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An Interview with Björn Liljeqvist on Gender and Education, Gardner and Sternberg, and Passing on a Legacy (Part Four)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/05/08


Björn Liljeqvist was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1975. He joined Mensa in 1991 and is currently the international chairman of that organisation. Privately, Björn lectures on advanced learning strategies to university students. A topic he’s written two books on in his native country. He has a background in embedded systems engineering with a Master’s degree from Chalmers University of Technology. He is married to Camilla, with whom he has one daughter. He discusses: a history for gender and education; Gardner and Sternberg; and getting stuff done and passing stuff on. 

Keywords: Björn Liljeqvist, chairman, education, gender, Mensa International, sex, Sweden.

An Interview with Björn Liljeqvist on Highly Intelligent Cognitive Misers, Composite Scores and Sub-Tests, and Sex and Gender Factors: Chairman, Mensa International (Part Four)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*Interview conducted on March 4, 2020.*

*Note from Liljeqvist, as to avoid confusion between individual statements and the stances of Mensa International: “Opinions are my own and not those of Mensa, except if otherwise stated.”*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: There’s a great picture of the world’s most cited woman psychologist in the world, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, at the University of California, Irvine. She does a lot of memory research. In her graduating class at Stanford, she’s the only woman in that picture [Laughing]. This is in psychology at Stanford. It is directly to your point, I think.

Björn Liljeqvist: Yes, but that was also quite a long time ago, things have shifted. If it was the case, and this is just a personal opinion, that discrimination would be able to keep women out of certain fields of education, then they would have been able to do that in psychology, in medical school, in law, in finance. So, seeing that all of those are becoming more female, even majority female, I think means that it’s becoming increasingly meritocratic. Quite frankly, more women than men have the required capacity – all things considered, IQ and the necessary conscientiousness, and so on, to do that. When something tends to become more feminine, when more girls or women go into something, it could be that men respond to that by wanting to differentiate themselves. For example, we see in lower classes, in high school. If being good at school is seen by boys as being a feminine thing, then they want to be seen as different.

Jacobsen: Right, the boys evacuate the advanced placement classes because they define their sense of self, as boys, in contradiction to being women.

Liljeqvist: Everything that females are associated with.

Jacobsen: It would be interesting to get leading intelligence researchers and developmental researchers together to delve deeper into that topic.

Liljeqvist: It would. But I could also see how it would be difficult. It is a sensitive area. Where certain narratives used for certain ends, so, simply conducting a survey and publishing the results, it is not seen as such a neutral act in itself. People and researchers will be questioned. There have been cases where intelligence researchers have been questioned for that reason. So, I think that’s something that we have to be very, very careful about.

Jacobsen: Or they just get fired. You never know.

Liljeqvist: That could happen too. Do we even want to know the actual distribution across gender, and so on?

2. Jacobsen: I think many people do, but are afraid of the consequences to their professional lives or to their personal lives. Others don’t want this researched for political or social reasons within the standard political distribution. Or the opposite, they want this to reinforce their particular narrative. So, they’ll only publicize certain results skewing it.

Liljeqvist: Yes, so, you get cherry-picking effects. You don’t know. Some are publishing 1 or 2 studies that they disregard as the other ones. There are different angles to the whole intelligence issues that one could look at. For example, is the most interesting thing to know what groups of people tend to score higher or lower on standardized IQ tests? How would that knowledge be used? How can that knowledge be misused, misinterpreted? If you take the Flynn Effect, are you familiar with the Flynn Effect?

Jacobsen: Yes.

Liljeqvist: Then you know the Flynn Effect has ended.

Jacobsen: Yes, tapered off and marginally reversed in some cases.

Liljeqvist: However, for several decades, it was clearly visible. Let’s take North Americans of a particular social group, the same people, the same kind of people, in the 1950s compared to how they scored in the 1990s. Then the 1990s, which would be the children or the grandchildren of the people in the 1940s or 1950s, would perform considerably higher.

Anyhow, what we should understand more, what is intelligence? How does it emerge? What kinds of factors are conducive to intelligence growth in children and adolescents? How should we foster it? And so on and so forth, because those questions have very, very tangible consequences, we could work with that knowledge.

