Tests of general knowledge had long been used by psychiatrists as quick measures of intelligence but psychologists eschewed them because they were thought to measure education, not “innate ability”. This changed after the Army IQ tests in World War I included one in their battery and found general knowledge to have an exceptionally high correlation with full-scale IQ, and when David Wechsler added general knowledge to his test battery, he found the same thing.
“Who’s Oprah?” is an example of a general knowledge question. Indeed in the 1970s there was a billboard in Baltimore asking “What’s an Oprah?” as part of a campaign to get people to watch her co-anchor the local news, one of the rare fails of her career. Oprah hated the billboard saying “people were expecting the second coming, and all they got was me.”
Oprah was much happier when she got demoted to co-hosting a local low budget morning show because here she could be spontaneous, show emotion and say whatever popped into her head.
Had David Wechsler lived long enough to see the rise of Oprah in 1986, he might have thought “Who’s Oprah?” would make a good question for his general knowledge (Information) subtest, because Wechsler believed that good items for this subtest are those the average American, with average opportunity, has a chance to acquire for himself, so for example, the distance between two important cities was considered by Wechsler to be a much better question than the distance from the Earth to the sun.
The average American adult has had so much opportunity to learn who Oprah is. They could flip on her TV show. They could hear about her on the news. They could see her on the cover of the tabloids or her own magazine when they go to the grocery store. Indeed with so much opportunity to see and hear about Oprah, any native born American adult who doesn’t know who she is might have a problem learning, and absorbing and retrieving information.
Indeed according to a new CNN poll, only 2% of U.S. adults have never heard of Oprah, so not knowing who Oprah is, puts you in the bottom 2% of general knowledge (a measure of IQ) and the bottom 2% is defined by IQ tests as an IQ below 70 (U.S. norms). In some U.S. states people with IQs below 70 can not be executed, because they’re considered too impaired to be culpable.
By contrast back in July 2015, a whopping 41% of Americans had never heard of Bernie Sanders. Not knowing who Bernie Sanders is in July 2015 implied an IQ below 97; slightly below the national average but still very normal.
Of course in reality, one’s score on general knowledge is never based on a single question, and IQ is seldom calculated from a single subtest.
One might argue that “Who’s Oprah?” is a poor measure of IQ because intellectual types have better things to do than watch daytime TV. Indeed Jonathan Franzen once claimed that he had never seen her show!
However this argument is debunked by what Arthur Jensen called the spread of g (general intelligence) effect, where high IQ people are more knowledgeable even about non-intellectual topics. For example Jensen interviewed a hard-core baseball enthusiast with an IQ in the 70s (probably lower since in those days tests with old inflated norms were still used) but was shocked by how little he actually knew about baseball, despite his lifelong obsession with it.
By contrast a learned professor who believed only idiots watch sports was ashamed by how much he knew about baseball. Jensen believed this was because high IQ brains are like a sponge that just naturally absorbs everything in their environment, even things they’re not actively attending to.
I once had a discussion with a member of the Mega society who was very disappointed to learn that general knowledge had such a high correlation with IQ, perhaps because he felt this correlation undermined the tests somehow.
The fact that knowledge tests are so heritable (supposedly) is surprising to those who expect “culture reduced” tests to better reflect the biological basis of intelligence than tests that are highly mediated by culture. This is known as the heritability paradox. Indeed the “fact” that knowledge tests are among the most heritable thas caused some to believe that the high heritability of IQ is not about tests directly measuring biological functions, but rather about those being genetically predisposed to learn seeking out environments where they can do so.
However according to Jensen, the heritability paradox is not a paradox at all, but rather easily explained by the well known concept of aggregation. To correctly answer “Who’s Oprah?” you must for example, understand a talk show host while she’s on TV talking about adultery. You must remember this understanding. The next day you might hear someone say “I saw Oprah on TV talking about infidelity”. You must know that infidelity is related to adultery, and this must cause you to remember you too saw a talk show host talking about that very topic, and thus infer her name is Oprah, and then you must store that knowledge in long-term memory and retrieve it when asked “Who’s Oprah?”.
