Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Misconceptions About MENSA - They Exist In Abundance

Over the years as a Mensa  (as well as Intertel) member,  I've encountered so many misconceptions - expressed as opinions or misgivings in different settings - that it's difficult to keep count. Below,  I've  tried to distill each misconception into the form of a question and then either allow it to be addressed by some original author (e.g. in a cited source like Mensa Bulletin, or Intertel Integra) or by myself

Question: If you're so smart, then why aren't you rich?

This one was addressed by a letter writer in the February, 2002 issue of the Mensa Bulletin
The things that our society rewards monetarily are at odds with the sensibilities of many intelligent people. In other words, I know what makes money, and I don't agree with it on a moral or a personal basis. Increasingly, our society rewards a select few who produce concrete products or processes while leaving less concrete producers in the dust. An example is the fact that a college professor who helps to produce businessmen makes less money than any of his students when they finish.

Making money requires a specific type of creativity that is not inherent in intelligence. In order to make money, one must have a product or service to sell. Many intelligent people are operationally intelligent; they are good at the big picture. This does not, however, ensure any specific knowledge of any subject that can be turned into a product or service. One may be brilliant at knowing how to run a company, yet have no clue what to sell.

I think that many intelligent people see keenly the problems that our focus on money can create. Therefore, for better or worse, some react by developing a distaste for money, seeing it as a sign of greed or materialism. Some, I believe, actively avoid making money, though it is probably unconscious to them.

Intelligence is a distraction. Intelligent people have many interests besides their job. Therefore, they may not want to focus as wholeheartedly on their job. Often these interests are esoteric and totally removed from making money.

That's just a few of the patterns I've noticed with myself. Ironically, I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I have wanted to find a business partner to complement the skills that I have. I have good operational abilities, but I am not one to invent a product on my own. Given the proper partner, however, I feel I could help shape the idea and be instrumental in making it work in the market. I actually have spoken with one member in my local group about this, but I am very interested in forming an entrepreneurs' group where some of us can get together and discuss how to make money together in a constructive and moral way.

Question: I already know I'm super smart so why would I want to join Mensa?  Just to show off?

This is a commonplace misperception on why people join Mensa. (Including that we all want to "show off" as part of a "brain club".) Not so!  We join to find fellowship with other intelligent people by way of shared interests, and shared aptitudes and potential, including use of language. Studies have found, for example, that even a 15 point difference in I.Q. can make it extremely difficult  to communicate with others - whether siblings, or members of other clubs that one may belong to.  If the difference is 25 points or greater, the communication gap becomes nearly impossible to surmount.

The 'normals'  will either find you "elitist", too "smart alecky" for your own good, or an insufferable bore or pedant. In other words, they will inevitably react with distrust based on a misperception that you just want to lord it over them and make them out to be dummies. This chasm can be even greater, for example, if you also excelled academically in high school, but none of your siblings did. (In this case, bear in mind we are looking at achievement not aptitude).

As for a person being convinced he or she is "super smart" and not having to join an I.Q. society to prove it, so be it. But bear in mind until you actually show evidence of that, you may be misled. On the other hand, if you have taken an aptitude test in the past (ACT, SAT or GRE) that shows you meet Mensa levels of acceptance, e.g. 1250 total for the GRE, then indeed you are quite justified not joining to "prove" anything. But again I remind readers we aren't joining to validate braininess per se but rather to find others who share our brain power with whom we can more easily communicate or interact without misunderstandings.

Question: If you're such a genius, why haven't you invented or created something remarkable?

First, Mensa acceptance - upper 2 percent of  scores in intelligence tests- is not at genius level (at least I.Q. 145) but 130. This is not to say that proven geniuses aren't members of Mensa, but rather the acceptance standard is not at genius level.  It is at a very gifted level.

As for not inventing something remarkable this again harks back to the original answer to Q. 1 on why many smart people aren't also rich. That is, we aren't necessarily focused on making money (we see it as a tool rather than end in itself) nor are we focused on creating or making a product. We often have so many diverse interests, multiple distractions,  that we can't muster the focus needed for a unique or original creation. Back to the original answer, we can often make a contribution if we have the right partner to work with - for example one whose practical expertise complements our abstract insights. Or one who is expert at marketing and public relations to neutralize our aversion to selling because of social anxiety.

Question: Why do you smart asses think you're experts at everything?

