To obtain a hard copy of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®), the most popular personality test in the world, one must first spend $1,695 on a week-long certification program run by the Myers & Briggs Foundation of Gainesville, Florida.
This year alone, there have been close to 100 certification sessions in cities ranging from New York to Pasadena, Minneapolis, Portland, Houston, and the Foundation’s hometown of Gainesville, where participants get a $200 discount for making their way south to the belly of the beast. It is not unusual for sessions to sell out months in advance. People come from all over the world to get certified.
In New York last April, there were twenty-five aspiring MBTI practitioners in attendance. There was a British oil executive who lived for the half the year under martial law in Equatorial Guinea. There was a pretty blonde astrologist from Australia, determined to invest in herself now that her US work visa was about to expire. There was a Department of Defense administrator, a gruff woman who wore flowing skirts and rainbow rimmed glasses, and a portly IBM manager turned high school basketball coach. There were three college counselors, five HR reps, and a half-dozen “executive talent managers” from Fortune 500 companies. Finally, there was me.
I was in an unusual position that week: Attending the certification program had not been my idea. Rather, I had been told that MBTI certification was a prerequisite to accessing the personal papers of Isabel Briggs Myers, a woman about whom very little is known except that she designed the type indicator in the final days of World War II. Part of our collective ignorance about Myers stems from how profoundly her personal history has been eclipsed by her creation, in much the same way that the name “Frankenstein” has come to stand in for the monster and not his creator.
Flip through the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, and you will find the indicator used to debate what makes an employee a good “fit” for her job, or to determine the leadership styles of presidential candidates. Open a browser, and you will find the indicator adapted for addictive pop psychology quizzes by BuzzFeed and Thought Catalog. Enroll in college, work an office job, enlist in the military, join the clergy, fill out an online dating profile, and you will encounter the type indicator in one guise or another — to match a person to her ideal office job or to her ideal romantic partner.
Yet though her creation is everywhere, Myers and the details of her life’s work are curiously absent from the public record. Not a single independent biography is in print today. Not one article details how Myers, an award-winning mystery writer who possessed no formal training in psychology or sociology, concocted a test routinely deployed by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies, the US government, hundreds of universities, and online dating sites like Perfect Match, Project Evolove and Type Tango. And not one expert in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry with over 2,500 different tests on offer in the US alone, can explain why Myers-Briggs has so thoroughly surpassed its competition, emerging as a household name on par with the Atkins Diet or The Secret.
The reasons are unclear, but higher IQ is correlated with longer life span
For example, a person with an IQ of 115 was 21% more likely to be alive at age 76 than a person with an IQ of 100 (the average for the general population). Credit: Zoran Zemeski via ©iStock
People are living longer than ever. According to a 2015 World Health Organization report, Japanese live the longest, with an average life expectancy of 84, while Americans can expect to live to 77. At the same time, it is an obvious fact that some people live much longer than other people. There is inequality in mortality.
What explains this inequality? Epidemiological research confirms what intuition suggests: lifestyle matters. A 2012 study published in Preventive Medicine followed over 8,000 people over a 5-year period. Risk of death by any cause was 56% lower for non-smokers, 47% lower for people who exercised, and 26% lower for those who had a healthy diet. Italian researchers analyzed the diets of inhabitants of the Monti Sicani region of Sicily, where there is a remarkably high prevalence of people who live to be 100. Along with being physically active and having close contact with relatives, the centenarians surveyed were found to adhere to a traditional Mediterranean diet.
A more surprising discovery is that there is a strong link between mortality and IQ: higher intelligence means, on average, a longer life.
This relationship has been extensively documented by Ian Deary and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh using data from the Scottish Mental Surveys. In 1932, the Scottish government administered an IQ test to nearly all 11-year old children attending school on a single day. More than sixty years later, focusing on the city of Aberdeen, Deary and colleague Lawrence Whalley set out to identify who from the cohort was still alive, at age 76. The results were striking: a 15-point IQ advantage translated into a 21% greater chance of survival. For example, a person with an IQ of 115 was 21% more likely to be alive at age 76 than a person with an IQ of 100 (the average for the general population).
The link between IQ and mortality has now been replicated in upwards of 20 longitudinal studies from around the world, and has given rise to the field of cognitive epidemiology, which focuses on understanding the relationship between cognitive functioning and health. One major finding from this new field is that socioeconomic factors do not completely explain the IQ-mortality relationship. In one study, focusing on the Central Belt region of Scotland, researchers linked IQ scores for over 900 of the participants from the 1932 study to those participants’ responses on a national health survey conducted in the early 1970s. The researchers found that statistically controlling for economic class and a measure of “deprivation” reflecting unemployment, overcrowding, and other adverse living conditions accounted for only about 30% of the IQ-mortality correlation.
This evidence suggests that genes may contribute to the link between IQ and living a long life. The results of a new study by Rosalind Arden and colleagues in the International Journal of Epidemiology provide the first evidence for this hypothesis. Arden and colleagues identified three twin studies (one from the U.S., one from Denmark, and one from Sweden) in which both IQ and mortality were recorded. (Twin studies disentangle the effects of environmental and genetic factors on an outcome such as intelligence or lifespan by comparing identical twins, who share 100% of their genes, and fraternal twins, who on average share only 50% of their genes.) They then performed statistical analyses to estimate the contribution of genetic factors to the IQ-lifespan relationship. The results were clear and consistent: genes accounted for most of the relationship.
