Studies of extreme cases are another way of exploring the nature and limits of intelligence. The nearly 1,500 high-IQ children who took part in Lewis Terman's long-running study of giftedness have become one of the best-researched groups in history. Over the years, some participants have chosen to reveal their identities, and reports have been published documenting their personal triumphs and tribulations. The life stories of Terman's Termites, as the study's participants came to be called, reveal a lot about the benefits and limitations of having a high IQ.
As a group, the Termites have fared relatively well. Although no world-class geniuses emerged from the group, some members achieved success and even a measure of fame as adults. For example, Jess Oppenheimer became the creator, producer, and head writer of I Love Lucy, one of the best-loved television shows of all time. Ancel Keys discovered the link between cholesterol and heart disease. Others in the group included Norris Bradbury, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Shelley Smith Mydans, a one-time journalist for Life magazine. Yet none of the Termites ever won a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. It is an interesting footnote that two of children who were tested for the study but whose IQs failed to make the cut did go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics: William Shockley in 1956 and Luis Alvarez in 1968.
Another Termite who eventually made a name for himself was Edward Dmytryk. At age 14, Edward was picked up by the authorities as a runaway. He had reportedly left home to escape an abusive father, who was said to have torn up his schoolbooks and clubbed him with a board. The father wanted Edward returned, although a caseworker suspected that this might have been only because Edward brought home income. Terman wrote a letter to the authorities on Edward's behalf, and the boy wound up being placed in a good foster home instead. This kind of meddling by a researcher in his subject's lives was typical of Terman. It may have affected the results of his study, thereby undermining the data from a scientific perspective, but it also demonstrated the deep interest that Terman took in the children. As an adult, Dmytryk went on to direct 23 movies, including The Caine Mutiny, a classic 1954 film starring Humphrey Bogart.
Of course, not all of Terman's Termites achieved happiness and success as adults. For example, the study included two half-sisters raised by the same mother, both of whom went to college at Stanford University. One became well-known as a freelance writer. The other died of alcoholism. Terman's study showed that high IQ was helpful in adulthood, but, by itself, it was clearly no guarantee of the good life. Among the personal traits that seemed to be associated with adult success were the ability to set goals and the perseverance to achieve them. In addition, a stable marriage and a satisfying job also were related to happiness as an adult. If nothing else, then, the study underscored the fact that people with high IQs have basically the same needs and desires as everyone else. At best, they may just have a running start at fulfilling those needs.
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