December 23, 2008 – Scottish scientists have found that being intelligent is of little advantage in the front line of battle.
A study conducted by history and psychology experts at Edinburgh University has found that Scottish soldiers who lost their lives in the Second World War were more intelligent than those who survived.
Of 491 Scottish servicemen that the study found had taken IQ tests when aged 11 and who had been killed in the war, 470 (96per cent) had an average IQ of 100.8.
However, several thousand survivors who had taken the same test averaged 97.4.
It is thought the higher death rate for smarter individuals may help to explain studies which found a dip in intelligence among Scottish men directly after the war.
Mental health expert Professor Ian Deary, director of the Edinburgh University’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, which led the study, said the phenomenon might be attributable to the nature of the Second World War, in that it was fought more with the mind than muscle compared with previous conflicts.
The results, published in the journal Intelligence, seem to contradict dozens of other studies that show clever people typically outlive their less intelligent counterparts.
“We wonder whether more skilled men were required at the front line, as warfare became more technical, ” Prof Deary said. The experts said the study should be expanded to consider naval and air force personnel records in order to examine more fully the complex relationship between IQ and survival expectancy during active service in the Second World War.
Researchers used the Scottish Mental Survey of 1932 to get records of intelligence test scores for a group of children born in 1921 and linked them to UK Army personnel records and Scottish National War Memorial data.
The tests were intended to measure skills in maths and verbal reasoning along with spatial skills. Previous research indicated that childhood IQs accurately predict intelligence later in life.
“No other country has ever done such a whole-population test of the mental ability of its population, ” said Prof Deary. A previous study had found a drop in average intelligence among Scots men after the war.
The researchers also found that low-ranking soldiers comprised 60per cent of all deaths and their IQs as assessed on their childhood tests averaged 95.3. Officers and non-commissioned officers comprised roughly 7per cent and 20per cent of war deaths respectively. Officers scored on average 121.9, raising the average IQ for those who had died, whereas noncommissioned officers had an average score of 106.7.
The 1947 Scottish Mental Survey, involving more than 70,000 schoolchildren, was sponsored by the Scottish Council for Research in Education.