Exactly what could explain the genetic link between IQ and mortality remains unclear. One possibility is that a higher IQ contributes to optimal health behaviors, such as exercising, wearing a seatbelt, and not smoking. Consistent with this hypothesis, in the Scottish data, there was no relationship between IQ and smoking behavior in the 1930s and 1940s, when the health risks of smoking were unknown, but after that, people with higher IQs were more likely to quit smoking. Alternatively, it could be that some of the same genetic factors contribute to variation in both IQ and in the propensity to engage in these sorts of behaviors.
Another possibility is that IQ is an index of bodily integrity, and particularly the efficiency of the nervous system. To test this hypothesis, in one study, researchers looked at the relationships among IQ, mortality, and performance on a reaction time test designed to measure the brain’s information processing efficiency. (In the reaction time test, the people pressed one of four keys on a response box depending on which of four digits appeared on a screen.) The researchers found that, once a person’s score on the reaction time test was taken into account, there was no longer any correlation between IQ and mortality. Reaction time explained the relationship between IQ and mortality.
These and other findings from cognitive epidemiology have potentially profound implications for public health. Along with factors such as family history of disease, IQ could be used proactively to assess people’s risk for developing health problems and early death. At the same time, this potential use of intelligence tests raises ethical questions. As intelligence researchers are quick to point out, IQ doesn’t reflect one thing—it reflects many things. This includes not only what you might think of as “native” intelligence—brain regions like the prefrontal cortex—but a myriad of “non-ability” factors. For example, there is evidence that a person’s beliefs about their ability to do well on an intelligence test, which may be tied to their ethnicity or gender, can impact how well that person actually does on the test. In turn, being labeled “low IQ” or “high IQ” may impact a person’s sense of self-worth.
One approach to dealing with this issue is to develop intelligence tests that minimize the impact of non-ability factors on IQ. Another is to educate the public and policymakers about the meaning of an IQ score. IQ predicts outcomes such as job performance, academic achievement, and, as it happens, mortality, better than any psychological factor that we know of. At the same time, IQ isn’t destiny—it is one factor among many that predict these outcomes. Things like personality, interests, and motivation matter, too.
Ultimately, to capitalize on evidence from cognitive epidemiology, society would have to decide that the benefits of using IQ to predict health outcomes outweigh the costs. If it does, intelligence testing may one day be used to reduce health inequalities, and help people live longer lives than ever.
ALEXANDRA JANE NOBLE
March 15, 1939 – December 21, 2015
Alexandra Jane Noble, J. D., (aka Janie) was born in Washington, D.C., to Julian Bennett Noble and Adaline Jane Hall. In her youth, she attended Ojai Valley School in Ojai, California, as well as the prestigious Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University.
Janie held a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the Yale Law School, where her thesis focused on the decision making process in international law, and the emerging body of law for the exploration and development of outer space. While at Yale, Janie did research in international policies related to the regulation of communication satellites. She also participated in a special honors program at the United Nations focused on space law. Following graduation, she worked as a journalist for Time Magazine, the Time-Life News Service, People Magazine and The Christian Science Monitor.
Janie spent most of her life in Montecito, California. As her career evolved, so did her search for new ways to use art and writing skills to create positive media for personal inspiration within various social networks. To accomplish this, she incorporated print, graphics, photography, landscape, management, telecommunications and interpersonal relations into her varied projects.
Through workshops titled Imagining When the Future Is Now, Foundation for Advanced Research, and Excerpts from the Twenty-Third Century, it was clear to see where her passions lay. She found the marriage of science and technology fascinating. In keeping with her longstanding interest in socially responsible business, Janie served as a founding director of the Center for Social Profit Leadership.
As the Internet and virtual world took hold, Janie embraced it. A self-proclaimed cyber futurist, visionary performance artist, she became an architect/designer in the Virtual World of Second Life. She co-founded the LOCUS sim (island) with award winning AIA Architect David Denton.
She also collaborated with Virtual World Builders in the creation of a variety of virtual, new media and multi-media environments, in order to bring together various platforms for transformational education and entertainment.
Janie was a true icon, one of those extraordinary personalities who combined curiosity, loyalty, integrity and honor with a keen mind, astute business acumen, broad experience and a genuine love of the win-win business deal. Her approach to creative business efforts offered both practical and inspirational support to countless colleagues, as the beneficiaries of her willingness to challenge the status quo to create bold and innovative opportunities.
In later years, Janie self-published over 1,300 short stories on http://cowbird.com/alex-noble/.
This online platform showcased her depth of creativity, making it clear that she was a visionary of the highest order. Continuously evolving into encompassing states of harmony, illumination, and grace, her mind functioned as a fascinating think-tank microcosm. Her contributions in the area of provoking thought, possibility and exploration will live on forever.
Michael Dittmer (family friend)
“Let’s grab coffee and chat.”
Those five words are far more dangerous than you may realize.
When you begin to create, start a business, write a blog, or generally do interesting stuff a funny thing happens. Lots of people want to have coffee with you. Most of the time it’s a bad idea.
Face to face meetings can be valuable. There’s an energy that you don’t get any other way. But the cost is very high, and it’s extremely rare to gain that energy with a stranger. Unless you know from interactions over email, social media, or phone that you and this person have mutual interests and will both be spurred to beneficial action by a coffee meeting, avoid it.
It’s not that coffee isn’t fun. That’s the problem. It is fun. Waxing about how much you love innovation or art is a blast. But that’s not scarce. There are more opportunities to talk about cool things than ever before. What’s scarce is conversation that leads directly to productivity.
There are professional coffee drinkers. People who spend all day asking others to coffee to talk. They keep talking, meeting, discussing, exploring, plotting, networking, devising, gaining input, seeking inspiration, building consensus, creating boards and backers and teams for non-existent organizations or efforts. These people will consume you.