Are “Nerds” Just a Hollywood Stereotype?

Yes, MIT has a football team.

The other day on Twitter, Nick B. Steves challenged me to find data supporting or refuting his assertion that Nerds vs. Jocks is a false stereotype, invented around 1975. Of course, we HBDers have a saying–“all stereotypes are true,” even the ones about us–but let’s investigate Nick’s claim and see where it leads us.

(NOTE: If you have relevant data, I’d love to see it.)

Unfortunately, terms like “nerd,” “jock,” and “chad” are not all that well defined. Certainly if we define “jock” as “athletic but not smart” and nerd as “smart but not athletic,” then these are clearly separate categories. But what if there’s a much bigger group of people who are smart and athletic?

Or what if we are defining “nerd” and “jock” too narrowly? Wikipedia defines nerd as, “a person seen as overly intellectual, obsessive, or lacking social skills.” I recall a study–which I cannot find right now–which found that nerds had, overall, lower-than-average IQs, but that study included people who were obsessive about things like comic books, not just people who majored in STEM. Similarly, should we define “jock” only as people who are good at sports, or do passionate sports fans count?

For the sake of this post, I will define “nerd” as “people with high math/science abilities” and “jock” as “people with high athletic abilities,” leaving the matter of social skills undefined. (People who merely like video games or watch sports, therefore, do not count.)

Nick is correct on one count: according to Wikipedia, although the word “nerd” has been around since 1951, it was popularized during the 70s by the sitcom Happy Days. However, Wikipedia also notes that:

An alternate spelling,[10] as nurd or gnurd, also began to appear in the mid-1960s or early 1970s.[11] Author Philip K. Dick claimed to have coined the nurd spelling in 1973, but its first recorded use appeared in a 1965 student publication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.[12][13] Oral tradition there holds that the word is derived from knurd (drunk spelled backward), which was used to describe people who studied rather than partied. The term gnurd (spelled with the “g”) was in use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by 1965.[14] The term nurd was also in use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as early as 1971 but was used in the context for the proper name of a fictional character in a satirical “news” article.[15]

suggesting that the word was already common among nerds themselves before it was picked up by TV.

But we can trace the nerd-jock dichotomy back before the terms were coined: back in 1921, Lewis Terman, a researcher at Stanford University, began a long-term study of exceptionally high-IQ children, the Genetic Studies of Genius aka the Terman Study of the Gifted:

Terman’s goal was to disprove the then-current belief that gifted children were sickly, socially inept, and not well-rounded.

This belief was especially popular in a little nation known as Germany, where it inspired people to take schoolchildren on long hikes in the woods to keep them fit and the mass-extermination of Jews, who were believed to be muddying the German genepool with their weak, sickly, high-IQ genes (and nefariously trying to marry strong, healthy German in order to replenish their own defective stock.) It didn’t help that German Jews were both high-IQ and beset by a number of illnesses (probably related to high rates of consanguinity,) but then again, the Gypsies are beset by even more debilitating illnesses, but no one blames this on all of the fresh air and exercise afforded by their highly mobile lifestyles.

(Just to be thorough, though, the Nazis also exterminated the Gypsies and Hans Asperger’s subjects, despite Asperger’s insistence that they were very clever children who could probably be of great use to the German war effort via code breaking and the like.)

The results of Terman’s study are strongly in Nick’s favor. According to Psychology Today’s  account:

His final group of “Termites” averaged a whopping IQ of 151. Following-up his group 35-years later, his gifted group at mid-life definitely seemed to conform to his expectations. They were taller, healthier, physically better developed, and socially adept (dispelling the myth at the time of high-IQ awkward nerds).

According to Wikipedia:

…the first volume of the study reported data on the children’s family,[17] educational progress,[18] special abilities,[19] interests,[20] play,[21] and personality.[22] He also examined the children’s racial and ethnic heritage.[23] Terman was a proponent of eugenics, although not as radical as many of his contemporary social Darwinists, and believed that intelligence testing could be used as a positive tool to shape society.[3]

Based on data collected in 1921–22, Terman concluded that gifted children suffered no more health problems than normal for their age, save a little more myopia than average. He also found that the children were usually social, were well-adjusted, did better in school, and were even taller than average.[24] A follow-up performed in 1923–1924 found that the children had maintained their high IQs and were still above average overall as a group.

Of course, we can go back even further than Terman–in the early 1800s, allergies like hay fever were associated with the nobility, who of course did not do much vigorous work in the fields.

My impression, based on studies I’ve seen previously, is that athleticism and IQ are positively correlated. That is, smarter people tend to be more athletic, and more athletic people tend to be smarter. There’s a very obvious reason for this: our brains are part of our bodies, people with healthier bodies therefore also have healthier brains, and healthier brains tend to work better.

