Body symmetry and intelligence
April 18, 2007 12:30 AM   Subscribe

Body Symmetry and Intelligence
posted by Gyan (37 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating post--
Yet I'm unclear as to what is an actual physical manifestation of "symmetry".
I have one eye on the left and one on the right. I'm symmetrical, yes?
Or is it more like Alfred E. Newman's eyes (the "Mad" magazine icon) -- he's got two eyes, but one is kind of off-center.
So not pretty is not smarty?
posted by Dizzy at 12:39 AM on April 18, 2007


Basically, hold a mirror up vertically, along the line between your nose and center of your mouth. If someone looks at either side and you look pretty much the same, you're symmetric. One side mirrors the other accurately.
posted by Malor at 12:49 AM on April 18, 2007


Very interesting, and a clue why symmetry may be linked to attractiveness.

But start the countdown for those who didn't read the article and are about to post correlation-not-causation snarks in 3... 2... 1...
posted by dreamsign at 12:51 AM on April 18, 2007


When people call me stupid, I slap them with the arm growing out of my left temple. So beware of judging people based on this article.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 1:02 AM on April 18, 2007 [6 favorites]


I think the idea is that asymmetry indicates some genetic or developmental problems that may affect an individual's reproductive fitness, and that people find attractive those features which are associated with high reproductive fitness (e.g., bilateral symmetry, breast/hip ratios, penetrating eyes, a nice smile, good sense of humor, or whatever).

So in the case of the article, I'd guess that intelligence is, like symmetry, partially related to having no major disorders growing up, and/or having "good genes."
posted by logicpunk at 1:05 AM on April 18, 2007


Whoa, they went there. Their tacit linking of intelligence and reproductive success is basically saying that less intelligent folks are genetically inferior over all, which strays into support-for-eugenics territory. I'm not saying the science is bad, but maybe we want to consider what we decide to overquantify. I guess I've heard the discussion of "good genes" and "bad genes" before in contemporary science talk, but now they're linking it to categories that already have biases built in. That makes it scary.
posted by lostburner at 1:41 AM on April 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


This smacks of eugenics. Actually, my first thought on reading the article was how similar it sounded to arguments for posture photography.
posted by Kikkoman at 1:52 AM on April 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Prokosch et al argue this is one explanation for why intelligence is so quickly, easily and accurately assessed in social situations, and why it has such a strong relationship with reproductive success.

This almost-useless link will give you the title only of a publication, which is : Reliability of estimating intellectual ability from transcribed interviews.

Anyone reasonably symmetric might question the relevance this 'citation' could have to the subject-at-hand.
posted by Bokononist at 2:38 AM on April 18, 2007


I'm not saying the science is bad, …
Then take those fingers off the keyboard. Science is a search towards truth, and truth in this area is independent of people’s wishful thinking, in whatever direction. Notable is the depressing observation that luddite religious extremism seems to be a fitness indicator too, if the population growth of the Hasidim and the Amish in the US are to be taken as empirical evidence.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 3:40 AM on April 18, 2007


Unintelligible for comment.
posted by furtive at 3:45 AM on April 18, 2007


Notable is the depressing observation that luddite religious extremism seems to be a fitness indicator too, if the population growth of the Hasidim and the Amish in the US are to be taken as empirical evidence.
That is, an honest application of this sort of research to implement the kind of policies the Nazis favoured would involve, say, having a sliding scale of tax rates based on the sanity of one's religious belief, where atheists pay the most, Episcopalians slightly less, the Holy Rollers pay a good deal less than the Episcopalians, and the Amish and Satmars and Wahabi-ists pay none at all. Or having people receive tax rebates the more unprotected sex they engage in.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 3:50 AM on April 18, 2007


So wait, the ugly nerds aren't smarter than the pretty cheerleaders?
posted by caddis at 4:16 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry to say this, but even the most symmetric ones of us are just bilateral symmetric. Our days are counted - watch out for the more than twice as intelligent and beautiful pentradial new world rulers. Not to talk about the hexameric and octameric ones...
posted by pica at 4:20 AM on April 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Good point. The outer gods must be real players.
posted by Kikkoman at 5:03 AM on April 18, 2007


A sample size of 78 individuals seems really small. And this doesn't so much smack of eugenics as it reminds me of phrenology.

