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Marilyn vos Savant

Writer Marilyn vos Savant (born 1946) has an I.Q. of 228, the highest ever recorded.

Marilyn vos Savant's intelligence quotient (I.Q.) score of 228, the highest ever recorded, brought the St. Louis-born writer instant celebrity and earned her the sobriquet "the smartest person in the world." Although vos Savant's family was aware of her exceptionally high I.Q. scores on the Stanford-Benet test when she was 10 years old (she is also recognized as having the highest I.Q. score ever recorded by a child), her parents decided to withhold the information from the public in order to avoid commercial exploitation and assure her a normal childhood.

Bored with college, vos Savant left Washington University after two years and launched a career in stocks, real estate, and investment. Her real interest had always been in becoming a writer, but she realized that she first needed to establish a financial base with which to support herself. Within five years her personal investments afforded her the financial independence to become a full-time writer. Vos Savant wrote novels, short stories, and magazine and newspaper pieces, mostly political satire, under a pseudonym.

Vos Savant's attempt at anonymity ended in 1985 when The Guinness Book of World Records obtained her I.Q. test scores from the Mega Society, a group whose membership is restricted to those with only the highest of the high-I.Q. scores. (As members' I.Q. scores must be higher than 99.999 percent of the general population, membership has been limited to as few as 30.) Most people's intelligence scores fall within a narrow range on either side of the "normal" score of 100; by contrast, vos Savant's I.Q. score is more than double that of a person with normal intellect and 88 points higher than the genius level.

With the publication of her I.Q. scores in Guinness, vos Savant became the focus of media attention. Hardly the stereotypical stuffy supergenius, the outgoing, fun-loving vos Savant became a favorite on the talk-show circuit. By the time her two children from her first marriage reached college age, vos Savant decided to move to New York City and enjoy her newfound celebrity. In 1987 she married Robert K. Jarvik, the surgeon who developed the mechanical artificial human heart that bears his name. Together they follow pursuits both intellectual and jovial—the latter of which including ballroom dancing lessons. As vos Savant admitted in a 1994 People article, "My husband's not so hot at the tango, but don't tell him."

In 1994 vos Savant published her book "I've Forgotten Everything I Learned in School!" A Refresher Course to Help You Reclaim Your Education. Despite the catchy title, the volume, according to Booklist reviewer Denise Perry Donavin, is not a piece of "pop psychology or mnemonics," but a series of exercises designed to help readers strengthen their mental focus. Two years later vos Savant released The Power of Logical Thinking: Easy Lessons in the Art of Reasoning … and Hard Facts about Its Absence in Our Lives. In this book the author "shows us how even the most well educated can be semiliterate in the arts of reasoning and problem solving," according to Patricia Hassler, also writing in Booklist.

"We only use something like 10 percent of our brain, anywhere between 5 and 15 percent—I don't know what the current estimates are," as vos Savant told the reference book Newsmakers. In her view, humans are capable of much more. But motivation is the key: "So how much of a role is motivation playing day-to-day, when we are talking about much smaller differences? And is it measuring, perhaps—this is just a wild, out-of-the-blue kind of a guess— does it measure one person using 17.7 percent of their brain versus some one person who uses 17.8 percent? Is that what I.Q. does? I doubt it. But it's one of those things where personality—or whatever you might call it—plays a great role, and I happen to have [it]. "

And when asked if people with special gifts of intelligence felt an obligation to society, vos Savant replied: "I think it would be totally wrong of me to just reap the benefits of society while other people are out there digging the roads and building the schools and all of that. I wouldn't dream of it. However, I feel that we all have this responsibility and not just those of us who happen to be able to score well on intelligence tests. I think we all bear a great responsibility to give back to society. We can not give as much as we can gain. There's no way. Society is offering us so much. I don't think we could do enough to give it back, but I think we all bear a social responsibility and I think I bear one too. And I rather think that writing is an excellent way to give back to people what they have given to me."

Further Reading

Booklist, May 1, 1994; March 1, 1996.

Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1985.

Detroit News, September 26, 1985, March 1, 1986.

Los Angeles Times, August 27, 1987.

Parade, June 22, 1986.

People, July 27, 1987; March 7, 1994.

Time, April 6, 1987.

USA Today, March 16, 1986. □

Marilyn vos Savant

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