So what looks like a single cognitive task (knowing who Oprah is) is actually multiple complex cognitive tasks packed together, so with each general knowledge question, you’re measuring a long sequence of brain functions in the time it takes to measure one, making them incredibly efficient measures of intelligence, at least for people who share the culture of the test.
An argument within this argument is whether tests of acquired knowledge really are more heritable than culture reduced tests. Most heritability studies are based on comparing the phenotype correlation of MZ twins raised together with DZ twins raised together, but this method assumes both pairs are equally similar in environment . A better method is using MZ twins raised apart and in the most famous of these studies, the culture reduced subtests (performance IQ) of the Wechsler scales were actually more heritable than the culturally loaded ones (verbal IQ).
The Philosopher said:
In my experience this is 100% correct but not for aspergers types. I know a fair amount of aspergery engineers and accountants and their general knowledge is poorer than people with lower IQs. I don’t know why that is.
A better way of saying it is that curious people tend to be smarter people.
People are always shocked at how much I know about sport and celeb gossip. In fact I know more about who has dated who in Hollywood than most women.
oprah is a black woman. sad! said:
the fact that you follow celebrity gossip strongly suggests you are a woman.
This is very true. I know a female American-born Master’s student in Mathematics who knew absolutely nothing about politics or pop culture in general. She didn’t know who the Vice President is, for example. I estimate her IQ to be in the 120s. I’ve known engineers like that also.
Quick: which Kardashian has banged the most black dudes???
I’m willing to be though that above a certain IQ threshold of about 150, a persons knowledge of pop culture will have to be low, just because you don’t have any chance to be exposed to it. Knowledge of very-low class pop-culture will be even lower (“culture” like hip-hop music, daytime TV, reality TV, pro wrestling, megachurches).
The Philosopher said:
Theres an interesting board game called Trivial Pursuit. I bet I would win the national title for that for my age group.
Knowing more about more things as an indicator of general knowledge is, at the upper ends, affected by the same test limits same as with 145 being the limit of what the wais can measure. The sampling of what a person knows gets harder to measure as the test reaches a combinatorial explosion of what should be sampled for the test. For example, a person may answer all the questions to get a top score of 145 but this does not mean the questions answered represents all general knowledge they know. If a person read Moby-Dick but no questions on the test asked: “The whale bit off the leg of which character in Moby-Dick”. Then it has not measured the highest general knowledge of the person doing the subtest. General knowledge means that all knowledge would give you a score of 300 or something. But the tests given do not ask all questions about all knowledge and this means what a person may know is a gap in the tests knowledge so the test may give the person a lower score.
The general knowledge a person has may be more than the gaps the test has. If “who is oprah” is not on the test then this is a gap is a test. Gaps in the tests mean only the most basic facts will show the scores in the middle. Gaps will exist in the tests because the tests lack general knowledge and the tests taker may exceed the test in the knowledge the test does not know. The test never asked me about hundreds of books I have definitely read. Only the books the tests takers knew about from the sample of 2,000 people and what they know, which is the problem because the gaps may be only what they know.
From what I saw was not on the test I would say my general knowledge is 150. But that is just to make myself feel better since it cannot be proven.
Many Christians do not like Oprah’s new-ageism (I watch youtube all the time)
“So what looks like a single cognitive task (knowing who Oprah is) is actually multiple complex cognitive tasks packed together, so with each general knowledge question, you’re measuring a long sequence of brain functions in the time it takes to measure one, making them incredibly efficient measures of intelligence, at least for people who share the culture of the test.”
This is a good example of what they call implicit learning and is related to intuition.
The Philosopher is right; for some reason, Aspergeric people tend to be deficient in this ability.
