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Toward a Theory of Individual and Group Differences in Athleticism

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1500 words

I am aware that there is no theory of individual or group differences in athleticism. People have used that against the arguments against IQ I have used. However, athleticism and IQ are two different things. One is easily observable (have someone, say, run a race vs another and see who’s faster) while the other is not and takes up a lot of time (over an hour to administer a test then you have to, say, use a fMRI scan). On one of these tests we can get a good idea just by looking at the one who won in comparison to the other and assess somatype and use that as a proxy, what can we do for IQ? Just look at head size? The fact of the matter is, just because there is no ‘theory of athleticism’ doesn’t mean that because there is no ‘theory of intelligence differences’ that it doesn’t matter, because it clearly does. Either way, I will articulate a theory of individual and group athletic differences, and meld them into a coherent theory.

Everyone is different, no one is a perfect clone of their parents. This is common knowledge. Each and every individual has different physiology and anatomy, one person may have a certain organ while another does not. One person may have physiological advantages that another does not. These are the how’s and why’s of athletic differences between individuals and groups. Talking about just individuals, individual A may have a more mesomorphic somatype with more fast twitch fibers while individual B may have an endomorphic somatype with more slower twitch fibers. Let’s say these two individuals didn’t know about their advantages/disadvantages. They then race. You look at them and you automatically say “Individual A won because of his longer legs in comparison to individual B”, and you’d be right. When speaking about sports performance these physical differences are noticeable by the naked eye.

The theory

Individuals have different somatypes and different physiological variables unevenly distributed within and between populations that infer different capacity for athletic ability. To understand and formulate a theory of individual and group athletic differences you must know some basic anatomy and physiology. Differences in biomechanics and physiology explain individual differences in athletic competition. Now all you need to do is extrapolate the individual who is more athletic (faster 40 yd dash time, say) and find the population with similar phenotype. The argument for individuals carries over to groups, too. Though I have already elucidated on the theory for type II muscle fibers and athletic success in some West African populations (Morrison and Cooper, 2006), and that is good enough for group differences (at least between whites, blacks, and Asians regarding sports in America). The point is that there is no theory for individual differences in athletic ability and one is not needed therefore one is not needed for IQ is clearly wrong. Theories do exist, but I believe they don’t need to be articulated because it truly is obvious.

Why do other groups have differing somatypes and fiber distribution? The answer is, clearly, due to evolution in different environments. The cause for most African running success can be attributed to fast twitch muscle fibers which may have been brought on by malaria-infected mosquitoes which then changed the physiology of the groups affected.

Either way, there are theories of athletic ability. We know what makes someone faster than someone else. Say they take longer strides, deeper breaths, higher Vo2 max, etc and they have the correct morphology, along with the ACTN3 gene and right morphology and we can then compare them to others who did less well and even other groups who don’t exceed as well as the group with the somatype in question and then attempt to formulate a theory from there.

The RR ACTN3 genotype infers an advantage when coupled with the correct morphology (Broos et al, 2016). We know that certain populations excel over others when it comes to sprinting and distance competition, and at least regarding West Africa and its diaspora, there is a good theory for how and why they excel in these competitions. Regarding Kenyans and Ethiopians, it comes down to their low body fat, ecto-meso somatype and the altitude they live and train at. You need to take a system’s view of running and sports success as a whole and not attempt to reduce things down to, say, only muscle fibers or only somatype or pulmonary differences or Vo2 max etc etc because the whole system works together and if you take one variable out, say type II fibers, one part of the system that made it run is now out of the equation and that system will not work as it used to when all cogs were together.

Nevertheless, we don’t need a theory of individual athletic differences but one is extremely easy to articulate. We know how one’s body begins to cope as they are running at maximal speed or as they are hitting their stride on a  distance competition. Take someone who’s ecto, and has type I fibers and more body fat compared to someone who’s ecto and has type II fibers and less body fat. How could we articulate how and why the ecto outperforms the endo in a sprint? It’s easy. The ecto somatype is conducive to running success and due to longer limbs can cover more ground and since he has less body fat he will be quicker, too.

This is in stark contrast to IQ. There is no agreed-upon theory and the one model there is is highly flawed. We don’t need a theory of athletic differences but we do need a theory of IQ. The correlates that people attempt to use to say that there is a theory and that they do test something meaningful are nowhere near good enough because it could just show life experiences, for instance the size of different parts of the brain while in the MRI machine (which, even then, has problems; Rutter and Pickles, 2016). There is no theory of individual intelligence differences, to quote Ian Deary “There is no such thing as a theory of human intelligence differences—not in the way that grown-up sciences like physics or chemistry have theories  (quote from Richardson, 2012). Well it seems that according to Deary, psychology isn’t a ‘grown-up science’ since there is no agreed-upon theory of individual differences in ‘intelligence’.

One paper people point to is Jung and Haier (2007) who propose the theory ‘P-FIT’—the Parieto-frontal integration theory—where they show that in more 40 percent of voxel-based morphometry that tissue density and white matter integrity correlate substantially with IQ. Though that only means that 60 percent of the time it did not correlate substantially at all, with the same being noted for fMRI and PET. They also note that neuroimaging is ‘correlational by nature‘, so post hoc, ergo propter hoc. This is the problem: we can reliably state how and why people are more athletic then others, but when it comes to IQ/’intelligence’, these differences are fleeting and there is a ton of contradictory evidence, as noted by Jung and Haier (2007).

All in all, we don’t need a theory of athletic differences for both individuals and populations, though one is easily articulated because we actually—and reliably—know how and why individuals are, say, faster than one another and how and why different people succeed in different athletic competitions, the same cannot be said for IQ, the ‘unseen construct’. Attempting to use a nonexistent theory of athletic ability as an analog to no theory for individual differences in IQ does not make sense because they’re two wildly different things, one is an actual measurable thing (with actual reliable physiological/physical differences), while IQ is a reified construct. Explaining these athletic differences between groups and individuals is extremely easy: differing body type along with differing physiology and, of course—and perhaps most importantly—the mind matters way more than one thinks. One can have all of the physical gifts in the world, but if they don’t have the right mindset then they will not succeed (Lippi, Favoloro, and Guidi, 2008).

Combining all of these factors, we get: individuals and groups differ in morphology, physiology and mindsets which then causes differences in sporting competition. When it comes to differences between races, such as the West African diaspora vs the rest of the world, the hypothesis of sickle cell anemia causing a shift to type II fibers is currently the best hypothesis for group differences and explaining why Africans dominate. Though when it comes to individuals, clearly, variation in the aforementioned traits end up causing these differences as no two individuals are the same in regard to body type, physiology and mindset. Of course no two brains are also the same, and I don’t fall prey to simplistic assumptions that ‘everyone is equal’, criticizing IQ tests and their nonexistent, agreed-upon theories doesn’t mean that I believe that ‘everyone is the same’. Athletic ability and IQ, as I’ve shown, are two different things and they do not form an analogous argument.


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