When people talk about how smart someone is, they usually think of IQ. Or if they’re in school, maybe they think about SAT scores or grades. Or if they’ve graduated from college, it might be about academic degrees, or job expertise.
But there’s another kind of intelligence we rarely talk about, which is cultural intelligence. How in tune with the world are you, in all its parts? How many authors do you know about? Politicians? Musical artists? Films?
A few years ago, we realized cultural knowledge is something no one’s ever measured in a large-scale, scientifically valid way. Sure, there are fun quizzes and questionnaires here and there, but none of them are both broad and rigorous. After all, in a universe of literally millions of pieces of culture, how would you do it? Where would you even start?
We had experience with large-scale scientifically valid knowledge measurement by virtue of having built and launched Test Your Vocab in 2010, which has been taken over 10 million times since. We’d based that on the English dictionary, and we suddenly realized we could do the same thing with culture if we based it on the encyclopedia! Specifically, Wikipedia — which has articles for everything of significant cultural importance: not just people like historical figures and musical artists, but hundreds of thousands of the world’s most popular books, films, albums, songs, TV shows, video games, artworks, and more.
So we set about doing the same thing for cultural knowledge that we’d done for vocabularies. We wrote code to import, process and filter Wikipedia articles to identify ‘cultural’ entities and extract descriptions and images, as well as measure their popularity. We modeled people’s knowledge patterns until we were confident we had a formula for accurate survey measurement. And we built a new website, more advanced that the original Test Your Vocab — one that works just as well on mobile as it does on the desktop, that has hovercards to help you identify items for sure, and a backend that automatically keeps quiz items up-to-date. (Dictionaries grow slowly, but culture explodes daily...)
In the end it turned out to be a far bigger project than we expected, with many times the number of lines of code of the original Test Your Vocab — but that makes us even prouder to launch it and share it with the world today.
Just like we did with vocabulary, we look forward to analyzing people’s results over the coming months and years to produce blog posts that answer the questions which motivated us in the first place: how big are people’s “cultural vocabularies”? How quickly do they grow with age? And especially, what do patterns of cultural knowledge look like? Which items tend to go together and which don’t? How do they relate to education, geography, or other factors?
We look forward to finding out with all of you.
(And if you haven’t yet, please take the quiz! 😊)