What about attention, power to focus? Things like that. Memory, creativity, what factors? Are all of the valuable mental-cognitive capacities just correlated with the g factor? Or are there other factors? There’s so much research to be done. So, a little bit of epistemic humility there is warranted. What makes Mensa still use the tried-and-true IQ tests for membership? We have learned that interesting things happen when Mensa people, high-IQ people, get together. There is a synergistic effect. There are so many other important social issues that already have people who advocate for them. People ask, “Shouldn’t Mensa be speaking for…? What about less gifted children? Wouldn’t that also be meaningful to foster and help the less gifted children?” Yes, of course, absolutely, but the thing is there are people who already do that, the problem is there aren’t many people paying attention to the kids at the other end of the bell curve. Comparatively speaking, on the margin, we could do more by focusing on that segment, which could have much bigger benefits overall.

3. Jacobsen: You mentioned something that some of the audience may not be privy to. There’s Multiple Intelligences and Triarchic Intelligence of Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg, respectively.

Liljeqvist: Gardner’s seven or so intelligences, he wasn’t talking about intelligence in the same way that we talk about an IQ test. He was talking about areas of skill that, often, correlate with the g factor. But even so, I am not saying that we necessarily know all of the measurable cognitive faculties that are, indeed, separate from each other. So that, one could be good at one and bad at another, and vice versa, independently. I cut you off, sorry. Was there something else?

Jacobsen: That’s good. I just wanted to get your opinion about the other theories.

Liljeqvist: Triarchic – practical, applied, and creative ability as well, it would be very interesting to look into that. Creativity, for example, is, indeed, something that you can get better at. I have used and practiced memory techniques, advanced mnemonics for many, many years. So, I know that is not something that is necessarily linked to intelligence. Although, having a high-IQ, it probably makes it easier to apply them.

Jacobsen: Right [Laughing].

Liljeqvist: But it still means someone who practices those techniques will outperform someone with even a high-IQ because it is a learned technique. Same thing with a lot of creativity. Is there, indeed, an intrinsic, creative ability that varies between people? Or can creative ability be explained by culturally learned cognitive styles, or mental techniques that you learn? I lecture about study skills. There are three things determining academic achievement. It is talent, attitude, and technique/learned skills. All of those three. It is typically the third one that is the forgotten one. Attitude would be equivalent to conscientiousness, how you relate to others and the subject, how do you relate to new ideas. Talent would equivalent to IQ. But skill is all the things that you can learn: read the book this way instead of this way, use spaced repetition software program. While we are busy looking or searching for the answer to why certain people outperform other, while we are busy searching for that in the brain, I think it is much more interesting to search for it in culture and in techniques, in skills, that some have acquired and some have not, because there is still so much in that field that is not yet common knowledge. When everyone gets the same education, when everyone has access to the same tools/same cognitive tools, etc., then, sure, differences in the brain make the difference, but that is not the case, I know this for a fact working with students and from teaching.

The best students, many of them are smart, fine, but they study in a different way. They use strategies. They use techniques and tools allowing them to outperform. In a little bit, I feel like excessive curiosity over the origins of intelligence and in multiple intelligences in the brain kind of distract from searching a different kind of space. That is, the space of solving problems, I found that that is where the low-hanging fruit is, because those are things that you can learn, improve. Whereas learning that you have a fixed talent, fair enough, that’s good. The question still remains, “What are you going to do next?”

4. Jacobsen: [Laughing] what are you hoping to get done and to pass on through your time in this current executive role, as the international chair?

Liljeqvist: Yes, I will give two answers. One is very, very down to earth. I come from a country with a strong tradition for societies, like organizations, non-governmental organizations. That is how we socialize in Sweden. Basic society administration, to get to Mensa to actually work, governance, making decisions, organizing ourselves, so that we have a vehicle of actually carrying us somewhere. It is not always the case. Sometimes, organizations out there in the world look like an organization. It looks like people working together, but it is, often, quite messy. So, getting the society to work well, so, we can set goals and achieve. What goals do I want to achieve? I want the whole society in Mensa, all over the world, to understand: we have a mission to fulfill. It is not a new mission. We had the mission all along. I want us to show, ‘Yes, contrary to what some of you might believe, this is something that we do and accomplish in many countries.” I want to spread this to more than just a few countries and make Mensa really valuable. If someone out there in the world is talented, I want them to feel, “Yes, by joining Mensa, they can benefit and can get something by being part of the society. They can get answers to questions. They can get in touch with really interesting people. They can contribute to making the world a slightly better place.” I think this is all within the realm of possibilities. So, that is my mission. That is what I am working towards.

Jacobsen: Sir, thank you very much for the opportunity and your time.

Liljeqvist: Likewise.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Chairman, Mensa International.

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 8, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2020:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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