Friday, June 22, 2007

Study Says Eldest Children Have Higher I.Q.s

From the New York Times courtesy of AlterNet:

Researchers have long had evidence that first-borns tend to be more dutiful and cautious than their siblings, early in life and later, but previous studies focusing on I.Q. differences were not conclusive. In particular, analyses that were large enough to detect small differences in scores could not control for the vast differences in the way that children in separate families were raised.

The new findings, which is to appear in the journal Science on Friday, are based on detailed records from 241,310 Norwegians, including some 64,000 pairs of brothers, allowing the researchers to carefully compare scores within families, as well as between families. The study found that eldest children scored about three points higher on I.Q. tests than their closest sibling. The difference was an average, meaning that it showed up in most families, but not all of them.


Another potential explanation concerns how individual siblings find a niche in the family. Some studies find that both the older and younger siblings tend to describe the first-born as more disciplined, responsible, a better student. Studies suggest — and parents know from experience — that to distinguish themselves, younger siblings often develop other skills, like social charm, a good curveball, mastery of the electric bass, acting skills.

“Like Darwin’s finches, they are eking out alternative ways of deriving the maximum benefit out of the environment and not directly competing for the same resources as the eldest,” Dr. Sulloway said. “They are developing diverse interests and expertise that the I.Q. tests do not measure.”

This kind of experimentation might explain evidence that younger siblings often live more adventurous lives than eldest siblings.

Click here for the rest.

Well, this might be true statistically speaking, but it just can't tell the entire story. You see, I happen to know that I'm smarter than my older brother: he was wrong on the Clinton impeachment, and he was wrong on Iraq--I was right. The key to such an aberration lies in the statement above, "first-borns tend to be more dutiful and cautious." That is, they're traditionalists generally, which means that they're hopelessly attracted to the conventional wisdom, whether it's right or wrong. When virtually everybody believes something is true, such traditionalists are very likely to believe it too, unless it somehow violates custom and tradition, in which case they stick with the tried and true.

You know, if anything, such an observation shows how IQ is rather hopeless as a real indicator of intelligence. That is, as an assessment tool for educational purposes, IQ tests have their uses, but they're limited, and our culture doesn't seem to factor that in when considering what intelligence actually means. For instance, athletic ability is rarely considered as having anything to do with intelligence, but the brain controls the body: surely Michael Jordan is a true genius when it comes to basketball. Consequently, this three point disparity in IQ between eldest and younger siblings is, in the grand scheme, inconsequential.

Besides, if my big brother wasn't so conservative and tied to conventional ways of thinking, I'm sure he'd be much smarter than I am.