Sunday, January 20, 2008


In the year 2000 (In the Year 2000!) there was a website by the name of Am I Hot or Not. It probably existed before then, and probably still exists, but in the year 2000 it came into my life. As a freshman I was inventing all kinds of new ways to waste my time, and this website fit the bill. After all, Youtube and Facebook didn’t yet exist. It’s hard to imagine such a world.

A friend introduced me to the site and we decided to put our pictures up for the masses to judge. He is a significantly more attractive individual than I (as evidenced by his successful marriage and a nickname involving the word Hot) and accordingly consistently was rated higher than I was. But I managed to break into the top 50th percentile, and being hotter than average was sufficient for me. But it got me to thinking: is it healthy to know exactly how attractive you are? Sure, you have some idea, but how beneficial is it to have an actual score?

Certainly, Am I Hot or Not is not the model of scientific precision. What the masses believe isn’t necessarily correct. Wikipedia (which didn’t exist yet) and Stephen Colbert hadn’t introduced the Truthiness principle yet. But even if the masses were correct, the masses who happened to vote on AIHoN weren’t necessarily representative. And even if they were, many people, myself included, didn’t always give the people the exact score I felt they deserved. But let’s ignore those factors and return to the original query: is it healthy to know, to the decimal point, how attractive you are?

Cut to last month. Last semester I worked as a control in an autism study. At the end of the study they needed me to come back in and get an IQ test. I’m not clear exactly why, but I was relatively willing to get paid to find out my IQ. I reasoned that if it was high I’d be happy, because I frequently tell people how smart I am and it would like to have some evidence behind my claims. If my score was low, it would show how much grit and determination I must have to have gotten into med school and become the ½ doctor that I am. My score would either prove me intelligent or hard working. It was a win-win situation. Plus I’d get 25 dollars, or as I think of it, a fortnight of Wendy’s lunches.

I received my score shortly before Christmas vacation, and was surprised by the results. As I read the form I realized the error of my ways. It really wasn’t a win-win situation, but a losing one. No matter the result, my ego would be stroked. Perhaps for some a boost in self esteem is in order, but not for me. But not only would I become a bit more cocky, I’d simultaneously be frustrated. Because what IQ is satisfactory? Would I be happy to be at 100, the middle? 120 or 140, the two definitions of genius? The answer is that no score would make me happy. I’d always think that I could’ve or should’ve done better on the test. This is of course true, since I said the capital of Italy was FLORENCE. It’s not like I took 4 years of Latin, or, you know, passed grade school. Oi. So I knew that I could’ve gotten a higher score, for this and other mistakes. So I’d wonder about that, and about the person administering the test, and about the day I had to take it. And if there were no testing conditions to blame, I just should’ve done better because it’s ME. I won writing contests in elementary school. I had the 3rd highest GPA of my high school, which was full of nerds. I’m not bragging (since those are obviously silly things) but proving the point that no score short of 200 would have actually made me content. And even then, people have scores over 200, so I still could’ve done better.

Is it good to know exactly how attractive we are? Does knowing I’m a 6.2 improve my life in any way? Should this score influence the way I act or think about myself? I think the answer is obviously no.

Should I know exactly how smart I am? I certainly believe in the value of an IQ scale. Mental function can be an important diagnostic tool for psychiatry. But does the patient need to know their score? Do I need to know how my brain compares to the average?

I think C. S. Lewis is vastly overquoted, but we was probably a genius and he said “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” Knowing my IQ can bring pride and pleasure, but not contentment or happiness. But it did bring me a fortnight of Wendy’s lunches.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I need an explanation on "the TWO definitions of genius."

IQ tests are whack--studies show that succsessive generations do better. Are people really getting smarter? No. Also, extremely culturally bound. Lucky for you, they are made for white men; not lucky for you, white men in 1914.

Does knowing the capital of Italy indicate intelligence? No way. (Although some might argue NOT knowing makes you an idiot).

Your loving sister--Emily