Are People With High IQs More Successful?

IQ, explained in 9 charts

Are People With High IQs More Successful?
Bob May / Flickr

Nobody wants to be a number. But there is one number that probably says a lot about you, whether you know it or not: your IQ, or intelligence quotient. (President Donald Trump recently bragged to Forbes that he would «win» if his IQ test score was compared to that of his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.)

IQ is often dismissed as antiquated, misguided, or less important than personality traits.

But according to Stuart Ritchie, an intelligence researcher at the University of Edinburgh, there's a massive amount of data showing that it's one of the best predictors of someone's longevity, health, and prosperity. And psychologists have been able to replicate these findings over and over.

(Richie and I go further into why IQ research makes some people uncomfortable in a Q&A here.)

In a new book, Intelligence: All that Matters, Ritchie persuasively argues that IQdoesn't necessarily set the limit for what we can do, but it does give us a starting point. And the truth is some people start ahead.

Here are nine facts that help explain IQ and why it matters.

(Most of these charts have been pulled from Intelligence: All that Matters. It's a spry, uncluttered read if you're interested in learning more.)

1) Most people have average intelligence

The first thing to know about IQ is that it is a composite score made up of the results of many different tests of reasoning, memory, acquired knowledge, and mental processing speed. These sub-scores are totaled, and are then compared with those of the rest of the population. A perfectly average score is set at 100.

Note: A full IQ test is an hour-plus, intense process. It needs to be administered by a trained tester, and certain portions are timed. Those free quizzes you see online are not legitimate IQ tests.

other variable human traits (height, for example), the range of IQ is on a standard curve bell curve.

Most people you meet are probably average, and a few are extraordinarily smart. Just 2.2 percent have an IQ of 130 or greater.

Intelligence: All that Matters

What's fascinating is that people who score well on one of the tests tend to score well on them all. So your score on a task on how fast you can turn off a blinking light (one component of some intelligence tests) is correlated with your scores on verbal and spatial reasoning.

Psychologists call this overlap of scores the «G,» or general intelligence, factor.

«The classic finding — I would say it is the most replicated finding in psychology — is that people who are good at one type of mental task tend to be good at them all,» Ritchie says.

Where or how «G» exists in the brain isn't well-understood. But no matter how it arises, the G-factor is real in the sense it can predict outcomes in our lives — how much money you'll make, how productive of a worker you might be, and, most chillingly, how ly you are to die an earlier death.

2) Having a higher IQ protects you from death

This is an uncomfortable one: According to the research, people with high IQs tend to be healthier and live longer than the rest of us. This graph represents a study of 1 million Swedish men. The researchers found a threefold difference in the risk of death between the those with the highest IQs and those with the lowest.

Intelligence: All That Matters

There are a few interrelated reasons why this may be. One is the fact that people with higher IQs tend to make more money than people with lower scores. Money is helpful in maintaining weight, nutrition, and accessing good health care.

It could also be that people with higher IQs are smart enough to avoid accidents and mishaps. There's actually some evidence to support this: Higher-IQ people are less ly to die in traffic accidents.

3) IQ is correlated with career success and wealth, but not necessarily happiness

mortality, the association between IQ and career success is positive. People with higher IQs generally make better workers, and they make more money.

But these correlations aren't perfect.

Correlations are measured from -1 to 1. A correlation of 1 would mean that for every incremental increase in IQ, a fixed increase in another variable ( mortality or wealth) would be guaranteed.

Life isn't that pretty. Many of these correlations are less than .5, which means there's plenty of room for individual differences. So, yes, very smart people who are awful at their jobs exist. You're just less ly to come across them.

Intelligence: All That Matters

With all the perks of a high IQ — wealth, health, longevity — you'd think the severely smart would be happier for it. But that's not necessarily the case.

«The correlation between IQ and happiness is usually positive, but also usually smaller than one might expect (and sometimes not statistically significant),» Ritchie says.

Also know that IQ, generally, is not related to the personality factors that can also get us ahead in life. Of the «Big Five» personality traits, the only linked to IQ is openness to experience. «To some degree smarter people will seek out more experiences and think about things more and enjoy considering ideas,» Ritchie says.

