HVGIQ: Burma

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has a population of over 60 million, and is the world’s 24th most populous nation. With an authoritarian, military-controlled government, it is also one of the poorest and most dysfunctional places on earth—you will find it nestled together with mostly African countries at the back of most human development rankings.

Richard Lynn’s international dataset does not yet have a study for Burma. IQ and the Wealth of Nations (2002, p. 74) makes an estimate of 86 by averaging together IQ from neighboring India (81) and Thailand (91). IQ and Global Inequality (2006, p. 59) bumps up India’s IQ to 82, which changes the Burma estimate to 87. The latest version of the dataset (Lynn & Vanhanen, 2012, p. 26) assigns a lower IQ to Thailand (88), which means that Lynn’s most recent estimate for Burma is 85.

I was able to locate one published intelligence study for Burma. The results are surprising, but the research contains no obvious flaws. Intellectual potential in Southeast Asia is an issue filled with contradiction and uncertainty.

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It is first worth mentioning that some time before the military coup in 1962, the Raven’s Progressive Matrices were standardized for the local population by Dr. Kathleen Chen of Rangoon University. Dr. Chen does not know what happened to these unpublished norms and my attempt to contact the University for information was futile. But it is possible that this data still exists. When I asked her over email if she could give me a few details about this incredibly old project, Dr. Chen said: “I remember the results are similar to American norms …”.

Fortunately, a published study by Helen H. Schuster (1971 ) reports an IQ score for Burma on one version of the Goodenough Draw-a-Man intelligence test.

The children’s drawings were collected by anthropologist Melford E. Spiro in the course of his field work. Not many details about Spiro’s research are given by Schuster, but Spiro’s own academic publications helpfully clarify that his field work occurred during 1961-62 in a village of about 500 people right outside of Mandalay in Upper Burma (Spiro, 1996, p. 8).

Spiro administered a Draw-a-Person test, with the aid of an interpreter, at a local consolidated school attended by children from 10 surrounding villages. Schuster generates a standard score for the drawings using the norms and scoring criteria of the “Goodenough-Harris Quality Scale” (Harris, 1963). The average IQ of the children was 108.3!

Schuster herself accepts this number, noting that many of her colleagues were impressed by the precocity of the drawings.

The Flynn Effect cannot account for this score. The Goodenough-Harris norms used here were ostensibly collected in Minnesota in the late 1950s by R.V. Frankiel (1957), so this indicates only about 5 years of norm inflation (~1.5 points). [1]

As far as the representivity of the sample, the kind of children who attended school were somewhat elite in a population where many remained uneducated … but this is an issue in so many of the world studies. Student populations are still one of the best sources of data. Spiro noted that the sample was “a good cross-section of Burma, except for children living in large urban areas” (p. 137).

Table I: IQ test scores in Burma

Admin Sample Age N Test IQ Reference
1962 A 6-13 93 DAM 106.8 Schuster, 1971


Even though Burma is similar to sub-Saharan African countries on most international development rankings, this kind of intelligence test performance would be very unusual for an African sample. None of the 12 African samples tested with the Draw-a-Man cited by Wicherts et al (2010) have an IQ of 100 or higher. The average IQ of sub-Saharan African samples on this test was 77.7. (And this is likewise for schoolchildren who are somewhat more elite than schoolchildren from nations where school attendance is more universal.)


A starting point in the re-evaluation of Southeast Asian IQ

In my detailed 2006 review of Lynn’s Race Differences in Intelligence, I noted some problems with his treatment of the Asian data:

As with the other chapters, Lynn justifies his racial division of East and Southeast Asia by reference of L.L. Cavalli-Sforza’s History and Geography of Human Genes, but Lynn does not order his countries how they should be arranged according to this reference. This book tells us that South China lumps closer genetically with Southeast Asia than North China: ”Northern and southern Chinese are substantially different genetically” (p 100); ”. . . the South Chinese . . . are more closely related to Southeast Asia than to Northeast Asia” (p 229). This is significant because many of the high IQ scores Lynn places in the ‘East Asian’ chapter are from various South Chinese populations, such as the Hong Kong studies, as well as much of the over-seas Chinese scores from America and Southeast Asia. This creates a potential problem for a genetic theory of either East Asian high ability or Southeast Asian low ability …