At the very bottom of the IQ distribution, mentally retarded people tend to also be clumsy, flacid, or lacking good muscle tone. The same genes (or environmental conditions) that make children have terrible health/developmental problems often also affect their brain growth, and conditions that affect their brains also affect their bodies. As we progress from low to average to above-average IQ, we encounter increasingly healthy people.

In most smart people, high-IQ doesn’t seem to be a random fluke, a genetic error, nor fitness reducing: in a genetic study of children with exceptionally high IQs, researchers failed to find many genes that specifically endowed the children with genius, but found instead a fortuitous absence of deleterious genes that knock a few points off the rest of us. The same genes that have a negative effect on the nerves and proteins in your brain probably also have a deleterious effect on the nerves and proteins throughout the rest of your body.

And indeed, there are many studies which show a correlation between intelligence and strength (eg, Longitudinal and Cross-Sectional Assessments of Age Changes in Physical Strength as Related to Sex, Social Class, and Mental Ability) or intelligence and overall health/not dying (eg, Intelligence in young adulthood and cause-specific mortality in the Danish Conscription Database (pdf) and The effects of occupation-based social position on mortality in a large American cohort.)

On the other hand, the evolutionary standard for “fitness” isn’t strength or longevity, but reproduction, and on this scale the high-IQ don’t seem to do as well:

Smart teens don’t have sex (or kiss much either): (h/t Gene Expresion)

Controlling for age, physical maturity, and mother’s education, a significant curvilinear relationship between intelligence and coital status was demonstrated; adolescents at the upper and lower ends of the intelligence distribution were less likely to have sex. Higher intelligence was also associated with postponement of the initiation of the full range of partnered sexual activities. … Higher intelligence operates as a protective factor against early sexual activity during adolescence, and lower intelligence, to a point, is a risk factor.


Here we see the issue plainly: males at 120 and 130 IQ are less likely to get laid than clinically retarded men in 70s and 60s. The right side of the graph are “nerds”, the left side, “jocks.” Of course, the high-IQ females are even less likely to get laid than the high-IQ males, but males tend to judge themselves against other men, not women, when it comes to dating success. Since the low-IQ females are much less likely to get laid than the low-IQ males, this implies that most of these “popular” guys are dating girls who are smarter than themselves–a fact not lost on the nerds, who would also like to date those girls.

 In 2001, the MIT/Wellesley magazine Counterpart (Wellesley is MIT’s “sister school” and the two campuses allow cross-enrollment in each other’s courses) published a sex survey that provides a more detailed picture of nerd virginity:

I’m guessing that computer scientists invented polyamory, and neuroscientists are the chads of STEM. The results are otherwise pretty predictable.

Unfortunately, Counterpoint appears to be defunct due to lack of funding/interest and I can no longer find the original survey, but here is Jason Malloy’s summary from Gene Expression:

By the age of 19, 80% of US males and 75% of women have lost their virginity, and 87% of college students have had sex. But this number appears to be much lower at elite (i.e. more intelligent) colleges. According to the article, only 56% of Princeton undergraduates have had intercourse. At Harvard 59% of the undergraduates are non-virgins, and at MIT, only a slight majority, 51%, have had intercourse. Further, only 65% of MIT graduate students have had sex.

The student surveys at MIT and Wellesley also compared virginity by academic major. The chart for Wellesley displayed below shows that 0% of studio art majors were virgins, but 72% of biology majors were virgins, and 83% of biochem and math majors were virgins! Similarly, at MIT 20% of ‘humanities’ majors were virgins, but 73% of biology majors. (Apparently those most likely to read Darwin are also the least Darwinian!)

College Confidential has one paragraph from the study:

How Rolling Stone-ish are the few lucky souls who are doing the horizontal mambo? Well, not very. Considering all the non-virgins on campus, 41% of Wellesley and 32% of MIT students have only had one partner (figure 5). It seems that many Wellesley and MIT students are comfortingly monogamous. Only 9% of those who have gotten it on at MIT have been with more than 10 people and the number is 7% at Wellesley.

Someone needs to find the original study and PUT IT BACK ON THE INTERNET.

But this lack of early sexual success seems to translate into long-term marital happiness, once nerds find “the one.”Lex Fridman’s Divorce Rates by Profession offers a thorough list. The average divorce rate was 16.35%, with a high of 43% (Dancers) and a low of 0% (“Media and communication equipment workers.”)