(IQ often beats personality when it comes to predicting life outcomes: Personality traits, a recent study found, can explain about 4 percent of the variance in test scores for students under age 16. IQ can explain 25 percent, or an even higher proportion, depending on the study.)

4) You're probably stuck with what you got

Studies have found if you're a smart kid, you'll be a smart old person.

This chart shows a Scottish study where a group of 90-year-olds were given an IQ test they previously took at age 11.

Intelligence: All that Matters

Even though intelligence generally declines with age, those who had high IQs as children were most ly to retain their smarts as very old people.

5) Intelligence peaks in your mid- to late 20s, and then slowly declines

I'm 26 years old. And I'm probably as smart as I'll ever be in life.

After your mid-20s, your «crystallized intelligence» — i.e., accumulated knowledge — plateaus, while your «fluid intelligence» — the ability to solve new problems — starts to drop. Your mental quickness takes an even steeper dive.

Intelligence: All that Matters

Ritchie says understanding these age-related intelligence declines is one of the most important reasons for studying the biology of IQ.

«If we know the genes related to intelligence — and we know these genes are related to cognitive decline as well — then we can start to a predict who is going to have the worst cognitive decline, and devote health care medical resources to them,» he says.

6) Around half the variance in IQ can be explained by genetics

Studies comparing identical and fraternal twins find about half of IQ can be explained by genetics.

But what's odd is that genetics seems to become more predictive of IQ with age.

Molecular Psychiatry

That is, twins' genes seem to be less important for IQ when they're children compared with when they're adults. The reason why isn't entirely understood.

Intelligence researchers Robert Plomin and Ian Dearysuggest it may be due to what's known as «genetic amplification,» a process in which «small genetic differences are magnified as children select, modify and create environments correlated with their genetic propensities,» they write in a 2015 literature review.

Consider this: A child with a genetic propensity to be smart may choose to spend more time in a library. A tiny 6-year-old may not be allowed to go to the library by herself. But a 16-year-old can.

The idea is as we age, we grow more in control of our environments. Those environments we create can then «amplify» the potential of our genes.

7) Genes are not the only thing that matters in intelligence

Genetics doesn't seal your destiny when it comes to IQ. About half the variability in IQ is attributed to the environment. Access to nutrition, education, and health care appear to play a big role.

But overall, the environmental determinants of IQ aren't as well understood as the biology.

«In terms of environment, it’s much harder to pin things down,» Ritchie says. «People’s lives are really messy, and the environments they are in are messy. There’s a possibility that a lot of the environmental effect on a person’s intelligence is random.»

8) Humans are getting smarter

Hurray! Mean IQ scores appear to be increasing between 2 and 3 points per decade.

This phenomenon is know as the Flynn effect, and it is ly the result of increasing quality of childhood nutrition, health care, and education. (In his book, Ritchie explains, it might also be the result of an increased emphasis on knowledge as the engine of our economy, which has encouraged the type of abstract thinking IQ exams test for.)

Gains in intelligence tests in America over 50 years. What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn

9) IQ is increasing faster in developing countries

Some of the greatest gains in IQ are happening in the developing world, where increases in childhood nutrition (namely via iodine supplements) and access to health care have made the greatest difference in IQ.

Intelligence: All that Matters

There's actually some evidence that the Flynn effect may be waning in the developed world. «It might well be we are running these low-hanging fruits [ standardized education and nutrition] that we know improve IQ,» Ritchie says.


One final note: Know that people with higher IQs aren't better at everything. In fact, they're more ly to need glasses to correct for nearsightedness. Nerds!

Proof of evolution you can find on your own body

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Why Some of the Most Successful People Aren’t That “Smart” | by Lindsay Kolowich

Are People With High IQs More Successful?

IQ stands for “intelligence quotient,” and it’s meant to measure a person’s ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

That first part — the ability to acquire and apply — is key. IQ doesn’t measure a person’s general knowledge of facts and figures, whether they know the capital of Russia. It’s meant to measure intelligence functions problem-solving skills, pattern recognition, mathematical logic, and finding connections among verbal concepts.

