The Myth of The 30 IQ Point “Communication Range”

By Neuroskeptic | August 31, 2017 3:34 am

Earlier this week I tweeted a link to a Quora post which, I felt, was rather silly. The post was a response to the question “Are people with very high IQs generally happy?” and it answered in the negative:

Let’s say high IQ is a blessing which comes with a terrible price. And each and every person with reading east from 135 has paid that price.

HIgh IQ persons usually have also extremely vivid and wide spectrum of emotions and emotional life, and when they are happy, they are in rapture, and when they are unhappy, it is sheer emotional hell. The IQ is a great enabler, and it unfortunately also enables to experience unhappiness in much deeper and profound way than anyone with mediocre IQ would.

The reason for the frequent misery of the intelligent, according to the Quoran, was something called the ‘communication range’

The concept of communication range was established by Leta Hollingworth. It is +/- 2 standard deviations (roughly 30 points) up or down on one’s own IQ. It denotes the range where meaningful interaction (communication, discussion, conversation and socializing) is possible. If the IQ difference between two persons is more than 30 points, the communication breaks up. The higher IQ person will look like an incomprehensible nerd and the lower IQ as a moronic dullard – and they will not find anything common.

When I read this, the ‘communication range’ struck me as at best an oversimplification. However, many people replied to my tweet, and a fair proportion seemed to take the idea seriously. I also found several references to the concept online. So I decided to look into it. Here’s what I found.


As far as I can tell, the idea of the 2 standard deviation IQ communication range did not start with Leta Hollingworth. Hollingworth (1886 – 1939) was a pioneering psychologist who did conduct research on high IQ individuals and published extensively on the topic, however she never used the term ‘communication range’ nor explicitly discussed such an idea.

The term was I think coined by Grady M. Towers in 1987 in an article called ‘The Outsiders’. Towers there said that Hollingworth implicitly defined the 30 IQ point communication range when she wrote that:

Observation shows that there is a direct ratio between the intelligence of the leader and that of the led. To be a leader of his contemporaries a child must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than those to be led… But generally speaking, a leadership pattern will not form–or it will break up–when a discrepancy of more than about 30 points of IQ comes to exist between leader and led.

Towers comments on this passage as follows:

The implication is that there is a limit beyond which genuine communication between different levels of intelligence becomes impossible.

This seems to me a significant logical leap. Hollingworth was writing specifically about leadership, and in childen, but Towers extrapolates the point to claim that any kind of ‘genuine’ communication is impossible across a 30 IQ point gap.

It is worth noting that although Hollingworth was an academic psychologist, her remark about leadership does not seem to have been stated as a scientific conclusion from research, but simply as an ‘observation’. Towers was not a psychologist, but was a member of various high-IQ societies.


‘The Outsiders’ was published in Gift of Fire, the journal (not a peer-reviewed scientific one) of the Prometheus Society, membership of which is open to anyone scoring above the 99.997th percentile of IQ.

Grady Towers died in 2000 at the age of 55 while working as a security guard.

So as far as I can see the ‘communication range’ is just an idea someone came up with. It’s not based on data. The reference to specific numbers (“+/- 2 standard deviations, 30 points”) gives the illusion of scientific precision, but these numbers were plucked from the air.

Of course, that two people might struggle to communicate because of differences in their mental capacities (or any other personal differences) is hard to doubt, but that this always does happen once a specific difference in IQ points is reached seems doubtful.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: history, science, select, Top Posts, woo, you
  • stevesailer

    The assertion that the maximum IQ range for effective communication between leader and followers is 30 points appeared in Robert Heinlein’s classic juvenile sci-fi novel “Space Cadet” in 1948.

    The hero, an apprentice officer in the Space Navy, grows tired of all the studying his position requires and puts in to transfer to the Space Marines. But his commanding officer tells him that officers shouldn’t be more than 30 points smarter than their men, and thus in the Space Marines he’d flounder because he is so much smarter than those jarheads.

    I’ve always wondered which psychologist Heinlein got that idea from.

    • stevesailer

      A lot of interesting studies were done during World War II. For example, my father, a Lockheed engineer from the late 1930s to the early 1980s, claimed that a government study at Lockheed during WWII found that the optimal number of hours per week of work for getting the most work out of the average worker was 52. Above that, In the long run, quality would start to decline so badly that it wasn’t worth it.