I’m not sure exactly what all of these jobs are nor exactly which ones should count as STEM (veterinarian? anthropologists?) nor do I know how many people are employed in each field, but I count 49 STEM professions that have lower than average divorce rates (including computer scientists, economists, mathematical science, statisticians, engineers, biologists, chemists, aerospace engineers, astronomers and physicists, physicians, and nuclear engineers,) and only 23 with higher than average divorce rates (including electricians, water treatment plant operators, radio and telecommunication installers, broadcast engineers, and similar professions.) The purer sciences obviously had lower rates than the more practical applied tech fields.

The big outliers were mathematicians (19.15%), psychologists (19.26%), and sociologists (23.53%), though I’m not sure they count (if so, there were only 22 professions with higher than average divorce rates.)

I’m not sure which professions count as “jock” or “chad,” but athletes had lower than average rates of divorce (14.05%) as did firefighters, soldiers, and farmers. Financial examiners, hunters, and dancers, (presumably an athletic female occupation) however, had very high rates of divorce.

Medical Daily has an article on Who is Most Likely to Cheat? The Top 9 Jobs Unfaithful People Have (according to survey):

According to the survey recently taken by the “infidelity dating website,” Victoria Milan, individuals working in the finance field, such as brokers, bankers, and analysts, are more likely to cheat than those in any other profession. However, following those in finance comes those in the aviation field, healthcare, business, and sports.

With the exception of healthcare and maybe aviation, these are pretty typical Chad occupations, not STEM.

The Mirror has a similar list of jobs where people are most and least likely to be married. Most likely: Dentist, Chief Executive, Sales Engineer, Physician, Podiatrist, Optometrist, Farm product buyer, Precision grinder, Religious worker, Tool and die maker.

Least likely: Paper-hanger, Drilling machine operator, Knitter textile operator, Forge operator, Mail handler, Science technician, Practical nurse, Social welfare clerk, Winding machine operative, Postal clerk.

I struggled to find data on male fertility by profession/education/IQ, but there’s plenty on female fertility, eg the deceptively titled High-Fliers have more Babies:

…American women without any form of high-school diploma have a fertility rate of 2.24 children. Among women with a high-school diploma the fertility rate falls to 2.09 and for women with some form of college education it drops to 1.78.

However, among women with college degrees, the economists found the fertility rate rises to 1.88 and among women with advanced degrees to 1.96. In 1980 women who had studied for 16 years or more had a fertility rate of just 1.2.

As the economists prosaically explain: “The relationship between fertility and women’s education in the US has recently become U-shaped.”

Here is another article about the difference in fertility rates between high and low-IQ women.

But female fertility and male fertility may not be the same–I recall data elsewhere indicating that high-IQ men have more children than low IQ men, which implies those men are having their children with low-IQ women. (For example, while Bill and Hillary seem about matched on IQ, and have only one child, Melania Trump does not seem as intelligent as Trump, who has five children.)

Amusingly, I did find data on fertility rate by father’s profession for 1920, in the Birth Statistics for the Birth Registration Area of the US:

Of the 1,508,874 children born in 1920 in the birth registration area of the United states, occupations of fathers are stated for … 96.9%… The average number of children ever born to the present wives of these occupied fathers is 3.3 and the average number of children living 2.9.

The average number of children ever born ranges from 4.6 for foremen, overseers, and inspectors engaged in the extraction of minerals to 1.8 for soldiers, sailors, and marines. Both of these extreme averages are easily explained, for soldier, sailors and marines are usually young, while such foremen, overseers, and inspectors are usually in middle life. For many occupations, however, the ages of the fathers are presumably about the same and differences shown indicate real differences in the size of families. For example, the low figure for dentists, (2), architects, (2.1), and artists, sculptors, and teachers of art (2.2) are in striking contrast with the figure for mine operatives (4.3), quarry operatives (4.1) bootblacks, and brick and stone masons (each 3.9). …

As a rule the occupations credited with the highest number of children born are also credited with the highest number of children living, the highest number of children living appearing for foremen, overseers, and inspectors engaged in the extraction of minerals (3.9) and for steam and street railroad foremen and overseer (3.8), while if we exclude groups plainly affected by the age of fathers, the highest number of children living appear for mine and quarry operatives (each 3.6).

Obviously the job market was very different in 1920–no one was majoring in computer science. Perhaps some of those folks who became mine and quarry operatives back then would become engineers today–or perhaps not. Here are the average numbers of surviving children for the most obviously STEM professions (remember average for 1920 was 2.9):

Electricians 2.1, Electrotypers 2.2, telegraph operator 2.2, actors 1.9, chemists 1.8, Inventors 1.8, photographers and physicians 2.1, technical engineers 1.9, veterinarians 2.2.

