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What Makes Asians So Smart?

arrangement-1532817__340Studies of average IQ scores of countries around the world indicate that Asian countries have the highest average IQ. The top four countries in terms of average IQ are: Singapore (108), South Korea (106), Japan (105) and Taiwan (104), if you consider Taiwan a separate country from China.

On the other hand, there are 22 countries that rank higher than the United States in average I.Q. The U.S. average IQ (98), is lower than most Asian and many European countries, including countries such as Iceland, Mongolia, Andorra, Estonia, Latvia and Canada.

These statistics are based on research carried out by Richard Lynn, a British psychologist, and Tatu Vanhanen, a Finnish political scientist, who analysed IQ studies from 113 countries from 2002 tro 2006, and from more recent work by Jelte Wicherts, a Dutch psychologist. Lynn and Vanhanen also suggest that differences in average national IQs constitute one important factor that contributes to differences in national wealth and rates of economic growth.

The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray presented research on average I.Q. scores in America which anticipated the world studies. Hernstein and Murray found that Asian-Americans did slightly better than European-Americans, while Hispanic- and African-Americans were a few points behind European-Americans.

I.Q studies comparing races, ethnic groups or countries are controversial because of the misguided concept by many that I.Q. is genetic. Those who assume a genetic basis of I.Q. are disturbed by such comparisons and see them as a way of flaunting who is inherently smarter and who is inherently less smart. However, various studies have been done over the years, including The Bell Curve, which assert that I.Q. scores are the result of both nature and nurture.

A recent study of 18,OOO children from the UK and three other countries by Queensland University in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that about 60% of a child’s intelligence is inherited. However, that figure has been debated and seems far from conclusive.

Studies on the effects of the environment abound. A French study of the effects of adoption indicates that children from lower socioeconomic families adopted by families from a higher socioeconomic status had a significant jump in their I.Q. scores. The average IQ scores of youngsters placed in well-to-do homes climbed more than 20 points, from 78 to 98.

Dickens and Flynn (2001) came up with further evidence of an environmental basis of I.Q. What has been called “the Flynn Effect” suggests that there is an increase in average IQ scores of about 0.3% annually, resulting in the average person today scoring 15 points higher in IQ compared to the average score 50 years ago. This study was based on part on observations of the rise of the average I.Q. scores of U.S. army recruits over the previous50 years.

Studies of identical twins, who have identical genes, also show that the environment has a definite effect on I.Q. These studies indicate that identical twins raised in the same household have a correlation rate of .86, while identical twins separated at birth and raised in different households have a lower correlation rate of .76.

Bowlby (1951) suggests a link between maternal deprivation and lowered intelligence. Others have broadened this theory to suggest that disturbed parenting of any kind whether parents are too harsh, too permissive, over-protective. neglectful, depressed or anxious, can have a negative effect on I.Q. scores. Teaching can likewise positively or negatively affect I.Q. scores, as for example when a child’s first math teacher is punitive or judgmental and causes the child to develop a block in learning math.

Finally, there are studies that conclude that culture has an effect on I.Q., particular cultural values. It has been widely observed, for example, that Asian cultures put a great deal of stress on intellectual and educational achievement. Parents in Asian cultures tend to be more authoritarian and strongly emphasize doing well in school. Parents in the west are more permissive put less emphasis on academic achievement and have less influence over their children.

Obviously both nature and nurture are involved in I.Q. scores. So, yes, Asians are smarter than others, but whether they are smarter because they are born that way or because of cultural or other environmental factors has yet to be conclusively determined. Asian countries also seem to be advancing economically throughout the world, and some find a link between high I.Q. and economic advancement.

Studies comparing world I.Q. scores are recent, and we don’t yet know the changing variations that may occur over time. We may discover, for example, that in any era the countries that have the healthiest child-rearing practices and the most socioeconomic advances will have the highest average I.Q. In one era that might be Asian countries; in another era it might be European, South American or African countries.

But for now Asians are the intellectual high achievers of the world.

What Makes Asians So Smart?

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2016). What Makes Asians So Smart?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 22 Jul 2016
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