      Is that true? I don’t know, but it’s pretty interesting.

      • jonathanpulliam

        In the early 1980’s, I worked as a PCB designer at Bell Labs, up at the AT&T’s Merrimack Valley Works and once I recall we had to walk down the hall, to “Western Electric” / Manufacturing to watch a series of Quality analysis videos produced by the famous Dr. W. Edwards Deming, and if it would have behooved “Management” to have a working grasp of maximizing real productivity, Dr. Deming emphasized that “Management” was falling well short of the mark.

      • Benjamin Espen

        I’m not sure, but I find this interesting too Steve. Lots of companies in the US that make a lot of money at present work their salaried employees much longer hours than this, which might indicate the number can be higher.

        I suspect there might be a big difference between manual labor and keyboard labor here, but I don’t have any real data.

        • ZenGeekDad

          Late 1990s, I read some well-credentialed study (Harvard? MIT? I forget) validating that at most a ~10% sustained OT rate can give a lasting increase in net output. Any larger sustained OT rate gives only a temporary boost in net output — for about two weeks — after which psychological adaptations kick in, restoring for the employee some work-life balance.
          More recent research in willpower backs this up. While willpower can be strengthened by practice, much like a muscle, willpower also fatigues in the short term, like a muscle, … with a tendency for rebound hedonism to protect us from too much self-sacrifice.
          These studies have closely matched my personal experience, as I’ve worked ~31 years in roles that constantly push for more hours than I can sustain. My positive engagement and output definitely follows these described curves. Spend too many hours per week at work, and I start to steal personal hours back out of those, like Swiss cheese.

          • jrkrideau

            I read some well-credentialed study (Harvard? MIT? I forget) validating
            that at most a ~10% sustained OT rate can give a lasting increase in
            net output.

            I would think that this would depend on the base-line hours of work. There is a difference in going from 37.5 hour, five day week schedule to 41.25 hour, five day week versus a 48 hour, six day week to a 52.8 hour six day wee

        • jrkrideau

          lots of companies in the US that make a lot of money at present work their salaried employees much longer hours

          Or think they do?

      • jrkrideau

        Well, based on my casual reading that is likely a bit high but in the ballpark and it may depend on exactly how one defines the 52 hour.

        Generally the figure of 40 hours is used for like what I imagine an “average” worker in an aircraft assembly plant. There was a study of worker productivity in the British munitions industry during WWI that found that increasing working hours beyond 40 hours/week showed no increase in productivity.

        I have seen some discussion suggesting that even shorter hours might be reasonable for knowledge workers but am not familiar with any research in the area.

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      • Scott S.

        Possibly, but it would have been very case specific concerning a subset of workers. More generalized and better studies were done on this at the turn of the 20th century when efficiency experts were the rage and studying all sorts of business related activities. Several studies were published and the findings replicated by other researchers showing that beyond forty hours of work a week, productivity gains were offset by increases in errors. When this was examined in conjunction with overhead costs, unit cost of production started to increase beyond forty hours of work a week. Thus, our current 40 hour work week model. In war production, as you related in WWII Lockheed studies, there may not have been concerns for unit costs vs total production, which would have yielded a different finding.

    • Neuroskeptic

      Interesting! Either Heinlein had read Hollingworth, or it was an idea that entered general circulation.

      • Uncle Al

        Heinlein graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland with the class of 1929 and went on to serve as an officer. If things go sour on a ship, you have 1000 men and nowhere to flee. What besides Command will save you?

  • Денис Бурчаков

    Now that’s brings a whole new dimension to the concept of vanity press. This society…accepting one in 30 000 and still only around 100 members. Sigh. And I guess tweeter commenters are yet to learn about stoic ethics.

  • jonathanpulliam

    Smart people don’t hesitate to lie. Fake news is the new black.

  • jonathanpulliam

    By the rude dike that block’d the flood
    White flag to Harvey’s breeze unfurled
    Here the super-genius Trummpler stood,
    And told the biggest whoppers in the world.

    • jonathanpulliam

      I voted for President Trump and find I have buyer’s remorse. That said, I still feel Trump is better than Hillary would have been.. You need to be more like Captain Reynaud in Casablanca, yo.