In a related criticism, one of the adoption studies that Lynn uses to support a higher genetic East Asian IQ, (Clark & Hanisee 1982) is actually mostly comprised of Southeast Asians, about half the sample being Vietnamese. Lynn resolves this by asserting that most of the Vietnamese in this sample were actually Chinese-Vietnamese, but I see nothing in the original paper to indicate this, and since most of the higher achieving overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia are from the Southeast Asia genetic cluster anyways, I hardly see how this resolves anything. While one might posit a cline in IQ scores (and scores do seem to drop off from Thailand into Malaysia), the South Chinese show absolutely no deficit in ability or differentiated profile from East Asians. This makes an interesting contrast between Southeast Europe and the Middle-East where we see a cline in ability follow a genetic cline across a stark cultural boundary, suggesting genetics. Instead here we have another cline in genetics, but a stark difference in ability following a stark cultural boundary, suggesting environment. This might mean that underperforming Southeast Asian-American groups, such as the Hmong, have hidden potential after all. Then again, selection could have occurred in China independently for this trait, long after the formation of the races, but modern selection and subracial populations are at odds with the theoretical structure of this book. Likely much more data is required before simplified assumptions and approaches can relax.

Since that time, Chuck has questioned whether Thailand’s IQ has risen to 98 and Heiner Rindermann found an IQ of 99 in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, in their latest IQ dataset, Lynn and Vanhanen (2012) give China an IQ of 105.5, Hong Kong an IQ of 108, and Singapore an IQ of 108.5. Even assuming that Thailand’s IQ is 88, as it is reported in the latest update, Burma shares a longer border with China than it does with India, which should put its regionally estimated IQ at 97.

My suspicion is that this number veers a lot closer to the truth of the matter, but only future research will give us a more reliable picture. I don’t give too much weight to a single small study, but one study is still more informative than no study. I trust that Lynn will add this reference to future updates of his dataset, and not ignore it simply because it will lower the correlation between national IQ and developmental indices.



⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻ REFERENCES ⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻⎻

Clark, E. & Hanisee, J. (1982). Intellectual and adaptive performance of Asian children in adoptive American settings. Developmental Psychology, 18, 595-599.

Frankiel, R.V. (1957). A quality scale for the Goodenough Draw-a-Man test. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Minnesota, USA.

Harris, D. B. (1963). Children’s drawings as measures of intellectual maturity: A revision and extension of the Goodenough Draw-a-Man Test. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Schuster, H.H. (1971). Developing a Psychometric instrument for the use of children’s drawings in cross-cultural research: problems, procedures, and potentials. Communicating Nursing Research, 4, 133-150.

Spiro, M. E. (1996). Burmese supernaturalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Stevenson, H.W., Stigler, J.W., Lee, S., Lucker, G.W., Kitanawa S., and Hsu, C. (1985). Cognitive performance and academic achievement of Japanese, Chinese, and American children. Child Development, 56, 718–734.

23 thoughts on “HVGIQ: Burma

  1. Jason Malloy said:
    Meanwhile, in their latest IQ dataset, Lynn and Vanhanen (2012) give China an IQ of 105.5, Hong Kong an IQ of 108, and Singapore an IQ of 108.5.

    I raised some questions regarding the urban bias of L&V1012’s China IQ data sources here.

    • A long time ago I checked through his China references and almost none of them even contained IQ data! It was totally baffling. I have 100s of Chinese studies, many of them in Chinese. I would love to start working on the China post, but it would be a crazy amount of work, and I would probably need a good Chinese collaborator.

      You are right, though. I have not carefully examined them, but many studies from rural China report IQ scores in the 90s, 80s and lower.

      • Do you think those results are environmental or genetic? I’ll see people here and there claim the east asian IQ must be much lower than 100 because it doesn’t account for the swaths of rural China, but social selection seems to have been similar throughout the country and most everywhere you go in China, it industrializes easily. At the same time, though, rural China is a reason I doubt the chinese average is really as high as 105 or more as is often claimed (which also supposedly at times includes scores from that area.) I can’t imagine even taking into account rural regions, China’s national IQ would be any lower than the high 90’s, but I honestly believe China’s real national IQ is 100.

        By the way, Chuck didn’t question the score- if you read the comments, he accepts it and openly proclaims it’s a big indictment of “global race realism” and such. He even ultimately convinces Sagat, a thai himself.

  2. Yes, because an elite sample wouldn’t bias results to such a high average IQ… :p :)

    Given the conditions there, I don’t buy that the average IQ is higher than the mid 90s, if that. Of course, as usual, further research is definitely needed, and we’ll see.