Further, so much of what we think of as measurable characteristics are reasonably random physical expressions. The variety observed among siblings causes me to question this study.
posted by wfrgms at 6:11 AM on April 18, 2007


...probability of schizotypy and depression...

Lets see some data points on that, a pretty damn big claim to lay down for such a small sample size. This sounds like junk science to me.
posted by prostyle at 6:17 AM on April 18, 2007


Amish and Satmars and Wahabi-ists

I can't see the fairness of grouping Anabaptists with Wahabism. The former remove themselves from the world while the latter impose themsleves on it. "Mainstream" Christian conservatives are much more Wahibi-like than the Amish. (I had to look up Satmars, so no opinion there.) /furtherderail.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 6:22 AM on April 18, 2007


wfrgms: A sample size of 78 individuals seems really small.

And yet FDA Phase I and Phase II trials regularly make do with smaller and similar sample sizes.

so much of what we think of as measurable characteristics are reasonably random physical expressions.

Cite?

prostyle: Lets see some data points on that, a pretty damn big claim to lay down for such a small sample size.

Umm, the comment on schizotypy and depression is a remark by the way of introduction by the blog author and not a result from this study. In any case, here's the cite for schizotypy (n = 260)
posted by Gyan at 6:39 AM on April 18, 2007


BTW, the 2005 result (n = 78) was successfully replicated in a recent study (n = 98), and was initially found in two samples (111 and 123), a decade back.
posted by Gyan at 6:43 AM on April 18, 2007


This would be according to a journal that publishes Rushton and is connected to the Pioneer Fund, right? So it's easy to identify categorical stupidity in the source.
posted by mobunited at 6:49 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


It does remind me of phrenology as well, but I am not surprised to learn that there is a correlation between symmetry and intelligence. It makes sense that problems during development, whether they be metabolic disorders or other organic illnesses, or external stresses, like malnutrition, will affect physical and mental development, because healthy mental development requires proper physical development—the brain is a physical organ, after all. In other words, mental/intellectual developmental problems are often manifestations of the same disease processes that are responsible for physical developmental problems/abnormalities.

I don't think anyone is suggesting eugenics policies based on axial symmetry; clearly, the authors are making the point that we should be putting stupid people down, regardless of symmetry.
posted by Mister_A at 6:58 AM on April 18, 2007


I can't see the fairness of grouping Anabaptists with Wahabism.
I was, umm, being creative there—I don’t know that the Wahabis are growing faster, as a population, than some group of secular Muslims in Istanbul, though a minute's Google™ing says Saudia Arabia’s birth rate is a third more than that of Turkey.

But it’s a matter of fitness indicators, not classification on moral grounds, and, ignoring the Shakers, religious extremism seems to make for high birth rates, even when the religion in question doesn’t concern itself with Jihad.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 7:23 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


very cool - I don't think it "stinks of Eugenics" - I agree with Aidan, its a matter of fitness indicators and possible pre-natal health.
posted by 2shay at 8:05 AM on April 18, 2007


That is, an honest application of this sort of research to implement the kind of policies the Nazis favoured

I think it's worth pointing out that applied eugenics was codified in law in the USA years before the Nazis came to power. The linked blog post doesn't really "smack of eugenics" to me, but when we talk about the potential for misuse it's important not to start the debate by equating eugenics with Nazism, as that downplays the significance of the concern and the historical evidence for it.
posted by OmieWise at 8:12 AM on April 18, 2007


But start the countdown for those who didn't read the article and are about to post correlation-not-causation snarks in 3... 2... 1...

But it is correlative data.
posted by kisch mokusch at 8:42 AM on April 18, 2007


Uh, the article comes a journal that's a mouthpiece for a eugenics advocacy group with ties to anti-immigrant organizations. The journal Intelligence comes from the misnamed "Intelligence and Mainstream Science" group, whose signatories were primarily Pioneer Fund Recipients, much like the authors of the Bell Curve -- the book the group formed to defend.

You can read about the Pioneer Fund and its head here:

http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=83
posted by mobunited at 8:44 AM on April 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think it's more simply levels of self confidence. Someone who is more comfortable about their symmetry could show more self confidence, and is thus more open to interact positively with other people and learn more. Even without high symmetry, displaying a level of honest self confidence and value in things can have the same effect.

I think that self confidence can override symmetry when it comes to attraction. I'd be wary in thinking about genetic perfection in the same way the Germans did. I don't believe its as relevant as the study assumes, there are many combinations of factors. There's much more going on, but still I think it is interesting how this study ties intelligence.