      • Erik Bosma

        That was the WHOLE problem – Trump WAS better than everyone else. My god, I’m so glad I live In Canada. For now…

  • C’est la même

    So it’s not my high IQ, but simply that I’m weird? 😉


      We’ve been trying to tell you for a while.

    • Suski Vee

      They are not mutually exclusive.

  • CanWeChill?

    Haile Selassie was Ethiopian, not Somalian.

    • OWilson

      I stand corrected! :)

  • Matthew C. Barrett

    Are you kidding me?! You’re really going to come on here and make such a blatantly false and racist claim?

    • SeeToSee

      Wow, I just discovered the “block user” selection on Disqus!

    • Ron Gonshorowski

      They really did.

  • Megadead™

    Are you calling me stupid?

  • Ken Mitchell

    No discussion concerning IQ is valid without a Dilbert cartoon, so here’s the relevant one.

    “Intelligence has much less practical application than you’d think.”

    • Pashta

      Being smart simply means you learn faster than most others. It doesn’t make you rich. I wish it did…

      • Sierra Victor

        IQ is the great enabler – nothing more, nothing less.

        Having finally found my own tribe(s), I would not swap my family, my friends, my work and my hobbies to all the money in the world. You cannot take your wealth with you in the grave, so what’s the point? It is enough for me to make sufficient money to fund my family and my hobbies and have some savings should a rainy day hit.

        In the end the one who has most toys when s/he dies does not win. The one who has played most with his/her toys with his/her toys before death wins.

  • Suski Vee

    You might be interested in this text:

    There appears to be empiric evidence for the 30 points (two standard deviations) range. It is more than just a myth.

  • Suski Vee

    Here is another Quora posting you might be interested:

    It seems many of the answerers actually do have experience and empiric evidence of the communication range.

  • Murat Demirtas

    I think that would be quite fun, if someone seriously did scientific research on the ‘IQ-based communication range’. I imagine tons of scientific papers referring each other, criticizing their methods for not sufficiently accounting for countless confounding factors. Finally they reach the conclusion that high IQ people perform more efficiently than others when they are given the same task under same conditions. Fireworks! I think the argument would not make more sense even if it were based on some data. The problem is not IQ itself, it can be a good way to quantify cognitive capacity and it can be useful depending on the context. It is because ‘meaningful/genuine communication’ does not mean anything, so it can be anything the observer wants. You can rephrase the quotes changing ‘IQ’ for ‘mood disorder questionnaire’ or ‘which game of thrones character are you test’… I guess what you find disturbing is that the real argument is masked by scientific-like language. Qualitative arguments have values of their own.

    People having different level of knowledge about a topic unlikely communicate, regardless of IQ. There is more than enough information in the world to communicate far beyond the capacity of any individual to handle, and few (if any) of each bit of that information is inaccessible to an average person. Lack of motivation to communicate or how you feel about communication is something different. The way they process information might be inaccessible for two people with very different capacities, which is not surprising because it is how IQ is defined. But information itself is not magical. In this sense, personally, my observation is that If I and the other person is willing to communicate; understanding someone apparently much more intelligent than me just takes longer. Same way, it is not impossible for me to communicate with someone who is mentally disabled. In both cases obviously I do not understand how they process or how they feel. However, the communication breaks down if the other party (or me) distort the reality, which I think is the case.

    Regarding leadership, no need to say things like physical power, charm and dominance, but the observation is invalid unless the sole purpose of the group is to solve a math problem… I would expect a clear discrepancy of IQ between a child and an adult, that is why adults are able to supervise and lead. So, if communication is not possible between the leader and the led, then I bet 30 points IQ gap is not genuine, or more likely that gap does not add anything relevant to the situation (like when being faster not necessarily get you to your destination earlier). Also, is it awkward to say that long long ago people invented hierarchy and specialization for a reason.

  • stargene

    The classic long range studies by Louis Terman went completely against
    the old meme that extremely intelligent men and women were unhappy misfits. Instead they generally did very well socially and, other things
    being equal, they showed good psychological integration. And I agree
    with Mr. N. Skeptic that the 30 IQ criterion seems like psychobabble.
    Also, Heinlein, bless his narrow little ego, was overly fond of stating
    things like the 30 IQ thing as bald, incontrovertible fact, in support of
    his plot-lines, not to mention his penchant for military and Randian ideology.