  3. You examine 90 persons, between 60 million and concluded that this sample is able to measure the intelligence of this population?
    A recent survey in Japan found a mean IQ of 104. Higher scores were 108 for the region of Akira and lowest scores went to Okinawa, 97. Japan is overpopulated and much of its population is concentrated in specific regions, the coast. It is expected that the population density and the concentration idem, may have an effect on the distribution of intelligence in the Japanese population. Starting from this logic, it is expected that larger variations in intelligence are found in Asian nations on the continent. Coastal areas will focus on the highest scores, because larger cities are on the coast, larger cities attract smart people. The population density is less intense and secreted compared to Japan If Japan has average iq 104, then this parameter is used to measure the rest. The average South Korean iq can be the same as the Japanese, China will exhibit wide variation, greater than that found in Japanese archipelago.
    The distribution of IQ scores could be viewed as when a meteor crashes on the surface. The main impact area, with the highest scores and the farther this area will be the lowest score, especially with a national perspective and following the urban-demographic stain. Think of a chart of impact.
    Smarter people make better societies, even in dictatorships. It is important to analyze it, contextually. Myanmar, standing in a dictatorial regime, which is the maximum advantage of the pattern of life, someone with a high IQ can learn from this situation? And how could this be measured? Higher levels of starvation and extreme poverty are signal of low iq.
    Starting from the idea that the Asian population is more dispersed on the continent than in Japan, so it is concluded that this dispersion will facilitate the creation of cognitive clusters.
    Best scores iq in India are in big cities, including Calcutta, which is closer to Myanmar. However, the presence of castes, makes it almost improbable that the Indian pattern can considerably influence the standard of Myanmar.
    However, it can be inferred that there are some ancestral similarities between the two populations. I estimate the average iq of Myanmar, similar to the IQ of the Thai population, however, slightly lower than the same.

    • “You examine 90 persons, between 60 million and concluded that this sample is able to measure the intelligence of this population?”

      Nah. It’s simply adding one weak data point to a question that previously had zero data points. I’m not making any sweeping pronouncements.

      The study I just added to the Virgin Islands post is illustrative of the variability of intelligence test results: A sample of 89 ordinary school children had an IQ of 101.6. Looks similar to the study we have here, and yet it’s pretty clear that the actual Virgin Islands IQ is in the low 80s.

      If I found a study with an IQ of 110 for an Africa nation (and such IQ scores are very very rare there), I would just shrug it off as a fluke, but Southeast Asia is such a wildcard that I can’t be so dismissive. Burma has genetically similar neighbors that not so uncommonly generate scores above 100, so I’m more open to the possibility of a buried gem.

      • Calm down, I figured you did not think this way. I admit my mistake to accuse him of this, but seems to be usual practice in psychometric research consider small samples as consistent results or at least as” something that should be taken into account.”
        Only studies with large sample may at first give us some idea of the terrain we’re treading.

        Another thing, the more we can have anthropometric information, best … Of course, this study is old, but so far seems to be habitual disregard the rest of biological variables, which in the end can make all the difference.

      • As Myanmar is now moving towards becoming a democratic country, do you think there will be future research taking place? I was baffled when I saw that there was an average IQ for my country, as I was fairly convinced that a study couldn’t have taken place under the dictatorship. Thank you, I would appreciate it if you could reply 😛

  4. Rindermann justifies the Vietnam estimate (average IQ of 99) by saying that it is consistent with its average PISA score (>500). However, 44% of Vietnamese (age 15) did not take the PISA test. Conclusion: both the Vietnamese IQ estimate and the average PISA score reflect unrepresentative samples. Including rural areas, average IQ may be closer to 95 or 94.

  5. Regarding China, Lynn’s standardization of more than 5,000 test-takers received an average IQ score of 101. Goa et. al found an average IQ of 107 on the Standard Progressive Matrices for a sample that included both urban and rural test-takers. The PISA results for China show respectable results for the less urbanized provinces. No doubt one can nevertheless find groups who score at a very low level. Whites in Appalachia average in the 80s.

    • I’ve been curious about appalachian IQ scores for a long time. I’ve also gotten the impression they’re quite low, but are they really in the 80’s?

    • There are no studies on this specific question cited in the manual, but the logic behind the test would be that children couldn’t improve much by practice. (e.g. Bias in Mental Testing, p. 661: “It is important to note that ratings of the artistic quality of the drawings show almost no correlation with the mental age or IQ scores derived from the drawings. The scored features do not involve artistic ability per se, but reflect developmental differences in drawing body proportions, attachment of limbs and head, and only certain details of facial features, hands, and clothing. A Rembrandt could not score much higher on the Draw-a-Man Test than the average 16-year-old.”)