There's definitely an intelligence trend, but is it directly tied to symmetry? These were fairly small sample sets (a little over 200 people overall). If you look at the resulting graphs from the FA/IQ (pdf) paper, you see the bulk of subjects below 0.01 FA, and a very small sample higher than that. What if out of the this study, someone with a 0.2 or higher FA scored very high on the Raven scale? We're already looking at less than 30 subjects at this point, and if that happened it would add even more speculation as to this study's validity. It just doesn't add up convincingly to me yet.
posted by samsara at 8:46 AM on April 18, 2007


Luckily for the rich and stupid, cosmetic surgery will see to it they will never be the target of the asymmetrical pogrom which surely must follow in the coming years.
posted by yeloson at 9:15 AM on April 18, 2007


I'm more in line with the theory posited by the movie Idiocracy.

This one, not so much.

Thanks mobunited for the critical information regarding this "study."
posted by nofundy at 9:31 AM on April 18, 2007


This article is practically threadbare. Sloppy thinking, unsupported statements, few references; bad writing.
posted by gallois at 10:13 AM on April 18, 2007


I think it's simpler than all that. Ugly people are often treated like shit as they grow up, and their ability to socialize suffers, for one thing. Not knowing how to socialize also means not learning all the mental tricks that the average person is expected to know in order to interact properly.
posted by Citizen Premier at 11:11 AM on April 18, 2007


True, Cit Prem.
Also true is the little fat kid everyone picks on, so he learns to quickly read his aggressor, fights back with superior social skills and humor honed in the crucible of phenotype shame and mockery.
That little fat kid was me.
Made me an exceptional socializer.
Just saying.
posted by Dizzy at 12:06 PM on April 18, 2007


From the study: Intelligence . . . has such a strong relationship with reproductive success.

Right, only smart people breed. I noticed that, sure. WTF? Intelligence is easily labelled, not easily defined, and difficult to study.
posted by Listener at 12:06 PM on April 18, 2007


Right, only smart people breed.

Well, it's not so much that smart people are better breeders, it's just that dumb people are more likely to get themselves hit by a train, or choose alternative medicine. "Reproductive success" doesn't just mean having more babies, it means living long enough to have babies, too.
posted by Citizen Premier at 4:25 PM on April 18, 2007


Well, it's not so much that smart people are better breeders, it's just that dumb people are more likely to get themselves hit by a train, or choose alternative medicine. "Reproductive success" doesn't just mean having more babies, it means living long enough to have babies, too.

Very troll, but I believe that the exact opposite is happening - people from lower socioeconomic classes are popping out kids at a much higher rate than those from higher strata, who tend to be healthier, better looking, more intelligent and/or better educated. Whether it's the pressure of career, higher expectations for partners delaying marriage, more carefully planned families, or whatever, the reproductive advantage apparently lies with the proles.

That's just my memory of an analysis that I had read sometime, sorry, no link, and take it with a grain of salt.

I think it's worth pointing out that applied eugenics was codified in law in the USA years before the Nazis came to power.

Unsure about the law part, but it was primarily an American invention - aimed at proving that negroes are inferior to whites.

And this doesn't so much smack of eugenics as it reminds me of phrenology

Well, phrenology was enlisted as a sub-branch of evidence for eugenics, so that's just splitting hairs. But the thing with science is that you can't dismiss a theory just because you don't like it on a political level, regardless of the current Bush administration thinks.

There's a wealth of evidence of correlation between symmetry & attractiveness. This seems to extend it to intelligence & mental health, which is interesting, at least. This would tend to suggest a foundation for reproductive success, but only if you exclude social factors from your thinking, and we aren't operating in some kind of abstract hermetic cave.

Aside from the tantalising subject matter, isn't this just some guy's blog, referring to a single smallish study? I wouldn't mind reading some more supporting or competing studies.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:33 PM on April 18, 2007


"this is one explanation for why intelligence is so quickly, easily and accurately assessed in social situations, and why it has such a strong relationship with reproductive success. "

This must be a new thing. In my day the jocks got all the girls. The nerds were all virgins till their 30s.
posted by eye of newt at 9:30 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I refuse to read this article on the grounds that it may possibly disabuse me of the notion that the fact that my right testicle hangs approximately twice as low as my left makes me a SuperGenius.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:16 AM on April 19, 2007


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