In less than a minute's worth of
conversation, most college students can accurately assess a fellow
student's intelligence within a few points of his or her actual IQ,
"People were within a relatively close range of (guessing) someone's actual
intelligence," explained Nora A. Murphy, a doctoral student at
Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She presented the
findings here Friday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological
In their study, Murphy and colleagues Drs. Judith A. Hall and C. Randall
Colvin videotaped the first-time meetings of 44 pairs of college students.
Speaking with Reuters Health, Murphy explained that most of these short,
introductory conversations were "very basic" in nature. "They talked about
the classes they took, they talked about their majors, they talked about
where they lived on campus."
The researchers then played 22 of the 1-minute videos to a group of
students including 203 women and 77 men who were enrolled in an
introductory psychology class. Viewers were asked to guess the IQ,
Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and grade point average (GPA) scores of
each of the students depicted in the tapes.
The investigators compared those estimates to the students' actual test
scores, gleaned from college records.
"When we correlated the perceived intelligence--what they thought the
person's intelligence was--compared with his (or her) actual intelligence,
we found that people were fairly accurate," Murphy said. On the whole,
student test scores and viewers 'perceived intelligence' scores were "highly
similar," she said.
"We have some evidence that responsiveness to your conversation
partner--how engaged you are in that person's conversation, how well you
respond to different questions, as well as the number of questions you
ask" all give off clues to intelligence, Murphy said.
Nonverbal factors may have a large role to play, as well. In fact, viewers'
intelligence assessments remained somewhat accurate even when they
watched the tapes with the sound off, Murphy said.
Of course, some of us may be more intuitive in picking up on these cues
than others. The Boston researcher speculates that "women will probably
be better at this skill, because women are better (at) reading nonverbal
communication. We're now teasing apart different groups and ethnicities
to see who is better at accurately assessing intelligence."