For example, you might see a world analogy problem on an IQ test, : “Kitten is to Cat as Puppy is to _____.” To solve this problem correctly, you’d need to understand the relationship between a kitten and a cat, and then apply that relationship to that of a puppy and a dog.

Other questions look for spatial reasoning skills. For example:

Image Credit: Pearson Clinical

(Don’t worry. I’m not testing you on this one.)

So where does the “quotient” part of “intelligence quotient” come from? From how IQ scores are calculated. The original IQ tests, developed in France in the early 1900s,were meant to help predict which children were most ly to experience difficulty in school.

IQ was originally calculated by dividing your “mental age” (measured by the test) by your actual age, and multiplying the resulting quotient by 100. That resulting number is your IQ score, and it’s compared to that of the rest of the population on a scale of 0–200.

While many tests have been developed since then, the major thing all IQ tests have in common is that they measure a person’s cognitive ability — but specifically their ability to solve simple and theoretical problems.

Many questions on an IQ test for how well a person can learn new information, for example. The test might do this by teaching the test-taker new information in a simple format, and then seeing how well they retain that information.

While this works well for simple information recalling word lists and retelling simple stories, Psychologist W.

Joel Schneider warns that it’s difficult to design a test that measures retention of complex information ( a person’s memory what happened in a long, complicated board meeting) without the test being “contaminated by differences in prior knowledge.”

While IQ tests are still mostly used to study children, many have wondered aloud whether adult tests have a predictive power that’s useful in the workplace, too — particularly when it comes to hiring new people or predicting performance.

Does IQ Matter in Business?

The problem with relying on IQ — or even IQ-style, theoretical questions — to predict business success isn’t with what IQ actually measures. In fact, cognitive ability is certainly important for many jobs. Rather, the problem is with what IQ doesn’t measure.

Your IQ score won’t tell you (or your boss, or your hiring manager) anything about your emotional intelligence, your creativity, or your practical intelligence, i.e. “street smarts.” As much as we sometimes wish they did, real business problems don’t always have a single right answer reached by a single method, and they aren’t removed entirely from outside experiences.

Real business problems — practical problems — require you to recognize the existence of a problem, seek out information to help solve it, gather various acceptable solutions, and evaluate those solutions in the context of prior experience and relationships. They also require you to be motivated and involve yourself personally.

While the cognitive intelligence and specific skill sets you might need to score high on an IQ test may correlate to some success depending on your job, there are other, sometimes more important ways to measure success in the business world.

If Not IQ, Then What?

One major example of an alternative indicator of success? Your emotional intelligence. This refers to your ability to identify and monitor emotions — both your own and others’.

It’s critical for problem solving and relationship building in the business world.

It doesn’t matter if you can stand up and recite the Fibonacci sequence on the spot; if you have trouble handling change and developing and managing productive relationships, you’ll find it challenging to find major success in many business roles.

While there’s still disagreement on exactly how much emotional intelligence contributes to career success, even the most skeptical studies find that emotional intelligence is “probably as valuable as your intellectual and technical skills.”

Another interesting measure of success? Something called “grit.” Studies at the University of Pennsylvania found that students who don’t have the highest IQs in their class but still received high grades share “grit” in common.

What’s that? Grit is less about cognitive ability and more about cognitive control; i.e. your ability to delay gratification in pursuit of your goals, control your impulses, effectively manage upsetting emotions, hold focus, and possess a readiness to learn, according to Psychologist Daniel Goleman.

What’s more, a 30-year study of more than 1,000 children found that cognitive control predicted success better than a child’s IQ, and better than the wealth of the family they grew up in.

There’s decades’ worth of research out there on the many factors that contribute to a person’s success, whether that means financial success, fame, or something else. We have an affinity toward measuring things — even things as intangible as intelligence.

To that end, I the way Schneider puts it: “Our society at this time in history values the ability to make generalizations from incomplete data and to deduce new information from abstract rules.”

These deductions are what lead to scientific breakthroughs, and they serve as an amazingly helpful jumping off point. But that doesn’t mean your IQ score will tell you with much accuracy whether you — or your next hire — will be successful at a job.

By itself, a high IQ won’t guarantee you’ll rise above your peers. Success relies on much more than that.

