Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

Why a High IQ Doesn't Mean You're Smart 808

D1gital_Prob3 writes "How can a 'smart' person act foolishly? Keith Stanovich, professor of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto, Canada, has grappled with this apparent incongruity for 15 years. He says it applies to more people than you might think. To Stanovich, however, there is nothing incongruous about it. IQ tests are very good at measuring certain mental faculties, he says, including logic, abstract reasoning, learning ability and working-memory capacity — how much information you can hold in mind."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why a High IQ Doesn't Mean You're Smart

Comments Filter:
  • This is news? (Score:5, Informative)

    by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter@earthli[ ]net ['nk.' in gap]> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:20PM (#29980894) Journal

    Mensa and testing agencies have been making it clear for a couple decades now that IQ only measures your ability to take tests.

    While that's strongly correlated with general intelligence, it means nothing specific for a specific individual.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Mensa is itself the perfect example of what this discussion is all about. The organization is chock full of the most super-intelligent people...and yet the word "mensa" is spanish slang for "stupid female".
    • Re:This is news? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:36PM (#29981216)

      I read this analogy yesterday, where you can think of level of intelligence like the brightness of a flashlight, what you choose to aim it at is another matter.

      Fits rather will with Sagan's candle in the dark illustration.

      • Re:This is news? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @02:01PM (#29981754) Journal
        That's a pretty good analogy. And, taking that further, IQ measures the brightness at 630nm. If you shine it on something red then you see it clearly, but that tells you nothing about how good the flashlight is at revealing things that are green or blue.
        • Re:This is news? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by solafide ( 845228 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @02:18PM (#29982070) Homepage
          That's a pretty good analogy. And, taking it further, IQ measures the kinetic energy of electrons ejected from a metal with red light shining directly on it. If you use red light, your IQ measurement is accurate. If you use green, your IQ number is irrelevant. If you don't shine the light directly on the metal, but instead approach from a different angle, your IQ number becomes much less relevant.
      • I've always thought IQ tests were fairly useless at least in many cases. Most of the software developers I know score very high on IQ tests, but it seems to me that we're cheating to a degree. Our day to day job tends to train us to solve many of the sorts of problems that are on IQ tests. Of course we'll score well.
    • Re:This is news? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Blapto ( 839626 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:43PM (#29981394)

      It's not news that it's the case. The article isn't "A High IQ Doesn't Mean You're Smart", it's "Why a High IQ Doesn't Mean You're Smart".

      This is research into explaining the disparity, not proving or demonstrating that it exists.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      Mensa and testing agencies have been making it clear for a couple decades now that IQ only measures your ability to take tests.

      Some people have even argued that IQ tests are to some degree cultural []. But yeah, for one thing, taking tests is a skill in itself. There's usually a certain logic to the answers in multiple choice tests, for example, and knowing that logic can allow you to make good guesses even if you have no idea what the answer is. Essay questions are harder to fake, but a lot of times it boils down to giving the answer that the person who's evaluating the answer wants to hear. If you give a very intelligent answer

  • INT vs WIS (Score:5, Funny)

    by PHPNerd ( 1039992 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:22PM (#29980942) Homepage
    Come on...everyone knows a high Intelligence score isn't the same as a high Wisdom score!
  • by Churla ( 936633 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:22PM (#29980944)

    When the GM at my first AD&D game explained the difference between INT and WIS....

  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter@earthli[ ]net ['nk.' in gap]> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:23PM (#29980956) Journal

    Any RPGer knows that Prof. Stanovich is attempting to correlate INT scores with WIS scores.

    Silly scientist. No bonus priest spells for you.

    /2nd Edition devotee

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:24PM (#29980984)

    As a member of mensa with a rather high IQ (160 on the cattel 3B), I know that my IQ is in at least the top percentile. However, my organisational skills are atrocious, and while I can remember something well short-term, I tend to forget things long-term. This led to my nearly dropping out of university because while I can write a decent essay, I often forgot to do so. Once I understand a mathematical concept I can do it well, but I tend to forget formulae, so I only got a middle-of-the-road grade in maths.

    A high IQ means very little, and I'm not saying that because of jealousy; I'd rather be well-organised and "only" average in the more abstract ways of measuring ability.

  • Apples & Oranges (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Itninja ( 937614 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:24PM (#29980990) Homepage
    An 'IQ' is quantitative. The term 'smart' is qualitative. Comparing them at all is like comparing ones 'income' with how 'rich' they are.
  • by techsoldaten ( 309296 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:24PM (#29980994) Journal

    Friend of mine, his father is a senior researcher for NIH. One of the smartest fellas you will ever meet, has multiple PhDs, charming and really has his act together professionally.

    Came back from a concert one night, there was a note taped to the door. "I owe you a microwave." Inside, the house smells like burning compost, his Dad still forgets he can't microwave food with a fork inside. Has never been able to operate a microwave oven and this is about the tenth time he has done it.

    His Dad owns a lot of land in Montgomery County, Maryland. He has made a lot of money off real estate investments. He has had a lot of disasters over the years as well, for things that would have seemed apparent to anyone else. Like not leaving untreated wood lying in pile all winter, not parking a backhoe at the top of a pile of dirt, not purchasing residentail land and trying to have it rezoned for multilevel commercial, etc.

    It's not just forgetfulness, he has a hard time processing these realities of life. Without his family, I don't think he could function.


