Outsiders on the inside

18/03/2013 § 4 Comments

The subject of gifted children and the kinds of adults they become has been studied for a century. A good starting point is ‘The Outsiders’, an article from high-IQ society publication. Although it was first published in 1987, it is still relevant.

One researcher of giftedness, Lewis Terman, found that children with IQs above 140 tended to become one of three types of adults: Satisfactory, Some maladjustment, or Serious maladjustment. Maladjustment appears to be positively correlated with IQ.

Leta Hollingworth discussed four specific sources of maladjustment. Two of these are failure to suffer fools gladly and isolation from the rest of humanity. Quoting the author quoting Hollingworth:

This tendency to become isolated is one of the most important factors to be considered in guiding the development of personality in highly intelligent children, but it does not become a serious problem except at the very extreme degrees of intelligence. The majority of children between 130 and 150 find fairly easy adjustment, because neighborhoods and schools are selective, so that like-minded children tend to be located in the same schools and districts. Furthermore, the gifted child, being large and strong for his age, is acceptable to playmates a year or two older. Great difficulty arises only when a young child is above 160 IQ. At the extremely high levels of 180 or 190 IQ, the problem of friendships is difficult indeed, and the younger the person the more difficult it is. The trouble decreases with age because as persons become adult, they naturally seek and find on their own initiative groups who are like-minded, such as learned societies [3, p. 264].

In a nutshell, gifted children may be poorly socialised because society doesn’t have much to offer them (or so it seems) and doesn’t have a place for them.

With that in mind, it was interesting reading Corey Robin’s take on William Ackman, a billionaire hedge fund manager. It’s a riff on a profile of Ackman in Vanity Fair. It seems that Ackman, um, well, Corey can tell you:

What’s odd in Ackman’s case is how loathed he is by his colleagues.

Ackman is smart. Let me amend that. Ackman has a high IQ. And, it seems, also works hard, plays hard, et cetera and so forth. He remembers his college entrance exam (SAT) score — 1530. That puts his IQ around 160, in the top 99.99%. It also puts him in the ranks of ‘more likely than average to be maladjusted’.

Socialisation — learning the rule of society — puts restrictions on our behaviour. If you don’t learn the restrictions, then they don’t bind you. No, let me change that. You can learn the rules in two different ways. You can internalise them, so that they just become part of what it is to be a good member of your society. Or, you can learn them as anthropological phenomena: in this sort of situation, members of this tribe do thus-and-such. The rules bind you when you allow them to, and you cast them off when they aren’t functional. When you’re the smartest guy in the room, you just might decide that the rules don’t apply to you.

I figure that’s what’s happened with Ackman and others  like him. Gifted children all grown up, they feel above and outside society, which gives them carte blanche to act as they choose. And what they’ve chosen to do is compete about everything, just to prove they are the Masters of the Universe. The hard part is, a billion dollars can’t fix the maladjustment. In some ways, it probably makes it worse.

Just remember, these are the guys running the international financial system. These are the guys who needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.

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§ 4 Responses to Outsiders on the inside

  • Oh no wonder!!!
    About some things, like there being no place for us.
    We are making it however. However maladjusted. And not all of it by being above and sucking out the money.
    Good things are happening. : D

    • Bill says:

      Lovely that good things are happening for you. Making one’s own peace with giftedness seems to be part of it.

  • Hmm. I sympathise entirely with treating social norms as anthropological phenomena to be set aside when adherence costs are too high, but hate the bailouts.

    • Bill says:

      I think treating them as phenomena comes more easily to immigrants, but sometimes the costs of non-adherence are difficult to predict a priori.

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