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.
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 Chen does not know what happened to these unpublished norms and my attempt to contact the University for information was futile.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 …”.
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!
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). 
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
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.
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.