Mensa: Inside the World’s Oldest High IQ Society


Mensa, an organization renowned globally, symbolizes the epitome of human intelligence and intellectual ability. Established with the mission of fostering human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, the society encourages research in the field and provides a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members.

Overview of Mensa

Mensa is an international society whose sole entry qualification is scoring within the top 2% of the population on a standardized IQ test. The organization is non-political and does not endorse any specific ideologies. It operates as a platform where individuals with high IQs can meet, interact, and exchange ideas. Despite being a global organization, Mensa is subdivided into national groups, each with its autonomy but still part of the larger Mensa community. This unique structure allows members to engage at both the local and global level, creating a truly international intellectual network. The Socratic Method: Stimulating Critical Thinking in the Classroom.

Brief History of Mensa

Founded in 1946 in Oxford, England, by Roland Berrill, a barrister, and Dr. Lance Ware, a scientist, Mensa has grown into an organization with over 130,000 members in more than 100 countries. The founders envisioned a society that would be non-political and free from all social, racial, or religious distinctions. The only prerequisite for membership was a high IQ. The name “Mensa” is Latin for “table”, signifying the society’s intended role as a round-table society where all members, irrespective of their other affiliations, could come together on equal footing. For more about the history of Mensa and its mission, you can refer to this article: Historical and Cultural Significance of the World’s Oldest Libraries.

Criteria for Mensa Membership

Being a high IQ society, Mensa’s membership criteria are intrinsically tied to intelligence, measured through IQ testing. It is a common misconception that IQ is an exclusive marker of potential success or intellectual capacity. Still, it is one factor that can highlight an individual’s cognitive abilities.

Understanding IQ Tests

IQ, or “Intelligence Quotient,” is a measure of a person’s cognitive ability relative to their peer group. IQ tests aim to assess these abilities, which can be critical for academic and professional success. However, it’s worth noting that intelligence is multi-dimensional and complex, and an IQ score is not a definitive measure of a person’s overall intelligence or potential. It’s also essential to understand how to prepare for these tests and the kinds of questions that might be asked. For more information on effective preparation methods, check out The 3 Step Study Method.

The Minimum Score for Eligibility

To qualify for Mensa membership, individuals must score within the top 2% on a recognized, standardized IQ test. This generally equates to an IQ score of 130 or more, depending on the specific test used. However, Mensa accepts scores from a range of IQ tests, and the qualifying score may differ slightly between them.

The Testing Process

Mensa offers supervised IQ testing conducted by registered psychologists. These tests usually involve different types of questions that measure various aspects of intelligence, such as logical reasoning, pattern recognition, and problem-solving abilities. Some national Mensa organizations also offer practice tests online to help prospective members familiarize themselves with the types of questions they might encounter in the actual test. For an insight into how intelligence is tested and the strategies used, you can visit How to Be Smart Without Studying.

Structure and Functioning of Mensa

International and National Branches

Mensa operates internationally but is divided into national groups, each with its autonomy. The largest national groups are in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. National Mensa organizations conduct their activities, including social events, intellectual gatherings, and conferences, while adhering to the broader ethos of the global Mensa society.

Governance Structure

Mensa is governed by an International Board of Directors, which consists of representatives from each of the national Mensa organizations. This board makes decisions regarding Mensa’s international policies and activities. Each national Mensa also has its board of directors or governing committee, responsible for decision-making at the national level. Members are encouraged to take active roles in governance, contributing to policy-making and the direction of the society’s activities.

Committees and Special Interest Groups

Mensa has various committees and special interest groups (SIGs), which provide members with a platform to explore specific topics or activities in depth. SIGs cover a wide range of interests, from arts and sciences to hobbies and sports, providing a diverse range of intellectual stimulation for members.

Membership Experience

Events and Gatherings

Mensa offers a variety of events and gatherings, both at national and international levels. These events provide members with opportunities to interact, share ideas, and form connections with like-minded individuals. Regular events include lectures, discussion groups, games nights, and annual gatherings, where members from different regions come together for several days of intellectual and social activities.

Online Community and Digital Presence

Mensa has a robust online presence, offering various platforms for members to connect and interact digitally. This includes forums, online seminars, and social media groups. These digital platforms enable members who may be geographically distant to participate actively in Mensa activities and discussions.

Benefits of Membership

Membership in Mensa comes with several benefits, apart from the intellectual stimulation and camaraderie among members. These include access to Mensa publications, discounts on products and services, and eligibility for Mensa-specific scholarships and awards. Additionally, being a Mensa member can add a unique element to one’s resume, signaling a high level of intellectual ability to potential employers or academic institutions.

Controversies and Criticisms

Debates Around IQ as a Measure of Intelligence

The reliance on IQ testing as the sole criteria for membership has been a topic of debate and criticism. Critics argue that IQ tests do not cover all aspects of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence, creativity, and practical intelligence. The Mensa community acknowledges these concerns, stressing that high IQ is just one aspect of a multi-faceted concept of intelligence.

Issues of Diversity and Inclusion

Mensa has faced criticism over issues of diversity and inclusion within its ranks. Critics argue that the membership, by focusing on a high IQ score, may unintentionally favor individuals from certain socio-economic backgrounds who have had more access to education and resources. In response, Mensa has made efforts to reach out to diverse groups and is committed to promoting inclusivity within the society.

Prominent Members of Mensa

Historical Members

Mensa has had several prominent members throughout its history. Some of these include Isaac Asimov, a renowned author and biochemistry professor known for his works of science fiction; Richard Bolles, author of the best-selling career handbook, “What Color is Your Parachute?”; and Geena Davis, an award-winning actress and advocate for gender equality in media.

Current Well-Known Members

Notable current members include the chess prodigy and grandmaster Judit Polgar; Dr. Evangelos Katsioulis, who has one of the highest IQ scores ever recorded; and actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik, known for her role in “The Big Bang Theory.”

Impact and Influence of Mensa

Cultural Perception of Mensa

Mensa, as the oldest and most well-known high IQ society, holds a unique position in popular culture. It is often seen as a symbol of intelligence and intellectual achievement. The society and its members have been featured in numerous media outlets, from news stories and documentaries to TV shows and films.

Contributions to Science and Research

Mensa encourages research related to intelligence, often funding studies or offering grants for such work. Various members, given their high intellectual capacities, have made significant contributions to their respective fields, advancing knowledge and understanding in areas like science, technology, and the humanities.

Educational Initiatives and Scholarships

Mensa places a high value on education and supports several initiatives in this area. The Mensa Education & Research Foundation, for example, provides scholarships for post-secondary education and funds research related to intelligence and giftedness. Mensa also offers resources for educators and parents of gifted children, contributing to efforts to meet the unique needs of these learners.


The Future of Mensa

As we look to the future, Mensa continues to grow and adapt, remaining committed to its mission of fostering human intelligence for the benefit of humanity. The organization is exploring ways to increase diversity among its members, expand its educational initiatives, and enhance the experience of membership, both online and offline.

Reflection on the Role of High IQ Societies in Modern Society

In a rapidly changing world, the role of organizations like Mensa seems more relevant than ever. By providing a platform for intelligent individuals to connect, share ideas, and collaborate, high IQ societies contribute to the advancement of knowledge and innovation. At the same time, these societies face the challenge of addressing criticisms, promoting diversity and inclusivity, and ensuring that their focus on high IQ does not perpetuate harmful stereotypes or biases about intelligence. In navigating these challenges, Mensa and similar organizations play a significant part in shaping our understanding and appreciation of human intelligence.

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