    • Erik Bosma

      I have a high IQ and as far as I’m concerned it has been a curse. Not a fun life. I was always too clever to listen to people who were trying to give me direction because I ‘knew’ I was way smarter than them so I knew way more than they did. Now I’m almost 64 and have nothing. No, wait, I have an old trailer. My dad always said, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” It went right over my head.

      • stargene

        I get it. That’s why I wrote ‘..other things being equal..’. We can all cite cases where high IQ did NOT ensure happiness or even success. Norbert Wiener, Kaczynski and Sidis come to mind. I can cite the case of a best
        childhood friend with stratospheric intelligence who was literally ruined by his parents.

        But on average…when outside influences or inner expectations don’t screw things up, gifted people tend
        to function well. Just sayin’.

        • Sierra Victor

          Yikes! Child prodigies do not only tend to burn out young, but they are sometimes sheerly cremated alive!

          Nothing is worse for a young brightie than to be born in a family where his or her talents are abused. Such child is nothing but a trick pony or some kind of a circus animal for his or her parents, and the results can be devastating. There is nothing bad if a kid wants to be new Teemu Selänne, but if his father wants to be new Ilmari Selänne, it is alarming.

          As I insisted, high IQ is but a great enabler. How you use it, depends on a) yourself and b) your environment and milieu. When talent is combined with willpower and self-discipline and supportive environment, only sky is the limit.

          (Except, of course, in skydiving, where the ground is the limit.)

      • Sierra Victor

        That is why schools for specially talented are a good idea. They would provide a bright kid not only a place to meet peers and socialize with them and develop social skills, and enough intellectual challenges, but also to realize that when he or she is in correct environment he or she can really develop the talent to the fullest and benefit from it. It is not elitism but preservation. In such environment a kid would also realize he or she is not too clever nor smart to listen to other people. It’s awfully lonely at the top.

        I learned in the comprehensive school to hide the candle under the bushel. I sometimes deliberately answered wrong on questions on tests lest I get too good grades and to be singled out as swot. Playing dumber you are is incredibly consuming and destructive.

        The same argumentum ad crumenam works also the other way: “why aren’t you smart if you are so rich?” The answer is that IQ and wealth tend to have correlation but not causation, and it works only up to IQ of 120 to 135, where it begins to peter out. I myself am just another lab rat in a small university. But I feel I am amongst my own and I wouldn’t swap it for double the salary at private sector. The milieu and social concept matters me more than wealth.

    • Sierra Victor

      Actually the Grady M. Towers’ review refuted a lot of the Terman’s axioms. While all high IQ people aren’t by any means unhappy misfits, many of them were – and the higher your IQ, the more problems you were likely to develop. And what was even more dramatic was that high IQ women had significantly more problems than high IQ men, while there were far more men amongst the Terman’s subjects than women.

      Towers divided the Terman’s subjects in three categories: complete successes, some maladjustment and severly maladjusted. There were two trends. The first was that the higher the IQ, the more chances of maladjustment. The second was that the more like-minded background (i.e. siblings and family members who had similar IQ, elite schooling, career in academia etc) the less problems with maladjustment, while those who had to grow up in environment where they found no peers, the more likely to develop maladjustments.

      Tower’s postulate was that the 30 point gap is no psychobabble but very much real. I (the original writer of the Quora essay) have found it empirically very much true on my own life as well. Those interested in details may as well read my original essay on Quora.

      I don’t consider myself as an unhappy misfit. On Terman-Towers scale, I would be “well-adjusted”. But let’s say I have cried my cubic metre of tears over this issue.

  • ZenGeekDad

    The Neuroskeptic posts a seemingly valid critique of this hypothesis as for now merely a hypothesis, but then offers a counter opinion as something more than opinion. Hmm. I’d love to see some serious study on this topic, since it could offer so many insights into the challenges of society, business, and government. How large a role does this play in elections (e.g., the last major one)?
    For now, it’s just an intriguing speculation. For me, it has the ring of some truth. But there may also be some Dunning-Kruger effect (applies to geniuses too) / self-validating perspective.

  • Денис Бурчаков

    It explains much, thx.

