Marilyn Vos Savant may be the world’s smartest person. With an IQ of 228, she remains the Guinness world record-holder for the highest score ever.
She’s led an extraordinary life, worked at an investment business, written screenplays, and married a world-famous inventor and surgeon. But her extremely high IQ has also made her the target of those who feel uncomfortable about her intelligence.
As much as she’s tried to remain out of the limelight, her fame as “the world’s smartest person” has proven to be as much a blessing as a curse.
Growing Up As the World’s Smartest Person
Growing up in St Louis, Missouri, Marilyn Vos Savant had what most would consider an ordinary childhood.
Her parents were immigrants from Germany and Italy, while her grandparents had both worked in coal mines.
Despite that unremarkable background, Marilyn soon proved she had an extraordinary mind.
When she was ten years old, she took two intelligence tests that set her on the path to becoming known as the “world’s smartest person.”
The first was the Stanford Binet test, which is used to determine a person’s IQ using five skill sets: fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory.
The other test was Hoeflin’s Mega test, which is a test originally designed to gauge the IQ levels of adults.
The results of both tests showed that, at age ten, Marilyn Vos Savant already had the intelligence level of a 23-year-old.
Marilyn had always excelled in school, but the test results would have no doubt come as a surprise to her family. Yet rather than boast about her intelligence, she and her parents decided to keep that information out of the public to allow her a normal childhood.
In fact, Marilyn later admitted that as a child, she never suspected that she was the most intelligent person in the world. She knew she had a high score but had no idea how unique she really was.
Women growing up in the 1950s and 1960s weren’t encouraged to search for careers that would make use of their intelligence. Thus, Marilyn had a high test score but didn’t know what to do with it.
After high school, she attended Washington University for two years but dropped out and went to work in her parents’ investment business. That gave Marilyn the financial base to pursue her dream of becoming a full-time writer.
What Does the World’s Smartest Person Do for a Living?
Despite her family’s decision to keep Marilyn’s scores a secret, Marilyn eventually went before the Guinness Book of World Records committee to confirm the extraordinarily high test scores that she had received as a child.
The results put her intelligence at a level above celebrity intellectuals Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.
But to Marilyn, the test scores were just a nice way to be recognized. Her true passion remained writing.
Fortunately for her, those two parts of her life came together in 1986 when she landed a column with Parade magazine.
The magazine had originally asked her to answer a series of history’s most difficult questions. However, Marilyn found the idea too lofty and suggested she answer reader questions instead.
Every week, readers could write into the column, and Marilyn would answer questions ranging from math to science to philosophy.
During 30 years of running the column, Marilyn has made many fans from readers. But there was one moment when it seemed like everyone was against her.
After answering one reader’s question, she received thousands of angry letters pouring in for weeks.
The Backlash Against Marilyn Vos Savant
It started with a seemingly innocuous question about a famous game show, Let’s Make a Deal.
“Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the other doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, ‘Do you want to pick door No. 2?’ Is it to your advantage to take the switch?”
Marilyn’s answer was that, “Yes; you should switch… The first door has a 1/3 chance of winning, but the second door has a 2/3 chance.”
The question, which came to be called the “Monty Hall Problem” after the show’s host, is deceptively difficult.
It turns out that Marilyn was correct, but that wasn’t immediately obvious to many incensed readers.
Over the following months, she received over 10,000 letters from people who disagreed with her answer. Many of the letters were from respected academics who wrote scathing rejections of her reasoning.
Some of the answers even skipped the explanation altogether and went straight to insulting her personally.
One reader wrote, “You are the goat!” While another simply responded with, “Maybe women look at math problems differently than men.” Another man was even more explicit when he stated, “There is such a thing as female logic.”
Being labeled as the smartest person in the world is already enough to make you a target. But the fact that Marilyn was a woman rubbed a lot of men the wrong way.
Marilyn once recognized that men often had trouble knowing how to react to her extremely high intelligence.
But the thing is, she sees herself as someone other than the smartest person in the world. And when it comes to IQ tests, she’s not so sure they really mean all that much.
Does IQ Really Matter?
The Guinness Book of World Records put an end to the category of “world’s smartest person” in 1990, making Marilyn the last person to hold the title.
This is because the organization concluded that there were just too many factors to be considered when measuring intelligence.
Marilyn takes a similar view. In her opinion, you’re probably better off not knowing your IQ score. She compares it to health. It would be nearly impossible to describe one’s health using a single number accurately. After all, someone may have a healthy heart but bad kidneys. So how do you gauge what is most important?
Despite her unpleasant backlash, she continues to enjoy answering readers’ questions through the column. It gives her a chance to connect with millions of people from all over the world.
And if you asked her whether or not her high IQ was a blessing or a curse, she wouldn’t hesitate to tell you “yes.” But she’ll also be the first to tell you that there’s far more to a person than what a test score can tell you.