Mind Matters: National intelligence

Australia has not done particularly well in the PISA achievement tests that are administered worldwide to school pupils. Our kids do not seem to be the smartest on the block.

How about our adults? We adults do not take tests with right and wrong answers. Instead, we work and we raise children. Can we compare adult intelligence across nations? I reckon we can.

Let's look at the products of national intelligence. I do not mean how many individuals earn PhDs or become billionaires. Instead I look at life-and-death statistics.

How long do people live on average? How many people per capita are dying from the coronavirus? Why do I focus on these stats? Because in smarter countries people find ways to stay healthy longer.

For life expectancy, Japan is tops, followed by Switzerland and Singapore. Australia is 7th in the world. Not bad, considering that there are 193 countries.

Regarding coronavirus deaths per capita, we cannot trust data from countries with dictators or with limited testing. So let's look at highly developed nations. Singapore is again very good, along with Japan and Australia. Switzerland, on other hand, has seen its citizens die at 50 times the rate of these other countries.

We may have to lift our game to top Japan and Singapore. What a good goal. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi!

Meanwhile, people in the UK, the US, and many other highly developed countries are dying right and left from the virus.

How has Australia done so well, relatively speaking, with COVID-19? Being situated on an island has helped. Also, the huge bushfires "helped" by showing government officials that doing nothing during a crisis riles the public. Japan and Taiwan also "benefitted" from earlier crises that helped prompt the government to respond rapidly to COVID-19.

Do not think that I am giving government officials all the credit for Australia's virus response. The intelligence of the people has played a crucial role by leading to physical distancing, hand washing, etc.

The virus challenge is not over. The inherent intelligence test continues. Australia could lose its impressive standing with a few weeks of reckless (unintelligent) behaviour.

Other crises will ensue. Smart countries will fare better than others. Individual citizens may not win a medal or go down in the history books. But we can look at each other and say, like Yogi Bear: Hey, hey, hey ... smarter than the average bear!

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.

This story Coronavirus response an intelligence test first appeared on The Canberra Times.