Solving The African IQ Conundrum : “Winning Personality” Masks Low Scores

[Also by J. Philippe Rushton: The Intelligence Of Nations and I.Q.: Why Africa is Africa – and Haiti Haiti ]

In two earlier VDARE.COM articles (click here and here), I discussed the low average African IQ of 70 reported by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in their path-breaking book IQ and the Wealth of Nations.

As their IQ map of the world illustrates, the average IQ for all countries is 90 (The Wealth of Nations is mapped by their IQ, By Glen Owen, November 10, 2003). Less than one in five countries has national IQs equal or near the British norm of 100. Almost half the countries have national IQs of 90 or less.

If IQ and the Wealth of Nations is correct that an average IQ of 90 forms the threshold for a technological economy, this poses a serious problem.

But can that African 70 average IQ be real? It is indeed extremely low, the lowest found in any comparable area. This has caused many to dismiss the finding.

I know that the figure is not a fluke, however, because for the last six years I have collected African IQ data on hundreds of students at the prestigious University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The average IQ for these African students turns out to be 84. Assuming they score 15 points above the general average, as university students of any group typically do, then an average African IQ of 70 is implied—exactly what the direct measurements show.

An IQ of 70 suggests mental retardation—at least it would in the White populations of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. There it would frequently be associated with dysfunctional social behavior and visible deficiencies.

This is because, as Arthur Jensen pointed out in his 1998 book, The g Factor, retardation in Whites is often the result of a single gene or chromosomal anomaly, which also causes physical abnormalities and mechanical deficiencies effecting motor or speech skills. But, clearly, these abnormalities and deficiencies are not seen in the bulk of the black population of Sub-Saharan Africa.

What`s going on?

One way to think about an African IQ of 70 is in terms of “mental age”—that is, a person`s mental age in relation to his chronological age. Nowadays, standard scores based on the normal distribution (or “bell curve”) have replaced the concept of mental age. But it still provides a way to understand differences.

An average IQ of 100 is set to a mental age of 16. Adult Whites, then, have an average mental age of 16, with a normal range (plus or minus one standard deviation) of from less than 14 years to over 18 years.

African Americans average about 25% European ancestry and have an IQ of 85, which is equivalent to a mental age of nearly 14, with a range of from 11 to 16 years.

An IQ of 70 in adults, then, is equivalent to a mental age of about 11 years. This would make the normal range of mental ages found in Africa to be from less than 9 years to almost 14 years.

Eleven-year-olds, of course, are not retarded. They can drive cars, build houses, and work in factories if supervised properly. Eleven-year-olds can even wage war—and do so in many parts of the world.

Thus in a recent TV documentary on the wars engulfing the Dark Continent, Kalashnikov (the inventor, of the AK47, the famed Russian assault rifle), as well as a U.S. military expert, both said the AK47 was the weapon of choice in the Third World because it was so durable and so simple.

In the latter`s telling words: “Even a child can learn to use this weapon.”

Still, the low African IQ of 70 remains hard for many to accept. One reason for the disbelief: Africans—and African Americans—display high levels of social competence. They are outgoing, talkative, sociable, warm, and friendly. Psychometrically speaking, they score high on the Extraversion personality dimension. They are also much less anxious, shy, and fearful than Whites—they are low in the Neuroticism dimension. This combination of high Extraversion and low Neuroticism results in a socially dominant personality profile.

It is this “winning personality” among Blacks, I believe, that makes it hard for so many to accept the validity of their failing tests of abstract reasoning ability.

A typical academic story comes from professors who, on first exposure to African students, express their delight in the high levels of classroom performance. The students are described as engaged, offering lively opinions, and giving a clear impression of brightness. Only when the students took objectively measured essay or multiple-choice examinations did it become painfully obvious to even the most well-wishing faculty members that their grasp of abstract material failed to live up to their classroom rhetoric.

Millions around the world delighted in the badinage between Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest boxer of all time, who failed the IQ test for his military induction physical, and TV sports announcer Howard Cosell.

“I`m gonna whoop him Howard. You just watch!” Cosell responded, “You`re feeling very truculent today, Muhammad.” Without batting an eye (or opening a dictionary) Ali uttered one of his trademark retorts, “Truculent? If that`s good, I`m it!”