  • Erik Bosma

    I think the only reason someone doesn’t want to communicate with or can’t communicate with someone who has a perceived higher or lower IQ is because they are assholes. But what do I know? My IQ is 145 and I like everyone and love to communicate with everyone – except assholes, that is. And, sadly, there are a lot of those. People of all colours, sizes and shapes are interesting. The more off the beam they are; the more interesting.

    • Sierra Victor

      Having IQ of 145, your effective communication range would be from 115 to 175. That will contain some 18% of the whole populace (assuming average of 100). It is wide enough for sufficient socialization and social adjustment to claim you like to communicate with everyone. On Terman-Towers scale, you would most likely belong amongst the well-adjusted.

      But I presume your comprehensive school wasn’t all wine and roses, and you mention you have met your fair share of ar$eholes. You also mention “the more off-beam they are, the more interesting”. That fits well on Towers’s findings. Have you ever been in a “totalitarian institution” such as military, hospital, penitentiary or boarding school – where you have been amongst people you don’t know and where there is no getting out? If you have, you most likely have kept your eyes open and learned a lot of people with average or slightly below average intelligence.

      The communication range isn’t about communication per sé: it is about _meaningful_ communication and interaction: forming friendships, forming marriages, companionships, acquaintances and finding a group where you can say you belong. According to A.R. Jensen (1980, a marriage is most likely to succeed when the IQs of the partners do not differ more than 13 points.

      Here is an interesting essay by Rauno Lindström of which you might be interested:

      And finally to everyone: If you think you are the smartest person in the room and the others feel like dumbasses, you most likely are. Find another room – preferably occupied by smarter people than you are. You both will be delighted.

  • Erik Bosma

    What’s the difference?

    • Sierra Victor

      A big one. Everyone with IQ east of 135 knows it is no wine and roses, but a blessing which comes with terrible price. Everyone who has experienced it himself or herself knows they are no elites, but deviants.

      High IQ is like height. Slightly more than average, it is an asset: much more than average, it is a liability. If you are much taller than average, say 2 m, you will find it extremely hard to find clothes, furniture, gear etc – they have all been designed to shorter people.

      The same applies to IQ. The society runs on conditions of the normies. Every high IQ person who is also smart, learns very quickly to hide his or her candle under the bushel and play much dumber he or she really is – to fit in the crowd and not get bullied, ostracized, ousted and excluded. The more you differ from the norm, the more likely you are to be squashed. Sorry, but that’s basic human sociodynamics.

      And let’s say that playing dumb is extremely consuming. When at military boot camp, I said I was “brewery worker” (which I technically had been) and not that I had high school diploma with honours. (I revealed my past only when I applied for officer training.)

      Many, if not most, high IQ people have never met anyone like themselves and have found any peers, let alone had similar friends. I found people like myself only very late in my life. The best on high IQ societies is that they can provide peer support and meeting places for people who simply are different and not fitting in: a place where to learn the social skills which the normies learn naturally.

      To put it short: in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is not the king but the freak.

  • stargene

    Another thought…
    This Genius equalling Huge IQ notion seems somewhat at odds with
    some things. Genius involves creativity also, not to mention something
    Einstein possessed, having nothing to do with intelligence…his enormous
    capacity to enjoy things (not just science but food, music, tricks …).
    Creativity itself has not been quantified with nearly the ~’precision’
    surrounding intelligence (IQ, ‘g’ factor, etc.), though studies in the
    past show positive correlation between creativity and IQ up to maybe
    an IQ of 120 or so. But above 120, creativity and IQ seem to sort
    independently of one another. Ie: One can have super IQ and low
    creativity, or the reverse, or both high or both low. And I’m leading
    up to something here: A small, narrow population pool of people
    having extremely high IQs (say over at the Triple Nine or the Mega
    Society) might statistically, and perforce, have a smaller range of creativity, closer to some norm or average, simply because it’s a
    very small sampling of creativity among the larger gen pop.

  • Sierra Victor

    As the author of the original essay on Quora, I would like to address this answer directly to the Neuroskeptic himself:

    1) My original essay on Quora didn’t insist that high IQ people tended to be unhappy. Negative: I insisted that high IQ is a blessing which comes with terrible price. Given to all ups and downs of my life due to my own IQ, I consider the net sum as positive. I have had my cubic metre of tears, but high IQ has enabled me also a lot. High IQ is a great enabler – nothing more, nothing less – and in both good and in bad. On Terman-Towers scale, I would consider myself “well-adjusted”.