  6. This test result is probably a fluke. It is true that even Lynn and Vanhanen have made an upward revision to their IQ estimate for the Philippines, but Southeast Asia is definitely below Northeast Asia. Jakarta is not Tokyo. Malaysia is farther south than Thailand or Burma, and it does not help that a good part of the population is in the coma of Islam. It is true that Southern China is essentially equal to Northern China, but the genetic research after that of Cavalli-Sforza shows clearly the spread of Han genes from the north to the south over time–and, to some extent, into Vietnam and Burma.

    • I agree SE asian is below East asia, but I think it’s all too easy to dismiss this as a fluke. You also note that Vietnam has had heavy chinese genetic influence, but it’s quite likely their IQ is around 100- if that’s your qualifier, why should Burma be much different? Along with Thailand, which has also had significant recent chinese genetic influence?

      And as I noted in the post for Laos, people very much underrate southeast asia’s historical record as an indicator of intellectual prowess, and that includes many parts of Indonesia, such as Java, which exhibited extensive seafaring capabilities and ornate, monumental architecture.

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  8. I am a Myanmar(Burma) and my IQ is 121. In my country, I am not one of the most intelligent people and I am pretty sure that the average IQ of my country would be very much higher than Thailand and India. If I am not much wrong, the average of my country will be 110. Right now, Singapore is with the most highest IQ but I do not think Singapore has the higher average IQ than my country, Myanmar.

    • I don’t mean to burst your bubble (even though Burma and other southeast asian countries are considerably higher than the figures given by Lynn, and likely close to european and east asian norms), but there’s very little evidence from psychometric sources or really any other avenue to suggest such a thing. It simply doesn’t stand to reason a country with an HDI comparable to most SS african countries has an IQ equivalent to the ashkenazi jews or a city-state that practices state sponsored eugenics, even if their IQ has been significantly underestimated.

  9. Sorry to burst your bubble.
    If you ever notice that there is a border between India and Myanmar.

    60 million people in North East of India are same as Myanmar.

    IQ samples showing Agartala and Kolkata (capital cities of India, one having Bangla population and another Myanmarese population).

    Majumdar, P. K., and Nundi, P. C. (1971)


    “Compared scores of 2 geographically separated Bengali-speaking groups of schoolchildren, grades IX-XI, on Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices. 2,836 Ss from Calcutta and 2,100 Ss from Agartala were tested. Ss from Calcutta were superior to those from Agartala by an average of 7 points.”

    Indians have much higher IQ by 7 points than Myanmar or North East Indians.
    And differences may be higher on verbal tests.

    45 students of ethnic Chinese ancestry (North East Indians) made it to IITs in 2016.

    Out of 20,000 candidates that were selected.

    Population size of North East Indians: 60 million (5 percent of India).

    What’s worse. Out of 100,000 candidates; only 100 odd were from North East.


    Not that people from North East are massively under-represented (beyond belief) in India’s engineering and medical schools. See link above.

    People in North East have lowest IQ in India. Below the worst.

    • If you read Richard Lynn’s work on India:-


      Average Cognitive score in North Eastern states of India (areas bordering Myanmar having Burmese population):-

      Manipur: 258, Mizoram: 258, Nagaland: 246.

      250 in mean Indian score with 50 points as one standard deviation.

      These states border Myanmar and 100 pc same as Burmese on genetics.

      Average score is same as rest of India.

      Reading scores (T1 score in Lynn’s work attached above):-

      Manipur: 239, Mizoram: 244, Nagaland: 245.

      Verbal IQ or reading scores are 7 points below or 2.3 IQ.

      Consumption of iodized salt in India:-


      Manipur ranks highest at 91% people consuming iodized salt.

      India has 51% people consuming iodized salt on average.


      Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh also have 95 % iodine consumption. Source is above.

      Malnourishment status also suits these states.


      Manipur has 33 pc malnourishment vs 39 pc for average Indian.
      Nagaland has 29 pc.

      Considering the fact that iodine deficiency lowers IQ by 13.5 points.
      And malnourishment lowers IQ by 10 points.

      I would assume that long term genotypic IQ of these states having Burmese population to be 10 IQ below Indians.

      IQ of Burma will not be higher or lower than Burmese population in India. There is just a road connecting India and Myanmar. And millions of Burmese live in India.

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