make sports competition, like, say, a 100m sprint, an analogous argument. They may say that ‘X is better than Y, and the reason is ‘genetic’ in nature!’. Though, nature vs. nurture is a false dichotomy and irrelevant (Oyama, 1985, 2000; Oyama, 1999; Oyama, 2000; Moore, 2003). Behavior is neither ‘genetic’ nor ‘environmental’. with that out of the way, tests of athletic ability as mentioned above are completely different from IQ tests.

Tests of athletic ability do not have any arbitrary judgments as IQ tests do in their construction and analysis of the items to be put on the test. It’s a simple, cut-and-dry explanation: on this instance in this test, runner X was better than runner Y. We can then test runner X and see what kind of differences he has in his physiology and somatype, along with asking him what drives him to succeed. We can then do the same for the other athlete and discover that, as hypothesized, there are inherent differences in their physiology that make runner X be better than runner Y, say the ability to take deeper breaths, take longer strides per step due to longer legs, having thinner appendages as to be faster and so on. In regard to IQ, the tests are constructed on the prior basis of who is or is not intelligent. Basically, as is not the case with tests of athletic ability, the ‘winners and losers’, so to speak, are already chosen on the prior suppositions of who is or is not intelligent. Therefore, the comparison of athletic abilities tests and IQ tests are not good because athletic abilities tests are not constructed on the basis of who the constructors believe are athletic, like IQ tests are constructed on the basis of who the testers believe is ‘intelligent’ or not.

Some people are so far up the IQ-tests-test-intelligence idea that due to the critiques I cite on IQ tests, I actually get asked if I ‘deny human evolution’. That’s ridiculous and I will explain why.

Imagine an ‘athletic abilities’ test existed. Imagine that this test was constructed on the basis of who the test constructor believed who is or is not athletic. Imagine that he constructs the test to show that people who had previously low ability in past athletic abilities tests had ‘high athletic ability’ in this new test that he constructed. Then I discover the test. I read about it and I see how it is constructed and what the constructors did to get the results they wanted, because they believed that the lower-ability people in the previous tests had higher ability and therefore constructed an ‘athletic abilities’ test to show they were more ‘athletic’ than the former high performers. I then point out the huge flaws in the construction of such a test. The logic of people who claim that I deny human evolution because I blast the validity and construction of IQ tests would, logically, have to say that I’m denying athletic differences between groups and individuals, when in actuality I’m only pointing out huge flaws in the ‘athletic abilities’ test that was constructed. The athletic abilities example I’ve conjured up is analogous to the IQ test construction tirade I’ve been on recently. So, if a test of ‘athletic ability’ exists and I come and critique it, then no, I am not denying athletic differences between individuals I am only pointing out flawed tests.

The basic structure of my ‘athletic abilities’ argument is this: that test that would be constructed would not test true ‘athletic abilities’ just like IQ tests don’t test ‘intelligence’ (Richardson, 2002). Pointing out huge flaws in tests does not mean that you’re a ‘blank slatist’ (whatever that is; it’s a strawman for people who don’t bow down to the IQ alter). Pointing out flaws in IQ tests does not mean that you believe that everyone and every group is ‘equal’ in a psychological and mental sense. Pointing out the flaws in IQ tests does not mean that one is a left-wing egalitarian that believes that all humans—individuals and groups—are equal and that the only cause of their differences comes down to the environment (whether SES or the epigenetic environment, etc). Pointing out flaws in these tests is needed; lest people truly think that they do test, say, ability for complex cognition (they don’t). Indeed, it seems that everyday life is more complicated than the hardest Raven’s item. Richardson and Norgate (2014) write:

Indeed, typical IQ test items seem remarkably un-complex in their cognitive demands compared with, say, the cognitive demands of ordinary social life and other everyday activities that the vast majority of children and adults can meet. (pg 3)

On the other hand abundant cognitive research suggests that everyday, “real life”
problem solving, carried out by the vast majority of people, especially in social-cooperative situations, is a great deal more complex than that required by IQ test items, including those in the Raven. (pg 6)

Could it be possible that ‘real-life’ athletic ability, such as ‘walking’ or whatnot be more ‘complex’ than the analog of athletic ability? No, not at all. Because, as I previously noted, athletic abilities tests test who has the ‘better’ physiology or morphology for whichever competition they choose to compete in (and of course there will be considerable self-selection since people choose things they’re good at). It’s clear that there is absolutely no possibility of ‘real-life’ athletic ability possibly being more complex than tests of athletic ability.