Asked on the CBS news program Face the Nation, “Muhammad, you say you`d never throw a fight, but what about that IQ test?Ali shot back, “I told you I was the greatest, not the smartest!”

Over a century ago, Sir Francis Galton initiated research into individual and race differences in intelligence and temperament. He was the first to propose the study of human twins and of selective breeding in animals to disentangle the effects of heredity and environment. And it was Galton—who spent several years exploring in what is now Namibia as a young man—who first contrasted the talkative impulsivity of Africans with the taciturn reserve of American Indians, and the placidity of the Chinese.

Galton further noted that these temperament differences persisted irrespective of climate (from the frozen north through the torrid equator), and religion, language, or political system (whether self-ruled or governed by the Spanish, Portuguese, English or French).

Anticipating later studies of transracial adoptions, Galton observed that the majority of individuals adhered to racial type even after being raised by White settlers.

In my book Race, Evolution, and Behavior, I review the evidence accumulated since Galton`s pioneering studies. This shows that his views were largely correct. Twin and adoption studies (such as those of identical twins raised apart by Professor Thomas J. Bouchard Jr. at the University of Minnesota) show that traits like Extraversion and Neuroticism are substantially heritable.

Temperamental differences, measured objectively by activity recorders attached to arms and legs, show up in babies. African babies are more active sooner and develop earlier than White babies who, in turn, are more active than East Asian babies. Motor behavior is a highly stable individual difference variable. Even among Whites, activity level measured during free play shows highly significant negative correlations with IQ: more restrained children average higher intellects.

Parallel results are found in four- to six-year-olds using teacher ratings. One study carried out in Quebec, Canada, had teachers rate immigrant children in French language preschools. The teachers reported more outgoing temperament among children of African descent than among those of European descent, and especially than in those of East Asian descent.

The racial differences in temperament are also found on standardized personality tests. Blacks consistently score more outgoing, active, socially dominant, and impulsive than do Whites, while Whites consistently score more active and socially dominant than do East Asians.

It may be surprising to learn that Blacks also have higher self-esteem than Whites and East Asians. This is true even when Blacks are poorer and less educated. In one large study of 11- to 16-year-olds, Blacks rated themselves as more attractive than did Whites. Blacks also rated themselves higher in reading, science and social studies (but not in mathematics).

The Blacks said this even though they knew they had lower actual academic achievement scores than White children.

In contrast, East Asian students, even though they score higher in academic achievement than Whites, often score lower in self-esteem.

What I am suggesting then, is that Blacks have a self-assured “bright” talkative, personality, which leads many people to over-estimate their abstract reasoning ability. East Asians provide a “compare and contrast” case study with people under-estimating their IQ because of their quietness and otherwise “subdued” personality profile. East Asians who average higher than Whites on IQ tests (107 versus 100) have often been described to me as seeming “dull and uncreative” compared to Whites, achieving what they do only through unimaginative rote learning, imitation, and memorization.

The relative restraint of East Asians contrasted with the noisiness of Africans is apparent to anyone visiting their home continents. When the New York Yankees played the first game of the 2004 baseball season before a packed stadium in Tokyo, Japan, the announcers noted how very much quieter the crowd was than those at games in the U.S. But it was a more tranquil disposition, not a lack of interest in the game, which hushed the stands.

Because of the time difference, people all over Japan regularly get up at two in the morning to view games broadcast from the U.S. featuring American teams which include Japanese-born stars.

Like any other group, Whites look upon themselves as the norm. Whites tend not to speak up if they don`t know the answer to a question. Nor do they like to intrude on the privacy of others. They erroneously assume that, because Africans are talkative, they must know what they are talking about.

The flipside is the reticence and reserve of East Asians. In the realm of behavior, English traditionally uses the same term, “dumb,” both for being unable to speak and for being stupid or silly (though both usages are quite Politically Incorrect these days). In the case of the average mental ability of East Asians, dumb is hardly dumber!

The converse is that the greater talkativeness of Blacks does not indicate brightness—it often masks a low ability to reason abstractly.

I hope to return to discussing other aspects of race differences in personality in a future VDARE.COM article. 

J. Philippe Rushton [email him] is a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario and the author of Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective, on which this essay is based.