I don’t know what paper hangers do, but the Mirror said they were among the least likely to be married, and in 1920, they had an average of 3.1 children–above average.

What about athletes? How smart are they?

Athletes Show Huge Gaps on SAT Scores” is not a promising title for the “nerds are athletic” crew.

The Journal-Constitution studied 54 public universities, “including the members of the six major Bowl Championship Series conferences and other schools whose teams finished the 2007-08 season ranked among the football or men’s basketball top 25.”…

  • Football players average 220 points lower on the SAT than their classmates. Men’s basketball was 227 points lower.
  • University of Florida won the prize for biggest gap between football players and the student body, with players scoring 346 points lower than their peers.
  • Georgia Tech had the nation’s best average SAT score for football players, 1028 of a possible 1600, and best average high school GPA, 3.39 of a possible 4.0. But because its student body is apparently very smart, Tech’s football players still scored 315 SAT points lower than their classmates.
  • UCLA, which has won more NCAA championships in all sports than any other school, had the biggest gap between the average SAT scores of athletes in all sports and its overall student body, at 247 points.

From the original article, which no longer seems to be up on the Journal-Constitution website:

All 53 schools for which football SAT scores were available had at least an 88-point gap between team members’ average score and the average for the student body. …

Football players performed 115 points worse on the SAT than male athletes in other sports.

The differences between athletes’ and non-athletes’ SAT scores were less than half as big for women (73 points) as for men (170).

Many schools routinely used a special admissions process to admit athletes who did not meet the normal entrance requirements. … At Georgia, for instance, 73.5 percent of athletes were special admits compared with 6.6 percent of the student body as a whole.

On the other hand, as Discover Magazine discusses in “The Brain: Why Athletes are Geniuses,” athletic tasks–like catching a fly ball or slapping a hockey puck–require exceptionally fast and accurate brain signals to trigger the correct muscle movements.

Ryan Stegal studied the GPAs of highschool student athletes vs. non-athletes and found that the athletes had higher average GPAs than the non-athletes, but he also notes that the athletes were required to meet certain minimum GPA requirements in order to play.

But within athletics, it looks like the smarter athletes perform better than dumber ones, which is why the NFL uses the Wonderlic Intelligence Test:

NFL draft picks have taken the Wonderlic test for years because team owners need to know if their million dollar player has the cognitive skills to be a star on the field.

What does the NFL know about hiring that most companies don’t? They know that regardless of the position, proof of intelligence plays a profound role in the success of every individual on the team. It’s not enough to have physical ability. The coaches understand that players have to be smart and think quickly to succeed on the field, and the closer they are to the ball the smarter they need to be. That’s why, every potential draft pick takes the Wonderlic Personnel Test at the combine to prove he does–or doesn’t—have the brains to win the game. …

The first use of the WPT in the NFL was by Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys in the early 70s, who took a scientific approach to finding players. He believed players who could use their minds where it counted had a strategic advantage over the other teams. He was right, and the test has been used at the combine ever since.

For the NFL, years of testing shows that the higher a player scores on the Wonderlic, the more likely he is to be in the starting lineup—for any position. “There is no other reasonable explanation for the difference in test scores between starting players and those that sit on the bench,” Callans says. “Intelligence plays a role in how well they play the game.”

Let’s look at Exercising Intelligence: How Research Shows a Link Between Physical Activity and Smarts:

A large study conducted at the Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, reveals that young adults who regularly exercise have higher IQ scores and are more likely to go on to university.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and involved more than 1.2 million Swedish men. The men were performing military service and were born between the years 1950 and 1976. Both their physical and IQ test scores were reviewed by the research team. …

The researchers also looked at data for twins and determined that primarily environmental factors are responsible for the association between IQ and fitness, and not genetic makeup. “We have also shown that those youngsters who improve their physical fitness between the ages of 15 and 18 increase their cognitive performance.”…

I have seen similar studies before, some involving mice and some, IIRC, the elderly. It appears that exercise is probably good for you.

I have a few more studies I’d like to mention quickly before moving on to discussion.

Here’s Grip Strength and Physical Demand of Previous Occupation in a Well-Functioning Cohort of Chinese Older Adults (h/t prius_1995) found that participants who had previously worked in construction had greater grip strength than former office workers.

Age and Gender-Specific Normative Data of Grip and Pinch Strength in a Healthy Adult Swiss Population (h/t prius_1995).


If the nerds are in the sedentary cohort, then they be just as athletic if not more athletic than all of the other cohorts except the heavy work.

However, in Revised normative values for grip strength with the Jamar dynamometer, the authors found no effect of profession on grip strength.

