Monday 21 January 2019

Brainy celebs: 'I'm not justa pretty face'

Actors are often considered little more than eye candy, but look beyond the glitz and glamour and you may find a Mensa member or two on the red carpet. Tanya Sweeney studies the brainy celebs

Actress Jodie Foster, who
spoke French fluently by the
age of 14; above, Shakira
scored 140 in the Mensa IQ test
Actress Jodie Foster, who spoke French fluently by the age of 14; above, Shakira scored 140 in the Mensa IQ test

Tanya Sweeney

It's been famously said that in order to be any good at their job, actors need to simply learn their lines and not bump into the furniture. Suffice to say that actors and celebrities have gotten a rep down the years for not being the brightest bulbs in the box, and the vapid likes of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton don't help their cause.

Yet beauty and smarts aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, as the list of the Hollywood brainy bunch does in fact run long and wide.

Before the collegiate likes of Emma Watson or James Franco headed for Ivy League schools, James Woods -- star of the forthcoming movie 'Too Big To Fail' -- was well known for his IQ.

During his SATs (high school exams), he scored a whopping 1580, including a perfect 800 on his verbal exams.

And, in supervised Mensa tests, he is thought to have scored the maximum score of 160, yet decided against becoming an official member of the society.

Woods revealed in an interview that, in order to unwind, he counts the number of coffee cups being used in the restaurant he is sitting in.

Yet there are a number of celebrities who took the official Mensa (high-IQ society) test, and found themselves placed in the top 2pc of the populace (with an IQ of 148-154) or even top 1pc (with an IQ of 155-160).

This places them well above the average score of 100.

Sharon Stone is best known for her roles in films such as 'Basic Instinct' and 'Casino', and has topped innumerable 'Sexiest Women' polls. What is perhaps less known about her is that she's an official Mensa member with an IQ of 154.

Geena Davis is a similar overachiever in her chosen field of acting, and with an IQ of 140 and official Mensa membership, she is more than just a pretty face.

Yet scratch the surface of Davis's Hollywood career and she is not your common-or-garden starlet. In addition to speaking fluent Swedish, she was also a semi-finalist for the American archery team in the year 2000.

Not bad for a girl who started out her acting career working as a live mannequin in Manhattan shop windows.

Unlike Davis, Jodie Foster's academic achievements have been well-documented. Originally a child star, Foster showed signs of heightened intelligence from an early age, reading at the age of three and speaking French fluently by 14.

Foster went on to graduate from the private bilingual college Lycée Francais in Los Angeles. She was also the valedictorian of her class. It was the start of a glittering academic career -- she graduated from Yale in 1985 with a degree in literature and received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater in 1997. On the Mensa test, Foster scored an impressive 132.

Foster often draws parallels with Natalie Portman, another child star turned academic whizzkid. While appearing on Broadway in 'The Diary Of Anne Frank', Portman scored big on her SAT exams. While keeping a stellar Hollywood career afloat, she achieved straight As in her Harvard degree in psychology and learned to speak Hebrew, French and Japanese fluently.

Though Natalie is reported to have an IQ of 140, it is not known if she is an official member of Mensa.

Steve Martin, meanwhile, is a member, with an IQ estimated to be around 142. And with his philosophy degree and impressive fledgling career as a novelist, Martin is certainly much more than one of Hollywood's best comedians and actors.

Closer to home, fellow funnyman Brendan O'Carroll is perhaps an unlikely member of the Mensa elite. Yet with a reported IQ of 153, he finds himself in the top 2pc of the population who took the test.

Said the boisterous comic in a 2008 interview: ''Anyone who underestimates me is a very silly person. I am not a gobshite. I've worked my way up from nothing. I'm a member of Mensa. I've made a career in comedy, the hardest profession in the world. And when I become a TD and start changing the political culture of this country, a lot of people are going to have to revise their opinion of Brendan O'Carroll."

Of course, having a high IQ is one thing, but exactly how does it manifest itself in everyday life?

Mensa's only requirement for membership is that one score at or above the 98th percentile on certain standardised IQ or other approved intelligence tests, such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test.

These tests grade a person's ability to solve maths-based, logic and word puzzles. IQ tests have no bearing on a person's EI (Emotional Intelligence). What's more, IQ tests are not necessarily indicative of social intelligence, creative genius or street smarts.

George W Bush, for instance, is thought to have a solid IQ of 125, Shakira scored an impressive 140 and Jimmy Savile 149, while Andy Warhol scored 86 on the Mensa test and Muhammad Ali is reported to have an IQ of 78.

Elsewhere, Quentin Tarantino dropped out of school and struggled for years with writing and spelling, but is a member of Mensa with an IQ of 160. Others in the '160 club' are Scandinavian beefcake Dolph Lundgren and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Says clinical psychologist Dr Patrick Ryan ( "IQ tests refer to testing of one's mental ability, specifically their ability to take a particular test. If you had a high IQ based on a maths-oriented test, you may be exceedingly good at maths, but woeful on giving someone a shoulder to cry on, for instance.

"IQ tests only test very specific abilities. Biological and genetic factors determine how our brains work, but you could have a potentially high IQ and not be exposed to a stimulating learning environment, so your genius may never be found out. IQ tests are a very narrow definition of what intelligence is."

"People tend to think that general knowledge and intelligence are linked, but they aren't," says Shabnam Vasisht of Mensa Ireland. "Your IQ is indicative of how well you can use your brain and your intelligence, not how it retains information. Knowledge tells us that tomato is a fruit, but our intelligence is what makes us know not to put it in a fruit salad.

"Obviously you can think quicker and resolve problems that bit faster because they have that tiny edge. That said, Mensa members are quite shy and don't want to talk about it."

It is estimated that, in 100 countries around the world, Mensa has more than 110,000 members (called 'Mensans'). Currently, Mensa Ireland has 1,040 official members broken up into several area groups, who meet regularly.

There are many SIGs (Special Interest Groups) among the members, from wine testing and writing to mountaineering and Trivial Pursuit). Each group also helps Mensans travelling from abroad to Ireland; they trade advice on accommodation and information on places to visit on their trip.

Despite having a high IQ in common, Mensans come from all walks of life and range in age, from preteens to retirees, although Mensa can only officially test people from the age of 10.

"There are some people who want to talk about aeronautical engineering, but mainly there are people who talk about everyday things, from the traffic they've just come through to problems with their babysitters," says Vasisht. "I think people would be surprised at the people you'd find at a Mensa meeting, and indeed what they tend to talk about."

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