In sum, no, I do not deny human evolution because I critique IQ tests. Just because I critique IQ tests doesn’t mean that I deny human evolution. My example of the ‘athletic test’ is a sound and logical analog to the IQ critiques that I cite. Just framing it in the way of a false test of athletic ability and then pointing out the flaws is enough to show that I don’t deny human evolution. Because if such an ‘athletic abilities’ test did exist and I pointed out its flaws, I would not be denying differences between groups or individuals due to evolution, I’d simply be critiquing a shitty test, which is what I do with IQ tests. Actual tests of athletic ability are not analogous to IQ tests because tests of athletic ability are not ‘constructed’ in the way that IQ tests are.



  1. Afrosapiens 🇫🇷🇪🇺 says:

    This, athletic ability is not assessed on the basis of assumptions. Sports competitions don’t state that X is fast, therefore, anyone who has something in common is fast too.

    By the way, athletes have mor efficient brains.

    Liked by 1 person

    • RaceRealist says:

      Exercise also induces neurogenesis. Athletes are more ‘intelligent’ because they do more physical activity which changes the brain. Becoming an elite athlete, also, depends on the right mindset. This could also explain the IQ correlation with exercise.

      You can have all the physical tools but if the mentality isn’t there you won’t do anything even though you are physically gifted.


    • Afrosapiens 🇫🇷🇪🇺 says:

      Are you referring to growth mindset? If yes, it plays a role I guess. In any type of effort actually.


    • RaceRealist says:

      Not just that, but determination etc.

      Such as this:

      The genetic basis of human athletic performance. Why are psychological components so often overlooked?—Lippi, Favaloro, and Guidi, (2008):

      An advantageous physical genotype is not enough to build a top-class athlete, a champion capable of breaking Olympic records, if endurance elite performances (maximal rate of oxygen uptake, economy of movement, lactate/ventilatory threshold and, potentially, oxygen uptake kinetics) (Williams & Folland, 2008) are not supported by a strong mental background.

      (Even then, you need to look at running success through a systems’ view and not attempt to reduce things down to singular components.)

      And here are other studies showing that exercise induces neurogenesis. I’ve also touched on that in this article too:

      Intense Exercise Promotes Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis But Not Spatial Discrimination—So et al, 2017:

      Overall, our findings suggest that intense exercise can still enhance neuronal differentiation and migration. However, the neurogenic effects of exercise are in general inversely related to its intensity. Correspondingly, moderate but not intense exercise can improve spatial memory performance. Although our study suggests a positive correlation between specific aspects of neurogenesis and the expression of neurotrophic factors in exercised mice, it is not known whether these factors are causally linked to enhanced neurogenesis.

      Role of exercise on the brain—Baek, 2016:

      This study evaluated the influence of exercise on hippocampal neurogenesis, neural plasticity, neurotrophic factors, and cognition. Areas of research focused on enhancing effect of exercise for adult hippocampal neurogenesis and protective role of exercise against brain diseases. The present study suggests that exercise improves brain functions and prevents decline of cognition across the lifespan.

      Physical Exercise-Induced Adult Neurogenesis: A Good Strategy to Prevent Cognitive Decline in Neurodegenerative Diseases?—Yau et al, 2016:

      Here we review the functional role of adult hippocampal neurogenesis in learning and memory, and how this form of structural plasticity is altered in neurodegenerative diseases known to involve cognitive impairment. We further discuss how physical exercise may contribute to cognitive improvement in the ageing brain by preserving adult neurogenesis, and review the recent approaches for measuring changes in neurogenesis in the live human brain.

      (I’ve also touched on the benefits of exercise and cognitive ability as well, which proves that exercise has these causal effects.)


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