And Isometric muscle strength and anthropometric characteristics of a Chinese sample (h/t prius_1995).

And Pumpkin Person has an interesting post about brain size vs. body size.


Discussion: Are nerds real?

Overall, it looks like smarter people are more athletic, more athletic people are smarter, smarter athletes are better athletes, and exercise may make you smarter. For most people, the nerd/jock dichotomy is wrong.

However, there is very little overlap at the very highest end of the athletic and intelligence curves–most college (and thus professional) athletes are less intelligent than the average college student, and most college students are less athletic than the average college (and professional) athlete.

Additionally, while people with STEM degrees make excellent spouses (except for mathematicians, apparently,) their reproductive success is below average: they have sex later than their peers and, as far as the data I’ve been able to find shows, have fewer children.

Stephen Hawking

Even if there is a large overlap between smart people and athletes, they are still separate categories selecting for different things: a cripple can still be a genius, but can’t play football; a dumb person can play sports, but not do well at math. Stephen Hawking can barely move, but he’s still one of the smartest people in the world. So the set of all smart people will always include more “stereotypical nerds” than the set of all athletes, and the set of all athletes will always include more “stereotypical jocks” than the set of all smart people.

In my experience, nerds aren’t socially awkward (aside from their shyness around women.) The myth that they are stems from the fact that they have different interests and communicate in a different way than non-nerds. Let nerds talk to other nerds, and they are perfectly normal, communicative, socially functional people. Put them in a room full of non-nerds, and suddenly the nerds are “awkward.”

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are not nerds, so many nerds have to spend the majority of their time in the company of lots of people who are very different than themselves. By contrast, very few people of normal IQ and interests ever have to spend time surrounded by the very small population of nerds. If you did put them in a room full of nerds, however, you’d find that suddenly they don’t fit in. The perception that nerds are socially awkward is therefore just normie bias.

Why did the nerd/jock dichotomy become so popular in the 70s? Probably in part because science and technology were really taking off as fields normal people could aspire to major in, man had just landed on the moon and the Intel 4004 was released in 1971.  Very few people went to college or were employed in sciences back in 1920; by 1970, colleges were everywhere and science was booming.

And at the same time, colleges and highschools were ramping up their athletics programs. I’d wager that the average school in the 1800s had neither PE nor athletics of any sort. To find those, you’d probably have to attend private academies like Andover or Exeter. By the 70s, though, schools were taking their athletics programs–even athletic recruitment–seriously.

How strong you felt the dichotomy probably depends on the nature of your school. I have attended schools where all of the students were fairly smart and there was no anti-nerd sentiment, and I have attended schools where my classmates were fiercely anti-nerd and made sure I knew it.

But the dichotomy predates the terminology. Take Superman, first 1938. His disguise is a pair of glasses, because no one can believe that the bookish, mild-mannered, Clark Kent is actually the super-strong Superman. Batman is based on the character of El Zorro, created in 1919. Zorro is an effete, weak, foppish nobleman by day and a dashing, sword-fighting hero of the poor by night. Of course these characters are both smart and athletic, but their disguises only work because others do not expect them to be. As fantasies, the characters are powerful because they provide a vehicle for our own desires: for our everyday normal failings to be just a cover for how secretly amazing we are.

But for the most part, most smart people are perfectly fit, healthy, and coordinated–even the ones who like math.


16 thoughts on “Are “Nerds” Just a Hollywood Stereotype?

  1. I wonder how much of it is a socially-comforting fiction, too, of the sort we see well before the distinguished dichotomy. That is, believing that there is a large class of people who are just plain better than you at basically everything important is depressing. Believing instead that they, on the average, are better at bookish things than you, but not as good at practical things (where practical things here is defined as ‘things you find daily important’ whether that be ferrying people across rivers, digging ditches, general athletic ability, herding sheep, etc.) is a comforting fiction that is also reinforced by daily experience, because if one of those scholars comes down and tries to be a shepherd for a day or even a month, he looks foolish – and you carefully never examine that that’s mostly an effect of training that you’ve had and he hasn’t.


    • some of it may be a desire to let each person have an area in which they excel. I don’t think I looked at the grip strength data in depth, but people who worked in the most physically intense jobs dis have the best grip strength, as you might expect.


  2. I think some studies did find a link between Testosterone level and IQ in men. Basicly mentaly retarded people had low testosterone, it then rose up till around IQ 90 (thats the range where men have the most sex), then it falls with rising IQ.

    Thus one could say that while high IQ people are as healthy if not healthier then low IQ people, they are also less agressive and impulsive, lack of agression is often mistaken for weakness.