    2) The concept of communication range is not “30 points” per se, but two standard deviations (sigmas), which is roughly 30 points but not exactly. It applies to both directions – to up and down. The limits are by no means clear-cut, but rather foggy.

    3) Psychology is not an exact science like physics, chemistry or astronomy. It is somewhere between natural sciences and Humanist studies. We cannot apply scientific method on psychology like we could on astronomy. All theories and concepts on psychology are always more or less mere observations, theories and hypotheses, which either are supported by statistical facts or not. The concept of communication range is not a natural law like law of gravity, but there is an awful lot of empirical data and observations that it really indeed exists.

    4) I have myself kept my eyes open and observed people around me and also tried to falsify or prove the communication range. On my personal experience I can say the concept is very much valid. My personal experience in military (boot camp > specialist training > officer academy) produced exactly the results the communication range theory predicted.

    5) The communication range is not about communication per sé: it is about _meaningful_ communication and interaction: friendships, companionships, belonging in a group, marriage etc. A.R. Jensen suggested in 1980 that a marriage is most likely to succeed if the IQs of the partners do not differ more than 13 points (Jensen, A.R. (1980). Bias in mental testing.p.388. New York: Methuen.). That is very much on line with what the communication range theory would predict.

    6) Towers’s study confirmed several of Terman’s original hypotheses, but also disproved several. The most crucial findings were that a) the higher one’s IQ was, the more problems with social adjustment and ‘fitting in’, and b) the best indicator to predict whether the subject had problems on social adjustment was background: those born in families with siblings, parents and other relatives having also high IQ, having attended schools for specially gifted and been in academia had few problems, while those born in families where intelligence was not appreciated, where they were the only ones with high IQ, where they find no peers in their environment or where they generally found no similar-minded companionship had serious problems with social adjustment. This is a result which the communication range theory would predict. Also high IQ women were much more likely to develop problems than high IQ men.

    My point is that a) the communication range theory is valid, not because it was a scientific fact but because it is supported by empiric data and b) this subject would need some really serious academic study. The communication range is more than just a “myth”, but it is not “hard science” either.

  • Carolyn Wilshire

    A discussion on IQ, and I was astonished to see that not a single commenter had questioned the concept itself, and what the very diverse sets of tests designed to measure IQ are actually measuring.

    The idea of IQ quantifying intellectual capacity on a single dimensional scale is a very old and quite naive concept – which for some reason, we have been unable to free ourselves from. It original purpose was to identify those needing special support, and in this regard I expect it is still useful. But in all other respects, treat with caution!

    According to contemporary cognitive psychological approaches, a person’s capacity to perform the kinds of tasks used in IQ tests depends on a mixture of specific and general cognitive skills. The specific may include the ability to maintain verbal and/or spatially coded information. The general may include the capacity to successfully direct cognitive resources in a goal-relevant way (avoid distractions). But general factors most likely include other things, such as general education and degree of practice with the types of tasks used in IQ tests.

    And no discussion of IQ would be complete without a mention of the Flynn effect – the observation that population IQs are steadily increasing every generation (go on, google it!). Ether we are genuinely getting smarter, or else one of those general practice/experience things is operating.

    Other general factors that contribute to IQ test scores may turn out to be ‘personality’ ones . Those that do well
    on IQ tests are likely to have a highly focussed attentional style (good
    for IQ tests, troublesome in real life), and a high (but no TOO high) level of obsessiveness.

    To most of us, exceptional intellect is not about acquiring knowledge or passing tests. Its the ability to critically analyse real world problems, to view see them in a new light, to generate new ideas and possible solutions.

    Well reasoned analysis in the context of everyday life probably also
    requires something else not well measured in IQ tests – a detachment
    from our emotions and core beliefs. Few can achieve this, for those that do, the ability may be limited to a specific field.

    So herein lies the paradox. Groups that use IQ scores as a membership criterion are buying into the IQ concept unquestioningly. But in so doing, they are failing to display the strong intellect they value so highly.