What do you think: Do IQ scores have a place in the business world? What other skills do you correlate with business success? Share your thoughts with us in the comments

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Can IQ Tests Really Predict Your Success In Life? — Therapy Blog

Are People With High IQs More Successful?

Dozens of online intelligence tests promise to measure intelligence and even to predict a person’s future success. Most of these online quizzes are not supported by research.

Instead, psychometric testing typically relies on Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests.

These include the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale, the Multidimensional Aptitude Battery, and the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test.

These tests purport to measure a person’s general intelligence (also called the G factor). Many people believe general intelligence is a predictor of success. Yet research suggests IQ is just one of many factors that plays a role in a person’s success.

The Challenge of Defining Success

Success is a vague, broad concept. It means vastly different things to different people. Some examples might include:

  • Successful relationships with others. This might involve a happy marriage and many friends.
  • Financial success. This could include the ability to pay bills, save for the future, and make large purchases.
  • Career success. This might mean succeeding in a career, such as law or medicine, that others view as prestigious. Or it could mean finding a career that is personally satisfying or challenging.
  • Academic success. This can involve earning an advanced degree, making excellent grades, or getting a scholarship.
  • Success as a parent. This might mean having close relationships with children, raising children who succeed by several measures, or simply enjoying parenting.
  • Feeling happy. This could involve achieving a sense of meaning or inner peace.
  • Moral success. This might mean feeling a good person, finding ways to help others, or following the dictates of one’s faith or conscience.

IQ scores cannot measure every type of success. In fact, it is difficult for IQ scores to fully and accurately measure even a single type of success.

While there is some correlation between IQ scores and financial or career achievement, even these categories are broad and nonspecific. Individuals can have different goals for the same category.

For example, one person may have a low-paying job that they find personally fulfilling. Another person with a high-status job might develop workplace issues boredom or burnout.

IQ Scores and Other Correlates of Success

A handful of studies have found a modest correlation between IQ score and success in the workplace. For example, a 2004 study found that IQ is a good predictor of both a person’s ultimate career level and their success within that field.

People with higher IQs tend to occupy more prestigious careers and to excel in those careers. The study theorizes that this is because people with high IQs can master new skills more quickly.

In highly demanding fields—medicine and law, for instance—the ability to process and retain new information is key.

Various studies have shown IQ correlates with income, but the extent to which this is true varies significantly. In a 2007 review of research on IQ and income, most studies found low to moderate correlations between income and IQ. IQ was about as good of a predictor of success as parental socioeconomic status.

Research shows many individual and social factors also affect a person’s outcomes. Some individual factors that may affect success regardless of intelligence include:

  • Motivation.
  • Willingness to learn new information.
  • Ability to pay attention.
  • Mental health.
  • Lifestyle factors.
  • Stress.

Social factors that can affect success include:

  • Social class (whether one comes from wealth or poverty).
  • Access to economic and social resources, such as quality schools.
  • Institutional discrimination, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia.
  • Individual discrimination, such as discrimination by a biased teacher.

The correlation between IQ score and socioeconomic status suggests IQ tests may measure access to opportunity rather than innate qualities.

IQ Scores and Socioeconomic Status

IQ scores correlate fairly well with socioeconomic status (SES). This is not necessarily because people with high IQs make more money. Instead, research suggests greater social and economic privilege afford children access to tools that improve their IQ.

For example, research published in 2011 found a heritability rate for intelligence of just 5% among children of low SES.

Heritability measures the extent to which differences between individuals can be explained by genetics. A 5% heritability rate means nongenetic factors explain 95% of intelligence differences.

Experiences food insecurity or homelessness are more ly to affect an impoverished child’s IQ than their biology.

The same study found a higher heritability rate for intelligence among more privileged children—50% on average. The study authors believe high-SES families may be able to provide more chances to realize differences in children’s genetic potentials. Families with more economic means are often better situated to do things that boost intelligence, including:

  • Move to areas with excellent schools or put children in gifted education programs.
  • Hire private tutors.
  • Connect children to adults who can help them master new skills.
  • Spend time with children on intellectually challenging tasks such as building blocks, completing puzzles, or reading.