  3. I also should note that the “Jock/nerd” dichotomy did exist at least since the 19th century, I have seen pictures in 19th century British magazines that made fun of such stereotypes. Also Hitler in “Mein Kampf” spends a lot of time on attacking the Prussian education system and German elite overall for being “pure intelligence, no strength and passion”.

    The origin of this stereotype comes in my opinion less from objective health factors but from the level of aggression people have. Lower IQ, lower class people live in a culture of strength, toughness and aggression, they are overall more impulsive, more likely to answer with a punch in the face. An intellectual might be objectively stronger, but he is far less likely to punch you or radiate primitive aggression. It is this testosterone fueled impulsivity that attracts women to such men, not so much any objective criteria.
    I think there is a reason why when low Iq groups wage war or fight, their fighting motivation is much about “letting anger/aggression be stronger then fear” (countering one instinct with another). While when high IQ groups (who’s instincts are overall weaker on average) fight much is made out of self-control and coldness.
    Also lower class men are usually much more used to fighting and enduring pain.


    • Alexander Marai (writer of Casanova in Bolzano) who went to an education system broadly associable with the German one roughly the same time as H. said that bourgeois boys were supposed to believe in a “humanist” ideal where the spirit is far more important than the body. Humanism here roughly means that their ideal was Goethe. Strangely, the only sport allowed was an aggressive one: fencing. I mean, duels were still a thing, it was not just poking each other with foils. He envied the working class boys playing soccer.


  4. Hi EvoX

    OK this is something I tried to figure out myself, but I would not start with math ability. Look at Woody Allen, even more, the kind of roles he played when young. How would you diagnose that? That is, what made him be or able to roleplay well a man who is unhappy, socially not skilled, timid and extremely unattractive? What is behind that “loserdom” ?

    Have you ever went to a place where people played AD&D around 1990? You would find a lot of Woody Allens.

    And there was a predictable pattern

    1) having a super muscular jock character who is loved by the girls
    2) having a super charismatic bard character who is loved by the girls
    3) having a bitter evil dark wizard character who takes revenge on the world for being bullied and not loved by the girls – think Dragonlance’s perhaps most famous antihero: Raistlin!

    Remember this artwork? the lonely nerdy wizard, who cannot mingle well with friends, despite his jock brothers invitation, rather he sits alone in the darkness, nursing his bitterness…

    D& nerds back then associated with that 100%.

    What is this? How would you diagnose this? Not math ability.

    Let me try.

    One element is depression. Depression that has a clear cause in social unsuccess, loneliness and so on. That is that bitter dark stuff.

    Physical weakness. Thinness. In 1990. Today it can be more often fatness (“neckbeard”). Why does this matter? Partially for attractiveness, lack of sexual success -> depression, but also because in any childhood classroom the social hierarchy of boys is based on physical ability.

    Being low on a social hierarchy seems directly related to depression – serotonine is a feeling worthy hormone, low serotonine makes people feel insignificant, Scott Alexander wrote that suicidial people feel like a burden on others and so on.

    Bullying – which is mostly being low on the social hierarchy and boys tend to express that brutally. Pretty easy to get depressed.

    Probably there is an element of lack of testosterone. They simply don’t come across as particularly masculine.

    Autism? 4chan would say yes but their definition of autism is a bit broader than the DSM-IV one. Nevertheless you can safely assume some Asperger at work.

    One story I know, khm, well. When the boy was 3 years old he mostly just seemed lazy, did not jump around mom had to push him around in a pram. At 5 he seemed timid, as in, not daring to climb on a chair, not sure if genetic or developmental due to not practicing moving around at 2 or 3. Maybe testosterone related, as testosterone is linked to courage, risk-taking. Very clumsy – not sure if genetic, developmental as above, or just coming from being afraid to do stuff and nervously fumbling. Already picked on by other kids, socially isolated for these reasons.

    There was one very remarkable element that probably should ring a bell to psychiatrists and developmental experts: remote-controlling his body. Lacking feedback. That means, when teaching him some gymnastic or something and the teacher showing the right way again and again he asked the teacher to show instead what he the boy is doing because he had no idea where his limbs are. When asked to throw a ball he initiated the movement relatively well then his arm went in an almost random direction because he had no feedback to be able to correct the movement. Thus his movements had a very remarkably jerky, insect-like movement to them. He was a terrible singer because he could not control his voice because he did not “hear” himself sing in the sense of somehow not having feedback, but it was not a hearing issue, if you recorded him and played it back he was aware it was terrible and was always very surprised. At 5 he was not able to draw a human hand with five fingers, he would draw a sausage and add 8-12 lines in random directions as fingers. At 5 years old a classmate in kindergarten showed him how to do it, and he was very surprised that just controlling his pencil in a certain way made a drawing come out that did indeed seem realistic. Then he never improved and basically drew on that level he learned at 5 forever.