    • Sierra Victor

      Let’s say IQ is something like height. It is something which can be measured, and per sé – as itself – it is merely a number.

      But it is an _indicator_. Height correlates to several other factors: size, physical strength, weight, appearance, physical performance etc. If you know someone’s height you can well estimate his or her other attributes just as well. Of course your estimations may fail, but they are more likely to be correct than false. (And if you are a swimmer, you can calculate your hull speed from your height.)

      IQ, likewise, is an indicator of one’s cognitive capabilities. It is but a dimensionless number, but you can estimate and deduce many attributes from one’s IQ.

      True, the IQ was originally developed to sieve out those who’d need special support – but it was later noted the concept is very useful for many other applications as well. And if the concept of the communication range is valid – and I personally see no reasons why it wasn’t – the same applies to the other end of the Gaussian curve as well.

      Those at the right side extreme are people with need of special support as well. Due to the thrice-goddamned communication range.

      Too many smarts and genii are lost because of it. See “The Inappropriately Excluded”,

      It appears there is a “sweet spot” of IQ just below the Mensa approval limit (two standard deviations) where one’s IQ is high enough to allow almost any cognitive performance but where the communication range is covering enough to get along with the vast majority of the populace. Most really successful and powerful people tend to have their IQ within 120 to 135 – high enough to be smart but not too hgh to have skewed communication range. There are very few really successful skyhigh IQ people, unless you count chess professionals, Nobel laureates and true genii like J.R.R. Tolkien amongst them.

      The Flynn effect is a very real phenomenon. I have myself noted that I get much better along with people younger (and smarter) than me than with older people. My personal theory is that the Flynn effect is due to healthier life we live, improved nutrition, cleaner environment and improved education. Epigenetics may play their role as well.

      I would like to disagree with you on conclusion that those that do well on IQ tests are likely to have a highly focussed
      attentional style (good for IQ tests, troublesome in real life), and a high (but no too high) level of obsessiveness. Due to my personal experience and also observation of people behaving in high cognitive performance environments. Of course, my samples may be skewed. But IMO the environment and the milieu plays much greater role here. I can say that of my personal experience: I got in troubles with people well outside my communication range, but I have absolutely no difficulties with social skills within my communication range.

      Let’s say also that Its the ability to critically analyse real world problems, to view them in a new light, to generate new ideas and possible solutions is a two-edged sword. This ability can easily get you in troubles. I learned to hide my candle under the bushel very early in my childhood. The authorities really don’t like if their status and value set is questioned.

      And here is the paradox: being intelligent is appreciated in our speech and in our values, but in the real life showing it and applying it in practise is a sure-fire way to serious troubles.

      • Carolyn Wilshire

        I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to infer that a focussed attentional style or a reasonable degree of obsessiveness were negative qualities. Just like anything, they’re good qualities in some contexts, less helpful in others. I consider myself to have a highly focussed attentional style, which gives me great “flow” when I’m in engrossed in a problem, but is really troublesome in other contexts where you need to keep a few things in mind at once. I’m also pretty obsessive when I get involved in a problem.

        My point is really that the traditional conceptual distinction we make between intellect and personalty will probably turn out not to be valid. I was making this point to draw people’s attention to the assumptions on which our current ideas about intellect/personality are based.

        But perhaps I’m being a tad obsessive here…

  • Pashta

    Sorry, but I am high IQ and noticed this myself as a child 30+ years ago. It’s true. Low IQ people just never want to admit there’s anything bad about being low IQ… Even if it’s just a communication problem.

    • Sierra Victor

      I personally noted the communication range in the military. All my life I had been said “if you are so smart, why cannot you learn to get along with all people?” Trust me, I tried. Playing stupid and artificially attempting to act dumber you really are is mentally immensely exhausting. It is basically playing something you are not.

      I come from a more or less a military family, and my dad suggested army would do me good. So I volunteered when I was young. I had severe problems on adjustment at the boot camp – not discipline, but other recruits: I was too different from them, and I almost got in a knife fight. As the average IQ there was 100, it was out of my communication range. The boot camp felt like a prison or concentration camp.

      When I went to specialist training, the situation improved. Military engineers tend to be much more clever lot than average grunts, and I had far fewer problems on adjusting there. I presume the average IQ was now very near the lower limit of my communication range. It felt like kindergarten, but something with which I could cope.