Research also points to a class bias in IQ tests. Children raised in households with lower socioeconomic status participate in fewer conversations and hear fewer words than children from more privileged backgrounds. Middle and upper-class children who take IQ tests are more ly to have heard the words and been exposed to concepts on the test.

Critics argue this trend biases tests against poorer children, measuring their experiences rather than their raw reasoning skills. Other people claim this bias actually makes IQ tests a more reliable measure of success. They argue these tests measure cultural knowledge that may affect a child’s ability to fit in, understand the world, and ultimately succeed.

Are IQ Scores Reliable?

A significant body of research questions the validity of IQ scores as a measure of intelligence. Some researchers are skeptical of the very notion of general intelligence, which is what IQ tests purport to measure.

IQ tests may also discriminate against certain groups.

Many early IQ tests are now widely acknowledged to have been biased, perhaps even by design, against people of color, women, and other marginalized groups.

Today’s IQ tests are not deliberately discriminatory but may still be biased. IQ tests may inadvertently test not for intelligence, but for cultural knowledge that dominant groups are more ly to have.

Groups historically exposed to oppression can also experience stereotype threat when taking standardized tests. When a person is exposed to stereotypes about their group, their stress levels may rise. Anxiety in turn can undermine their performance. Even something as seemingly innocuous as filling a demographics survey before taking a test may activate stereotype threat.

The Role of Other Forms of Intelligence

G, the “general intelligence” IQ tests measure, is just one way to assess intelligence. Researchers, teachers, and mental health professionals have identified numerous other forms of intelligence.

Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner identified nine types of intelligence:

  • Visual-spatial intelligence: the ability to visualize objects and navigate spatial relationships. It may be used in drawing, solving jigsaw puzzles, or designing buildings.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence: the ability to know and understand oneself.
  • Interpersonal intelligence: the ability to understand and relate to others.
  • Musical awareness: the ability to recognize patterns in tone and rhythm, to express oneself through sound.
  • Linguistic intelligence: the ability to use words effectively, such as through writing a persuasive essay or beautiful poem.
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence: the ability to do logical problem-solving. It may be used in  math and computer programming.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to use the body effectively in activities such as dancing and playing sports. It often includes dexterity, balance, and other skills.
  • Existential intelligence: the ability to tackle questions of existence and spirituality.
  • Naturalistic intelligence. the ability to work well with animals, recognize plants in nature, and so on.

According to Gardner, most people are competent in a few areas, with limited skill in others. It’s very unly that anyone could show total mastery in all nine areas, undermining the notion of a true general intelligence.

Other researchers divide intelligence into IQ and EQ, or emotional intelligence. EQ measures one’s ability to recognize and respond to emotions, both in oneself and others.

Someone with high emotional intelligence can use their understanding of emotions to work well with others.

Much research suggests the ability to understand and cooperate with others may predict success in multiple areas of life.

Even in intellectually demanding careers, emotional intelligence is often necessary. For example, a 2014 study shows emotionally intelligence correlates with the success of medical students.

According to the study, the ability to regulate one’s emotions was an especially significant predictor of success.

The study even recommends medical schools use emotional intelligence measures on their applications.

A 2010 study found the ability to regulate emotions was a predictor of higher income and socioeconomic status. It also predicted greater overall well-being.

Therapy: A Path to Success Regardless of IQ

People concerned about their intelligence or their path to success can find significant help from therapy.

In a limited number of circumstances, therapy can even help someone feel smarter or perform better on an IQ test. For example, a person with testing anxiety may reduce stress through therapy.

wise, a person who struggles with motivation or impulsivity may learn more effectively after tackling these issues with a therapist.

Even when therapy doesn’t directly improve intelligence, it can still greatly increase a person’s chances of success. Therapy may:

  • Help a person identify barriers to success at work or in their relationships.
  • Strengthen a person’s emotional and social intelligence, helping them collaborate more effectively.
  • Move beyond impostor syndrome, chronic feelings of inadequacy, and other forms of low self-esteem.
  • Define what success looks , then set specific and actionable goals for achieving success.

A licensed therapist can help you feel smarter and more successful. Find a therapist today!


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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.


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