This past week I spent a lot of time studying patterns (distributions) of human behavior relative to online advertising. For instance, the distribution of click-through rates across continents, or the distribution of advertising prices across online publishers.

While looking at many graphs and curves, I wondered: what does the distribution look like for human intelligence?

Aside from the inherent difficulties in judging intelligence (important to note – I believe intelligence is impossible to truly measure) it’s probably safe to assume that the distribution of intelligence would be a bell curve.

However, what do you think the bell curve looks like? Is it wide and fat (indicating vast difference between intelligence levels), or thin and tall (suggesting we’re all huddled around the same level of smarts)?

There’s one more concept that I’ve been playing with as well. It has to do with all talents, not just intelligence.

When I was very young, I once played a popular computer game called Fallout. In the game, you play the role of a refugee struggling for survival in a post nuclear-apocalyse world. The whole thing was a bit like Mad Max.

It wasn’t the game itself that I’ve been thinking about – but rather the game set up. At the very start of the game you had to create your character, which would serve as your avatar in the game world. To create your character you had to allocate 30 points over several different personality characteristics like “strength,” “intelligence,” “charisma,” “agility,” and so on. Your allocation of these points would determine the skills and abilities of your character.

Each player was allowed to freely allocate their character points, but everyone had the exact same number of total points to allocate. If you wanted to be average at everything, you needed to allocate your character points more or less evenly over all the categories. However, if you wanted to be outstanding in any one area, you needed to compromise in other areas.

The true distribution of human intelligence probably does span a pretty good margin, but in a lot of ways, I think that we all start out with the same number of points.

What do you think?

The Distribution of Intelligence
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  • I’m on my phone, so this is short, but –

    Disentangling intelligence, which is a trait or inherent to the person, from importance, is almost impossible. However, we do know that intelligence is likely to be multifaceted…. so instead of a neat Normal distribution, you get a n-dimensional shape, withe each variable a normal.distribution.

    Second, the interplay between intelligence and expertise is likely to be interesting. So much of the popular use of intelligence intelligence’s actually expertise (because knowledge modifies perception, both speed and.actual registered information).

    Effectiveness probably has less to do with intelligence than with cumulative knowledge and practice applying it.

    I also think it unlikely we start out with the same number of points, but I think it matters less than many people think.

  • Interesting thoughts – like your texture around intelligence being multifaceted.

    Regarding everyone not having the same number of points, but it not mattering that much – are you referencing Gladwell’s argument that you only have to be “smart enough” – or are you talking about something else?

  • I think there would be a normal distribution in “number of points” but I then believe that intelligence does not render anything uniquely accessible.

    That is, for some given skill, in absolute terms, someone of any intelligence can achieve the same competence.

    The other variables – time, dedication, whatever – would step in, so perhaps someone of “lesser” intelligence may train fewer skills.