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Perspect Psychol Sci. 2008 Nov;3(6):518-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00096.x.

Sex Differences in Variability in General Intelligence: A New Look at the Old Question.

Author information

1
MRC Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities wendy.johnson@ed.ac.uk.
2
Public Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh Medical School, United Kingdom.
3
MRC Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

Abstract

The idea that general intelligence may be more variable in males than in females has a long history. In recent years it has been presented as a reason that there is little, if any, mean sex difference in general intelligence, yet males tend to be overrepresented at both the top and bottom ends of its overall, presumably normal, distribution. Clear analysis of the actual distribution of general intelligence based on large and appropriately population-representative samples is rare, however. Using two population-wide surveys of general intelligence in 11-year-olds in Scotland, we showed that there were substantial departures from normality in the distribution, with less variability in the higher range than in the lower. Despite mean IQ-scale scores of 100, modal scores were about 105. Even above modal level, males showed more variability than females. This is consistent with a model of the population distribution of general intelligence as a mixture of two essentially normal distributions, one reflecting normal variation in general intelligence and one refecting normal variation in effects of genetic and environmental conditions involving mental retardation. Though present at the high end of the distribution, sex differences in variability did not appear to account for sex differences in high-level achievement.

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