      When an opportunity arrived to apply for officer training, I applied and got selected. From the first day on I felt I was amongst my own and that I belong there. The officer academy was far harder and tougher than boot camp and the discipline was much stricter, but I loved every minute of it. The other cadets were now well on my communication range, and I had absolutely no issues with anything nor anyone, We formed life-long friendships. It felt as I had been at Eton or Harrow – a prestigious boarding school.

      There was a clear trend. The higher the average intelligence of a group was, the less problems I had with adjustment and coping and getting along. It wasn’t about the external factors (discipline, physical stress or other conditions) as the academy was far harder than boot camp. It wasn’t about social skills as I got really well along with both instructors and other cadets. It was about the communication range. Other engineering cadets had found similar trend as well.

      I later resigned and went to academia. My father was right: military had done me good. But what I can say is that I cannot stress well enough the importance of finding your own tribe: a group or society of people which are similar as you are and whose cognitive abilities are similar as yours or exceed them. It is with them you learn the social skills most easily – not with people whose cognitive capabilities differ radically from yours.

  • smut clyde

    peer support groups for deviants

    No need, we have Neuroskeptic’s discussion threads.

  • Scott S.

    There are several confounding premises in this article that need to be addressed. First and foremost, there is no current model in wide spread use that explains the operations, functionality, and operating principles of emotions. I say wide spread use…researcher Katherine Peil is the foremost pioneer and researcher in the field of emotions. Her EFS (Emotional Feedback System) model was published in international medical journals in March of 2014 and she is a key note speaker as medical symposiums around the world introducing her revolutionary (and evolutionary) model of emotions to scientist. I partnered with her some twenty-five years ago to advance emotion research and my model, Paradaptive Intelligence, due out in two months advances her work. There is no evidence that intensity of emotions is connected to intelligence. The emotional signalling strength is the same whether IQ is 70 or 170. The only research in which intensity of emotions has correlation to behavior is related topsychopathy. Peil’s model’s initial premise was to create a new diagnostic tool for mental illness. In order to do that, one first had to describe what the mind was (supposed to be) doing in order to describe deviation and its accompanying mental illness. This had never been done before and our work has been a break through in this area. What we found is that what started out as a diagnostic tool ended up modeling the adaptation apparatuses of the mind and the operating language of these systems is emotions, which is how the varying processing centers of the brain communicate with each other. I very much understand the intuitive appeal of the 30 I.Q. point communication spread, however, again, this has limits. IQ at its heart is the rate at which a person learns in active learning, (as opposed to conditioned, which has a much flatter baseline). So high I.Q. individual have a higher reservoir of data to build understanding and communication links upon with other like minded people. However, one of the hallmark personal behaviors of high IQ individuals is to take complex subject matter and explain it in non-complicated ways to people who lack the understanding or intellect to understand the problems or issues. So there really is no so called communication gap. What is really being discussed is propensity or desire to communicate based upon satisfaction of both parties. They can and do communicate just fine, if they want to.

  • Pingback: Lectuur op zaterdag: schaduwonderwijs, nudging in de klas, een goocheltruc en meer | X, Y of Einstein?()

  • Jon Mellon

    I don’t buy this idea at all. Obviously there’s some ideas that people of different levels of intelligence would have very different abilities to comprehend (this is basically built into the definition of IQ), but it’s up to individuals whether they want to define every one of their relationships around discussion of the most intellectually complex ideas they are capable of. It’s not hard to imagine a very high intelligence person enjoying the discussion of gossip about friends, discussion of physical hobbies, and all the rest of the large section of human experience that does not fundamentally require a high IQ. For instance you could imagine a person of normal intelligence who was deeply knowledgeable about horticulture and seed growing techniques. I fail to see why a very intelligent person with a love of horticulture couldn’t benefit and have a real relationship with the more knowledgeable but less intelligent (in an IQ test sense) individual.

    This basically only goes in one direction. A very high IQ person should be able to understand everything that a low IQ person says at least as well as another low IQ person (assuming sufficient cultural literacy). If the high IQ person decides that that they do not want to have that communication, then that’s a choice not a fundamental limit of communication (i.e. this is only a binding constraint on the low not the high IQ person).



No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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