As an avid truth-seeker, it was hard for me to come to terms with my desire to keep myself ignorant to some things. I used to think that, given two equally capable individuals, the person with more true information can always do at least as good as the other person. And hence, one can only gain from having true information. I still believe this, however, there is one implicit assumption that makes this line of reason not true in all cases.
We are not perfectly rational agents; our mind isn’t stored in a vacuum, but in a highly irrational Homo sapien brain. There is some seemingly harmless information that, if known to people, would hurt them because they can’t turn off their bias impulses.
One piece of information I would never choose to know is my IQ score. I would also go as far as to say that most people don’t want to know theirs either.
At first, it seems silly to not want to know your IQ score. After all, the score will be the same whether I know it or not. Why should it change anything? Well, technically, it shouldn’t change anything – but it does.
Let’s first examine what the IQ test is and why it exists in the first place.
Basically, it’s a test that involves some mental tasks and your score is supposed to be consistent throughout your life. Overtime, the test-makers tweaked the test in order to make it more and more consistent. The more consistent the test is, the more it suggests that your genes and not the environment explain your score.
But even if a test is very consistent, it’s worthless unless you can make predictions out of it. A test that measures eye color is extremely consistent throughout one’s life, but I doubt it will make any non-trivial predictions. Turns out, however, that IQ tests actually do make interesting predictions. For example, the higher IQ one has, the more likely they will succeed in school or have higher paying jobs. Although the predictions are statistically significant, they are far from perfect.
The problem is not in the test itself, but in how we extrapolate the data. Our culture heavily attributes way more predictive power to IQ scores than it actually has – and this screws with our mind.
We assume that someone with a high IQ not only should be successful, but is successful. This makes high IQ people feel like they don’t need to try as hard to succeed and feel entitled. Conversely, average IQ people feel like they should stay away from cognitively taxing activities and may never reach their full potential.
Height and good hair also correlate with real-world success. But as a culture, we don’t overestimate the predictive power of these traits. I have never heard of someone fear they’re not going to make a lot of money because they’re short or balding. An even more obscure indicator of success is the number of books your parents own. But again, no one is ever affected by the knowledge of how many books their parents own.
I choose to not know my IQ because I will be negatively affected whether my IQ score turns out to be either higher or lower than I expect. I’ve been too brainwashed by society to not be affected by the results. I am best off not knowing my real limitations and that my success will be a function of my effort, not raw intelligence. Not only will this mindset make me live up to my potential, it keeps my sense of self-worth where it should be, not artificially inflated or deflated with knowledge of either a high or low IQ score.
IQ is not the only predictor-of-success that we over-assign predictive power to. In fact, most of them can’t be conveniently ignored like IQ scores. Some of these predictors include: GPA, scores on standardized tests, selectivity of school one is enrolled in and ethnicity, to name a few. Again, these are all good predictors-of-success, but they’re not as nearly accurate as we believe them to be.
Since our brainwashed minds aren’t capable of correctly analyzing this information about ourselves, we shouldn’t have our self-efficacy be determined by them. Instead, we should consider our level of effort as the variable that determines our success. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t adopted this mindset.
LIOR GOTESMAN thinks you shouldn’t be ignorant to the fact that you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.