    Do we have a name for this issue? Perhaps it is ADHD, not being able to focus attention on the feedback coming out of body movements or voice etc. and thus not getting feedback, hence the characteristic initiate a movement or song correctly then it comes out randomly. Hence the jerky, insectioid movement.

    Perhaps it is something else. While he indeed was the type whose mind tended to wander and daydream, he wanted to pay attention to his body and suffered that he cannot, that he is somehow cut off from his body and has to “remote-control” it.

    Many years later he did some body-building and it helped him to “inhabit” his body more, doing simple isolation movements ingrained some ability to get feedback from muscle movements, so maybe it was the case of being too lazy at 1 or 2 or 3 years old when this thing is ingrained.

    So I think this was the ur-issue. But I don’t think all the nerds, the Woody Allens, the Raistlins had this.

    My guess is that this issue simply led to social isolation, low status and bullying and THAT is what defines nerds.

    Since low status made him feel bad about himself and he was socially excluded at the classroom, he:

    1) was into more intellectual hobbies, like reading books as he could do that alone. He was not interested in math and only somewhat in natural sciences. But if a boy sits at home alone doing stuff with the computer comes natural. He easily fit into the role of the computer savvy nerd.

    2) did not develop social skills as practice was missing

    4) did not develop physical strength as kids usually do that playing with each other which he could not

    5) did not learn the kind of grooming needed to look okay, as it also comes from social interaction, while he would have been naturally somewhat handsome the terrible hair and clothes made him look bad, another status loss and even less sexual success

    6) had low self-esteem, as depressed, felt worthless

    7) wanted to escape that by fantasizing, see AD&D

    And all this probably came from simply being a very low status boy who got that low status expressed clearly i.e. bullied.

    But the original issue of somehow not having feedback, not being able to sense what he is doing also played a role. If you asked him what clothes he is wearing he would have to look at himself, he would not know. He would say things without wanting to say them, he would initiate a sentence then apparently some part of the brain took over said something which he felt is not something he wants to say. He would blurt inappropriate things out in a classic ADHD way without even noticing. He would look in a mirror and would not feel “this is me” but more like “hm am I controlling this strange looking body?”

    PERHAPS this inability to gain feedback of what he himself is doing, which is PERHAPS an ADHD symptom but could be something else, was actually caused by the low self-esteem and depression: hating himself, he did not want to pay attention to the hated self, rather constantly daydream about a better self. He literally fantasized about a miracle or magic turning himself into the popular classmate guy.

    Would any of this describe Woody Allen’s young roles or the Raistlin stereotype nerds used to strongly associate with.

    Math and STEM? Oh, you gotta do something with your time and brain when you are smart and lonely. Intellectual pursuits make sense then. But it seems to be secondary. Think D&D.

    (Interesting note. If today a teen would tell a very super progressive teacher that when looks in a mirror he does not see himself but rather “hm am I controlling this strange looking body?” that he may be trans. Because that is the “in” thing now. But it very likely would be wrong. Your sex is not the only thing that can make your body not feel like yourself. Clearly it was not due to that that he was not able to control throwing a ball. He didn’t have a body problem, he would see a thin, tall male with an acceptable face, he had a brain problem, of not being able to control it properly. He did have a gayish stint around 8 years old because girls would be less bullying so he would hang out with them and as a result imitate some elements of their behavior, but it was clearly just a fitting in with “friends” and hoping to be accepted thing that quickly ended when the girls started getting nasty too. No, he wasn’t gay or trans. Yet today very super progressive teachers would always suspect this in cases like this when you feel something is off with yourself.)

    One last tidbit. He had the self-serving lie that all this is because he is smart. Surely you have to be stupid to be popular and all that. Of coure he ignored when popular classmates did better academically. They are just kissing teacher ass!

    The shocking part was seeing some people who were not smart at all yet had apparently similar problems. One was a new classmate, low IQ yet the same problem, the other was taking a good hard look at McDonalds employees. He learned a lot of dumb people have the same nerdy problems.

    We know how IQ actually positively correlates with social and sexual success, even with good looks. What we have here is maybe a huge availability bias. We expect these “neurotic” people to be losers and when they are and ask us, gazing their own shoes “do you want, er, ahm, fries with that?” they are simply invisible. As losers.

