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Friday, March 18, 2016

Low IQ and low impulse control

Low IQ and low impulse control correlate, but are not the same thing. The proof of that is the existence of high IQ sociopaths. Any psychology textbook will tell you that one of the traits that characterize sociopaths is impulsiveness. Bill Clinton is a perfect example. His mastery of political minutiae is legendary, and he is an incisive political analyst and skillful campaigner. Yet it's also obvious he has little impulse control when it comes to women, and will lie whenever he feels it makes him look better. 

One thing affecting impulse control is the ability to feel shame and embarrassment. If you lie when young and get caught, you probably felt some sort of shame, or embarrassment. Since those are unpleasant emotions, you've probably avoided doing things that trigger them ever since. But if you didn't have that feeling -- i.e., if you're a sociopath -- there's nothing to stop you from continuing to lie for the rest of your life.

Thirty-four years ago, a smart black friend once told me that he'd never taken cocaine because he knew that if he took it once and enjoyed it he'd want to take it again, and would probably succumb, and develop a problem. I thought that recognizing his own low impulse control -- though he hadn't phrased it that way -- was pretty insightful. (By the way, I'm not saying he was smart the same condescending and dishonest way white liberals describe blacks of moderate intelligence; at age 14, this guy got 800 on the chemistry AT, and at age 15 an 800 on the physics AT.)

The point is, intelligence and impulse control aren't exactly the same thing. Think of it this way: how smart do you have to be to see that killing someone is going to land you in jail, or maybe even get you the death penalty?

Recently, our legal system has determined that low intelligence is cause for leniency. Three days ago, Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis commuted murderer Ronell Wilson's sentence from the death penalty to life in prison, based on Wilson's supposed mental impairment. Wilson had killed two undercover cops during a gun buy bust in a "carefully executed crime."

Garaufis commuted Wilson's sentence based on his "significantly subaverage intellectual functioning." Lawyers have long exploited the "not guilty by reason of insanity" plea. Will "less guilty by reason of stupidity" now become commonplace as well?

And if that's allowed, why not "not guilty by reason of low impulse control?"

"Geez, your Honor, it just isn't fair to judge me by the standards you judge others by. My frontal lobes just aren't up to snuff. Nothin' I can do about that."

And if someone can escape the death penalty by virtue of having an IQ below 70, why not a slight reduction in their sentence by virtue of having, say, an 85 IQ?

Will we ever hear, "Sure, I raped and killed those eight young women, but your Honor, you gotta understand, I only got 380 on my math SAT and 340 on my verbal. And when I tried to take calculus…..Holy cow, that shit was way beyond me."

Conversely, will people with IQ's of 130 then be considered to be more responsible for their crimes than the average person? After all, they were probably better able to foresee all the consequences of their crimes.

The whole thing could easily devolve into a farce.

Anyway, there are people with high IQ's and low impulse control; let's hope the legal system doesn't cut them a break.


Jackie M said...

This is a timely post and in fact I did think of you when pondering who to approach about my breaking story involving a high-IQ public personality. It's of sufficient interest that a magazine here in Australia has offered me money for exclusivity on it (which I won't accept). Would love to discuss this with you privately as even if you don't end up writing about it I'd love to get your take on my particular situation.

John Craig said...

Jackie --
Sure, would be happy to discuss your situation privately. Send me your email address via this comment section -- I won't post it -- and I'll write back.