Does the web favour the most intelligent people?

Picture of academic success

Intelligence is a much-debated issue in the world of psychology. Intelligence tests tell us only a little – people with low “intelligence quotients” can be highly successful and people with high IQ can under-perform in daily activities. You probably know “very clever” people who cannot do the simple things of life very well. Equally, you’ll know people who failed all their exams at school but are earning millions. IQ is a predictor of success, but a weak one.

Some researchers favour the concept of “multiple intelligences” where you can measure, for instance, your “musical intelligence” and compare it with your “mathematical intelligence”. There is also the whole concept of “emotional intelligence”, which is theoretically about how well you perceive people around you.

Undeniably, though, there are some people who just “get” some things more quickly than others. You will remember people in your class at school who were just brilliant at maths, but useless at languages. There were also those swots who you disliked who were just brilliant at everything. Clearly, some brains are better than others at understanding things.

According to new research, this may be a crucial factor in who is most able to use the web well. The researchers at the University of Rochester, New York, discovered that people who are more intelligent are able to spot small moving items much more easily than large moving items. Essentially, this means that the more intelligent you are, the more capable you are at filtering out distractions and focusing on the task in hand.

The web, of course, is full of distractions. Everywhere you look there are things which are designed to take your eye off the ball and attract you to something apparently more interesting. The people who can avoid such distractions are therefore going to be able to use the web in better ways – reading more, gaining more insights, learning more and so on. But to do that, you need to be more intelligent in order to avoid the distractions.

It may well be that the very nature of the distracting web is serving to make the most intelligent even more intelligent. We could be creating another “digital divide” which we had not anticipated.

That’s all very well as a debating point, but what does it practically mean for you and your website? It means that you will be able to reach the widest group of people if you reduce the distractions on your pages to an absolute minimum. Focus people on engaging with your content if you wish to ensure that you do not only work for the intelligentsia.

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