America’s Visual IQ: Both Amazing And Embarrassing

A new Pew survey tests our visual recall of current events. Twitter logo? Check. Chinese flag? What’s that, bro?!

America’s Visual IQ: Both Amazing And Embarrassing

You’ve probably heard how (depressingly) little Americans tend to know about history. But what about their visual recall of current events? A new Pew Research Center study investigates whether the average ‘Merican can put a name to Elizabeth Warren’s face or locate Syria on a map. The results are heartening and embarrassing in equal measure.


The top two most-recognized symbols were the Star of David (87%) and the Twitter logo (79%), both of which aren’t exactly “news.” When it comes to politics, though, things are a little more fuzzy:

At the low end, just 43% are able to identify a picture of Elizabeth Warren’s from a group of four photographs of female politicians, among them Nancy Pelosi, Tammy Baldwin and Deb Fischer. And when presented with a map of the Middle East in which Syria is highlighted, only half are able to identify the nation correctly. . .When shown a picture of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 73% identified Christie from a list that included Newt Gingrich, Scott Walker and Rush Limbaugh.

As you might expect, there’s a strong correlation between education level and score. But probably not just due to those extra four years of schooling. Education also instills behavioral habits in us–the intellectual hunger that’s attendant to reading the news on a daily basis. Sure, you might’ve learned where Syria is in high school, but odds are you remember where it is because you read about the ongoing crisis there in your free time.

Scores tend to vary according to age–older people could recognize John Kerry, for example, while youngsters had a tough time. But interestingly, one area where scores stayed consistent across the board was the national unemployment rate. Young people could guess what a graph of descending lines represented even better than old people, which might reflect how the jobs crisis is affecting those under 29.

This kind of research typically tends to portray one political party as more intelligent than the other. But don’t click “post” on that incendiary Facebook share yet–it turns out that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all scored pretty much the same.

Take the News IQ Quiz and then be either shamed or vindicated by the results.

[Image: Faces via Shutterstock]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.