    So what makes the nerd nerd is the weird exception that sometimes the nerd is not fully a loser, sometimes he is smart and, like, can fix your computer. This is what makes the nerd noticed, the weird combination of low status yet sometimes weirdly respectable. So he is gazing his shoe and has a timid voice and looks like Woody Allen but then he says something smart about a technical problem or solves it and you are surprised and sort of notice the loser the first time. So maybe this availability bias is that.

    Still what would be important is how to cure nerds and I am not sure. Cure the depression if you can, sure. If he doesn’t hate himself and doesn’t desperately want to be someone else that is already a big deal. Treat the ADHD. But there are aspects such as that lack of body feedback that are big mysteries to me.

    Sorry for the huge comment.


    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Woody Allen movie. Unusual, I know.
      Unfortunately, “nerd” is poorly defined. I could pick anyone who is obsessive about stuff, but then I would be lumping autists who’ve memorized every episode of The Price is Right with nuclear physicists, and that seems like a not very useful category. Likewise, social isolation, low status, and bullying can’t be our definition because that category could include disabled kids with no obsessive interests at all.

      But even if we look only at high IQ people, we see what looks like social difficulties. Of course, the problem here might just be that they are surrounded by average people who can’t operate on their level, but that still amounts to difficulties.

      As for DnD, that sounds like a reasonable combination of characters to give the group a balanced skilled set. And it seems kind of normal that most teens would make their characters have good luck with the ladies–how many people really make characters that are significantly impaired in any way? I don’t have much experience here, but we could compare Mary Sues in fanfiction. They are perfect and always highly desired by other cast members. It seems natural to want to be desireable.

      Thanks for all of the though that went into your comment.


  5. Alas, Counterpoint… (Nothing makes me grumble about Millennials like defunct or moribund student groups… Damn kids can’t do anything that won’t give them course credit, it seems…)

    I was still hanging around when that article came out. I seem to recall some questions of sample size (certain of the dorms surveyed had “virginity rates” that were quite counter to, um, known examples…) That said, anecdotally, the women I know who graduated and married fellow alumni have a high rate of staying home and raising children. This wouldn’t show up in the “number of partners” (well, maybe once you get to double digits, but that’s probably true of men, too…) Also, it wouldn’t show up quite so much in general social survey data, since a bachelors is a bachelors. It is interesting that there’s a slight bump for graduate degrees, though it would be interesting to know if there’s a difference between, say, an EdD, law, medicine, and “real” PhDs…

    As far as student athletes being “dumber” or not, data from division III schools might be informative, since they tend to work with the students they have, rather than recruiting players who otherwise might not be up for the school academically. (I’m sure there are still some borderline students who’d get in at division III schools. That kid getting into MIT with under a 600 on the SAT math score had to have some “hook”…) (I’m sure Harvard/Yale/etc and Stanford get the cream of the truly bright football players, of course)

    Where was I going with this? Not sure. Anyhow, those are my semi-random thoughts on this.


  6. Isn’t there research that suggest that intelligence has a relatively minor impact on personality traits? For instance, people of European descent have a higher iq average than Amerindians, South-East Asians and East Indians yet are also on average more muscular, athletic, sociable and less “nerdy” on average than those 3 groups. Just curious to hear your thoughts.


    • Native Americans are nerdy? News to me. IMO, nerd in the US is based on white norms because whites are the majority. High IQ Asians seem less nerdy to me, just because studying hard is more normal for their cultures; white nerds stand out more because whites are kind of anti-studying and anti-intelligence overall.



    Now the data is as usual contradictory, but most studies seem to indicate that mentaly retarded and high IQ men have an averegly lower level of testosterone.

    Now this does not mean that prenatal testosterone exposure cant raise IQ, as one scholar sugested (altough there is no proof).


  8. One interpretation of the data: There are two human reproductive strategies, r-selected and K-selected. Humans from r-selected lineages tend to be less intelligent and more fecund. They are hornier and from a young age they go out every weekend looking for mates. Humans from K-selected lineages tend to be more intelligent and less fecund. They are less horny, and from a young age they play with computers so they can produce the high income necessary to ensure the survival of a small number of K-selected spawn they produce in later life.

    See also

    When smart men obsess over getting laid to the degree that normie males do (see PUA etc.), they do fine. Well at least that was true in the past. Nowadays internet porn can put you in a self-reinforcing downward spiral if you mistakenly decide it’s your only hope with women at a young age.


    • Overall, I think that higher-IQ people develop more slowly (retaining childish traits like playfulness well into adulthood, which helps them develop and adapt to new technologies and also makes them prone to playing videogames,) which means they are socially, effectively, 2-3 years younger than their peers in highschool. If you matched them for social age rather than biological, high-IQ people wouldn’t lag behind as much.


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