Your Intelligence: Now based on Everything you ‘Like’.

Hello Everyone,

Jessica here. My post today is, embarrassingly enough, brought to you by an internet argument I had this weekend. I know, I know, getting into internet fights is stupid and pointless, I know. But I told myself it was a worthy cause in my campaign against musical elitism. I like to imagine a world where people can like Britney Spears, Ke$ha, and Rihanna without being shamed.

It started with listening to a new music recommendation on youtube. I then made the mistake of scrolling down to read the comments. There, someone was trying to argue that people who listened to rap instead of the indie music that was playing on the page were of lower intelligence, by citing a particular study. As someone who listens to rap, who knows many intelligent people who listen to rap, and is personally very, very tired of people badmouthing the genre and making assumptions about people who enjoy it, this annoyed me. So, when this person suggested I “look it up”, I did.

You can see the study for yourself here:

At the top of the page, before you even get to the graph there is a large list of media outlets that have featured the study, including the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal. This is meant to make the study seem valid, I think.

How the data is collected and analyzed is explained on the main page, and in more detail the FAQ. Basically, the author (a Ph.D Candidate at CalTech) used the now defunct Facebook Network Statistics page and compared that data to SAT/ACT statistics from in order to demonstrate a correlation between musical tastes and ‘dumbitude’, as the study’s author terms it.

Remembering last weeks class, where we discussed content analysis and interpretation in regards to the Guardian’s graph on the decline of the America’s State of Union address, I realized that this study was just as sensationalist and problematic, and for similar reasons. Like the Guardian’s study it ignores possible variables as well as context, which allows people to spin the data into some misleading conclusions. Like the fact that people who listen to pop and rap are dumb. Notably, the author does have a disclaimer in bold above the graph, stating he understands that correlation does not equal causation, however the name of the study is “Musicthatmakesyoudumber”, so this is misleading.

Further the data used isn’t reliable. The facebook data is based on people’s ‘likes’, which limits the study to those who actually reported their likes and the college they attend on facebook. The use of the SAT as an indicator of intelligence ties to a point made by Knight (2002) on reliability and validity, “It is very debatable whether IQ test are a fair measure of intelligence unless we define intelligence as that which IQ tests measure” (p. 81). Knight (2002) elaborates in an example, “Again, there are problems in claiming that some reading tests are valid measures of reading. They may be good tests of word recognition, of word attack strategies and of how well someone can sound out words. Whether those achievements are ‘reading’, which some would see as a form of thinking, is another matter” (p. 81). This applies for  the measurement of intelligence in this situation. Looking at the data may not say as much about intelligence as it does about other factors, like class or race.

I only realized later, that this whole experience is relevant to my own research proposal, which focuses on how high school and university students determine what information they find on the internet is reliable. I now wish I was performing the study, because I have never been more sure the results would prove very interesting.

– Jessica

Further reading…

Pitchforks apt critique of the Musicthatmakesyoudumb study

Much to my chagrin, there is also a book version:

Also, the most recent attempt to tell you how smart you are based on your ‘likes’ (via Laura C.)


Works Cited

Knight, P. (2002). Small scale research methods. London: Sage Publications.

Griffith, V. (2009). Musicthatmakesyoudumb. Retrieved from

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