Name redacted by pp, jan 23, 2018 said:
it occurred to me today that if one had two people with the same IQ and IQ profile, one liked trump and the other hated him, the one with higher social IQ would be the one who like trump, but the one with the lower social intelligence might regard the other as lacking social intelligence. this points to how “social intelligence” has two senses. one is ideological, the other is genuine. to put it simply, people often confuse acting in a disapproved of/inappropriate/etc. way as evidence of lower social intelligence. but when asked why such behavior is bad form they have no answer. in this way those who apply their intelligence to social phenomena but who do not fall in line as easily possess genuine social intelligence. another way to put it is: what is called “social intelligence” is usually just instinct, un-conscious following the herd. and the ideological sense is itself twofold. one is simple primitive are you with the team or the odd man out. the other is the frequent employment of the lack of social intelligence to explain why IQ is so imperfectly correlated with rank and status.
the russia stuff is the last gasp of the corporate dems. said:
the point of the figures on traffic fatalities is the power of propaganda.
at least in the US most people would respond with MUCH higher figures than 5.9%. like 50%.
Jensen’s ‘genetic argument’ is based on an outdated model of genes.
At the first sight I did not like the Information subtest from the WAIS-IV. In comparison with the WAIS-III it seemed to be too short, too sterile/politically correct and too American/English . the last items, seemed kinda artificial try to improve the ceiling , being ‘too narrow’. To my surprise , an individual performance on the subtest normally demonstrates a person s rank quite well. Russians find the itemes 5 and 11 hard, the item 22 easy, and consistently fall on the 18. As I see, the rest of the subtest works fairly enough even for that sample . I guess if one can combine the Information with , say, some short nonverbal test and get reliable data about the composite score , then he gets very quick and good measure to use, for example, during an interview for hiring .
But, PP, please no Oprah item for poor foreigners , deal? 🙂
I wonder if there are any countries where knowing who’s Oprah would be the HARDEDST information item on the WAIS.
I am just joking. PP,, you have written an ingenious article. And, you are right,, many know Oprah in Russia too. Especially now -when our state TV covers gossips about possible Oprah s future in politics
Afrosapiens 🇫🇷🇪🇺 said:
France. Only people who are very interested in American culture know Oprah in France. And what most of them know about her is that she’s famous in America. No one would ask for selfies If she walked on the street in a small town.
haha, the folks have started very interesting, quite old, and yet not very well formed/investigated topic. Indeed, a person with – just for instance -a greater knowledge of a criminal slang is unlikely smarter . But I ve never seen a good reading on that
Interesting that Chris Langan wasn’t familiar with the famous Abbott and Costello skit Who’s on First..
Drew, who are you?Are you from MIT? I wanna know you better)))
What people do facing uncertainty? They project their inner world outside. The question from MMPI ‘ I have a headache often -Y/N’ is not about a headache , it is about something else. (what s ‘often’ for God s sake?)
Reading the post someone enjoyed it as something entertaining and original, and tended to agree that even in his country ” many” know the name, when someone seemed a kind of less happy and decided to say ‘few’ -hehe
Just got from a family dinner with 6 persons (not a random sample – all educated, all are women, we all are blood relatives)
They have been asked:
“A foreign friend of mine is sure that Russians can t know some name. Do you know a name Oprah?”
I had chosen this form of the question to make them a bit more competitive and enthusiastic. Plus, in Russian, the direct question “who is Oprah” ( Кто такая Опра?) reveals the sex of the person
( to be continued)
5 out 6 know the name. they know that she is ” a TV show host…black… an actress… among the very best paid stars… american’. 2 0f the 5 know that ” Americans love her and want her to be the President one day” – hehe
1 out that 2 correctly recalled her surname (I did not ask them for that)
3 male friends were asked the same (on Whatsapp)
1. ‘I dont know”
2. ‘ I ve herd something…. an actress?”- he was sounding more like guessing
3. ” an actress or a TV show star”
No specific additional spontaneous comments from this group ( like black, american etc)
My first estimate was 5-10% of all adult Russians know the name, but very likely the number is much bigger
You actually researched it? That’s so cool! Thanks!
PP, I have just sent a msge to your e-mail. Would be great if you react somehow/ It may be in the junk folder, again)
Yes, I sent a really quick reply, though I had to correct something I said, so look for 2 emails from me
I sent 2 more, but not so complicated questions.))) I am sorry
That’s fine. I’ll reply over next couple days
Thank you very much
Puppy Person said:
Funny, if you didnt [redacted by pp, nov 18] oprah I would have thought you were very high IQ.