November 23, 2008
How are IQ and interest in sports related?
Moronic meatheads, yuppie tennis aficionados, Very Important People with courtside seats, and braindead couch potatoes -- with so many true stereotypes about the relationship between brains and liking sports, how do we get a clearer overall picture? I'm sure people have looked into this before, but my graphs will be more informative.
The General Social Survey, a large and representative national survey, asks people sports-related questions, as well as giving them a quick IQ test. The graph below shows the probability of doing some sports-related thing in the past year as a function of how smart you are. I excluded IQ groups that contained fewer than 40 individuals, but this still keeps most of the intelligence spectrum. All the results below come from white respondents only.
The two top lines don't specify which sport you do or attend, while the bottom two are more specific. (Unfortunately, the GSS didn't ask this sample specifically about upper-class / smarty sports like tennis or golf.) Overall, doing and attending sports are most popular with people who are a bit above average in brains, and decline in popularity as you look at dumber and smarter people. So, neither of the two increase or decrease significantly as IQ increases (Spearman rank correlation for attending sports and doing sports with IQ is +0.66, two-tailed p = 0.08 and +0.77, p = 0.077).
But when we break down "sports" into particular sports, trends show up. Hunting and fishing, and attending auto races, decline in popularity as you look at smarter people (Spearman rank correlation for hunting / fishing and auto race attendance with IQ is -0.88, two-tailed p = 0.019 and -0.95, p = 0.012).
Right after I moved to the Mountain Time Zone, my department began fruitlessly trying to peer-pressure me to go shooting ducks with shotguns, etc., but ain't gonna happen. Some high-IQ hunters and fishers grew up doing this stuff, and that's fine, but others are just indulging in faux populism to make themselves feel cool. It's too bad the GSS didn't ask about baseball -- my impression is that, aside from clearly upper-crust sports like tennis and golf, baseball is the one plebe sport that smart people are allowed to pretend like they care about. It seems part of Ellis Island worship -- honoring that golden age when your ancestors were crammed into ramshackle Lower East Side tenements, did good honest work, and would go to a baseball game to unwind. I find the sport heart-stoppingly boring.
What about using the internet to follow sports? The GSS has more fine-grained data for this, asking how many times in the past month you've used the internet to visit sports websites. Here is a graph of the average number of times you've done so as a function of your IQ:
The title sums it up. * The Pearson correlation is -0.74, two-tailed p = 0.056. I'm willing to overlook the tiny above-threshold p-value since I have one less IQ class than before, so it's remarkable to get anything at all. This is the closest test of the "braindead couch potato" hypothesis regarding sports fans. Merely attending or doing sports may not decline with IQ, but time spent in front of a screen soaking in sports sure does.
GSS variables used: ATTSPRTS, DOSPORTS, AUTORACE, HUNTFISH, SPORTS30, WORDSUM.
* The possible responses are Never, 1-2 times, 3-5 times, and More than 5 times. I counted these as 0, 1.5, 4, and 6.