JUDGING BY APPEARANCES
THE first scholars who thought and then wrote about hay fever would have done well to search before they wrote. The 1870’s in the United States were in a sense the Dark Ages of history in hay fever. From this period there arose more than one fallacy concerning hay fever that men of science and research are to this day trying to overcome.
On the mountain shelf which is Bethlehem, New Hampshire, there gathered a group of eminent personnages with hay fever. They traveled from various regions in the east-ern part of the United States to escape their hay fever symptoms. In this they were largely successful. For the purposes of diversion and pseudo scientific investigation of hay fever, they organized the United States Hay Fever Association.
To afford the money and leisure time that a furlough to the hills of New England in 1875 would entail, these hay fever sufferers had to be persons of more than average wealth. Their lot included statesmen, business men, doctors, lawyers and many persons of note. And so, when their president, Professor Morrill Wyman, looked about him and saw only the elite of mankind he decided that hay fever must be an ailment reserved for the upper crust of society in the United States. God will that it were. Not that we have anything against the upper crust. Our reasons are purely selfish. As an after thought, it would be a boon to about five million other sufferers as well.
We hope that there are no longer any students of the hay fever problem who will contend that hay fever is restricted to any particular social level.
Besides being unrestricted to any social level, the ailment seems to be unhampered by any physical traits. From observations in clinics throughout the United States the medical profession reports that hay fever sufferers comprise an assortment of types. There is noted among them the muscular and puny, the healthy and the ailing, the stout and the slender. Blondes, brunettes and red heads, comely and homely, all, find their way into the allergist’s officefor treatment of hay fever.
In general, it appears that a complete cross-section of physical traits are to be found among persons with hay fever. But in fairness to the reliability of such a statement it must be mentioned that we have not seen any reports of controlled experimental investigations of the subject. Yes, we worship statistics, but only when they are used rather than abused.
MENTAL ACTIVITY AMONG THE ALLERGICS
Regarding judgments on mental traits of persons with hay fever it appears that all is not serene on this front. A throw-back to the idea that hay fever traveled in lofty circles is the thought that allergic persons are a mentally superior group. As evidence of this thought a prominent allergy specialist reported in 1928 and again in 1936, the results of a comparison of the mental ability of 8o allergic children with 8o non-allergic children.
It seems that a statistician tested both these groups with the “Otis Self-Administering Test of Mental Activity.” Which test is considered a good pencil and paper intelligence test by psychologists and the writer, who has had experience in the practice and application of intelligence testing. The results of the testing showed that among the non-allergic children there were 8 below normal; 52 normal; 11 very superior; and 1 in the near genius group. Among the 8o allergic students, none was below normal; 25 were normal; 31 were superior, and 1 was in the near genius group.
From a simple examination of the statistics a major flaw becomes apparent; namely, that the sample of 8o normal, non-allergic children is not a normal sample of child populations. Eight subnormals out of a group of 8o, represents to percent of the population as below normal. The ills of mankind are abundant enough without adding to them such gloomy statistics.
Results which are in themselves inconclusive and are drawn from such a small unrepresentative sample do not warrant the conclusions reached by the author, and we quote, “From the foregoing considerations (the figures cited above ) it would appear that the mental activity of allergic children is far above the average normal.” And the author’s theoretical explanation for this phenomenon is even more interesting. “The brain cells of the allergic person may be irritable or hyperactive compared with the normal, which might also account for the hyperactive mind of the child. The psychologists teach that mental alertness depends to a large extent on the number of synapses of the brain cells; however, this is only a theory.”
The effect of this small scale study has reached further than one would imagine. But in fairness to the author it should be said that he was by no means the first to suggest that allergic persons were of a generally higher intellect. Nor was he the last. During the hay fever season of 1942 there appeared in one of the most popular national magazines, an article titling allergy as bright peoples ailment. The headnote to this article tells us that, if you are allergic, you are probably intelligent, too. The explanation offered by this writer is that allergic people find life hard to take because as a group they are more intelligent, responsive, and dynamic than ordinary humans. To this is added the confirming report that allergists are pretty well agreed on this theory.
We wish that we were able to make an equally flattering statement about the intelligence of allergic persons as a group. But our contrary finding forces upon us the role of image-breaker.
An excellent and more generally accepted study on the intelligence status of allergic children as a group was published in 1937. This report appeared in the Journal of Allergy under the name of two prominent allergists and a psychologist. In their study, 145 allergic children were tested by four widely approved intelligence or mental ability tests. The findings for this group were compared with those on about 6o,000 Los Angeles school children. The conclusions reached by the authors stated that allergic children have intellectual levels very similar to normal children and that the variations within the groups are about the same. They indicated that the feebleminded tend to be fewer among the allergic but the difference is not significant.
The results of the writer’s survey at the College of the City of New York may shed an indirect light on the question. In the survey of 2,275 college students we found 272 or I 1 9/i o% with an allergy. This rate or percentage is very close to that which has been found in many investigations of the population at large. The student body at this college avowedly represents the top 10% of our national population in intelligence quotient or intellectual responsiveness. Thus, if allergic persons as a group were more intelligent and intellectually sensitive we should expect to find among this intellectually superior college group, a higher percentage of allergic individuals than is found in the population at large. Since we do not find a significantly higher rate of allergy among them, we may consider the results as evidence that allergy is not associated with intellectual superiority.
From the available facts that we have been able to gather, the most tenable opinion to date is that no manifest difference exists between the intellectual level of al lergic persons as a group and the normal population.