Well, because we are interested in everything! We feel if we can read and learn about a subject we can achieve a certain level of competence and even expertise to write about it. We can't help it if "Densans" don't feel as curious about as many different subjects, or are too lazy (or uninterested) to write about them or develop an expertise. That is their problem, not ours, but it gets to the core of why an I.Q. gap really does exist and leads to misunderstandings between people - even siblings.

At the same time there is such a phenomenon as mistaken expertise or inflated expertise which is very typical of Mensa, as well as Intertel members. Thus, because a person belongs to Mensa or Intertel he or she may believe they are qualified to expound on any subject, whether global warming, the financial crash of 2008, or the JFK assassination - without doing the heavy lifting (in research) before opinionating.

Again, a highly intelligent (or any)  person is qualified to expound on whatever s/he wants  IF they do the necessary background reading, research. If they don't they aren't.  The point made here is that special credentials (or even appointments) are not necessary to achieve expertise in a subject.

Question: How come so few Mensans have college degrees?

This appears to have arisen as a casual perception at some anti-Mensa websites, but without supplying any supporting data. But at the root of the question is confusion between aptitude and achievement. This also goes to the heart of why the SAT and GRE are no longer accepted as valid entry qualifying tests for Mensa or Intertel any longer. In a word, because these are now achievement  tests and not aptitude tests. Dr Abby Salny perhaps elucidated the differences best in the March, 1994 issue of the Mensa Bulletin (p. 9) in response to a reader's question on why the ACT and SAT  were no longer accepted as qualifying evidence for Mensa:

"The ACT went to content mastery testing some time ago. That means they were measuring learned knowledge and achievement. The SAT has not only changed to content achievement but has even changed its name from the Scholastic Aptitude Test to the Scholastic Achievement Test. The Medical College test has also gone content-oriented with two major sections, Physical Sciences and Biology.

Mensa's Constitution says 'IQ test or equivalent'. This means we can take a test that measures learning aptitude, but not a test that measures exclusively what has been taught in school. The whole purpose of Mensa was not to reward high scholastic achievement but to recognize intellectual giftedness. The two are not synonymous
. "

In like manner, Mensa recognized from early that requiring a university degree did not jibe with the divergence of definition in respect to intellectual giftedness and achievement. Hence, one could attain high scholastic achievement, get a college degree, but still not have convincingly showed intellectual aptitude - which is different as Dr. Salny points out.  Thus, Mensa membership includes a diverse array of people, many of whom lack any college degrees - but their performance (say on the Mensa test) qualifies them for entry.

Let me also remark here that it is precisely the typical Mensan's learning aptitude that makes him or her a prime candidate to expound on a variety of topics that may not be peculiar to his primary specialty. Because he has the potential to learn about new things he will be enabled to put it into practice and write about those things, unlike the "normal" who - never having been versed in high finance (credit default swaps, bond market, CMOs, etc.) - would rather demur.

Question: If you guys are so bright, why aren't you better behaved?

Well, because intellectual aptitude and morality (including ethical behavior) are two different spheres of human life. Hence, we will - like any club or demographic - have our share of felons, porn stars and others  -even those with disagreeable temperaments. We are not a society of saints, after all, or monks. Intellect then, can function in many ways and that is one reason Mensa is clear to assert it embraces no particular political or religious stance either.

Question: Isn't it kind of dumb to have to pass a test to qualify for membership in a high IQ society then pay a yearly membership fee to stay in?

No one "has to pass" any test and it might surprise you to know most Mensa members qualify for membership simply on the basis of a past aptitude test like the SAT or GRE. (In my case a 1330 total on the GRE).  Others, yes, if they have no aptitude test to validate qualification must take the Mensa entry exam.  But again, no one is twisting anyone's arm to join, people do it of their own volition.

Paying dues is not a biggie either, given any club needs money to support its activities. This is a literal no brainer. In Mensa's case, dues not only support The Mensa Bulletin, but the research of the Mensa Foundation as well as Annual Gatherings (AGs). Again, this is no different from any other organization, including the American Astronomical Society and American Mathematical Society to which I also belong.

Alas, as long as there are people who hold grudges against Mensa for any reason, including failing to make the cut, see e.g. https://psmag.com/i-failed-a-mensa-test-twice-dcc5c1e4163d#.o71cnduyu

there will be sore losers and whiners, as well as sour grapes appeals. It goes with the territory! Those who'd like to try a small quiz to get the flavor for the sort of questions asked on the actual test can go here:


 To access the Mensa practice test go to this link:


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