  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:26PM (#29981020)

    For some reason, people have associated high IQs with knowing a lot about everything. Unfortunately, knowledge and IQ is different, as is wisdom and IQ. Sheesh, first year D&D players can tell you this.

    Corollary: just because you're smart and know a lot about one subject doesn't mean you're opinion on another subject matters. I'm always astounded by how many smart developers think that because they know ASP inside out that they also know which economic system is better.

  • by SCHecklerX ( 229973 ) <> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:26PM (#29981022) Homepage

    There's usually a woman involved.

  • by x_IamSpartacus_x ( 1232932 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:27PM (#29981042)
    Based on no research and absolutely no scientific data I have come to measure a person's intelligence by how creative they are and how open to new ideas (especially ideas in conflict with their own belief system) they are.
    I am a conservative, white, heterosexual, Christian male (source of all the world's problems according to many) and yet I understand that there are things I am probably wrong about and there are people who have radically different beliefs than I do and I can definitely learn from them. I consider myself pretty intelligent and yet understanding that I can learn from others is very key to my intelligence growing.

    People who have closed their minds to new thoughts/ideas and who do not exercise their creative potential get stupid fast. I have met a LOT of them (in my white, hetero, Christian, male society) and I am the first to admit that my peers tend to be pretty dumb. TFL starts off bashing on George Bush and how his IQ is pretty high yet the author has obviously decided Bush is an idiot (an earned reputation) and he fits right into my category of society.

    What I feel is important to note is that in American progressive society MY ethnicity/religion/political views/gender quickly get thrown into a category that I really don't thing I've earned. I try not to complain of racism/sexism/whateverelseism but it gets old some times.
    • Man define intelligence to fit how he behaves, news at 11.

    • by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @02:00PM (#29981738) Homepage Journal

      I remember some comment here on Slashdot a while back (I foget who it was or what the story was about) where somebody was complaining that, as a person in the 99th intelligence percentile, it was simply impossible to be friends with people of mediocre intelligence. The comment struck me as amazingly arrogant and short-sighted. I didn't say anything at the time, but I thought exactly what you are saying. This guy's problem, in my not-so-humble opinion, was that he was letting his score on an IQ test define himself and his potential friends. As long as people who score well on IQ tests go around wearing it like a badge and looking down on everybody else, they are going to be outcasts, because even if you don't say it out loud, people will pick up on it, and then they don't want to be around you. Nobody wants to hang out with the guy who's always subtly reminding everybody of how smart he is. At that point, it's the natural human reaction to soothe your ego by thinking "average people just can't handle being around smart people like me. They're jealous of my vast intelligence." But it's just not true. I have plenty of friends who would probably score lower than I would on an IQ test (I say "would" because the last time I took an IQ test I was around eight years old). I also have friends who would probably score higher. You can be friends with anybody as long as you're mutually willing to accept each other as equals. And when you do that, you find that there's something to learn from everybody. Because I guarantee that even the homeless guy you pass on the street who sleeps on a park bench and pees on himself knows something that you don't. He has acquired some skill, knowledge or wisdom from his life experience that you haven't. As long as we define ourselves and others strictly in terms of a single, nearly meaningless number, we close ourselves off from a wealth of potential knowledge and experience.

      • by PitaBred ( 632671 ) <> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @02:42PM (#29982626) Homepage
        There is something to be said about being an intellectual among a bunch of people who actually care about what happened on "Dancing with the Stars" last night, though. If you don't have anything in common to discuss, you won't make friends with someone very easily. I agree that the comment you're referencing is exceptionally arrogant, but there's always a nugget of truth in most things like that.

        That said, I'm an "intellectual" with a fairly high IQ last time I checked, yet I still get along with most people. It's just that I don't have very strong friendships with people who are mostly "normal" and I tend to drift away from them. And I mean "normal" as in, they don't have any strong opinions or knowledge about anything but recent TV shows and celebrity gossip.
  • GiGo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:28PM (#29981084)
    Just like computers, people are susceptible to the Garbage in, Garbage out phenomenon. If you learn the wrong stuff, you're still smart, but you will make bad decisions.
    • Re:GiGo (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Bat Country ( 829565 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @02:57PM (#29982952) Homepage

      It might be worth suggesting that the only valid measure for intelligence should be whether or not you are capable of determining and willing to determine if the input you are given is garbage by comparing it against other input.

      Or whether you are capable of adjusting a belief when you discover inconsistencies between realities and your construction of it which forms the basis for that belief.

      If you believe Von Braun invented rocketry, you would be expected to revise that belief when learning of hwacha [] if you were to be considered intelligent. If you instead denied that it ever happened and clung to your belief, you would by that metric be regarded as less intelligent than average.

      See Holocaust deniers, biblical literalist creationists and other individuals who cling to ideas solely by denying the truth of all evidence counter to that belief. If, however, either party had by rational process discounted the relevance of that evidence, while some people might consider them a crank, they would nonetheless at least be exhibiting some measure of intelligence by that proposed metric.

  • by xclay ( 924789 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:31PM (#29981140) Homepage
    A real smart person would've known this and disregarded IQ scores long ago, but some people with high IQ scores may have propped up their self-respect with the results and probably neglected to nurture their smarts...
  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:33PM (#29981170) Journal

    is "wisdom".

    The opposite of "foolish" is not "smart". The opposite of "foolish" is "wise".

    See also "book-smart" v. "street-smart", INT v. WIS (in D&D et al.), and the role of irrational thinking in decision processes [].

  • It's true (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tarlus ( 1000874 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:34PM (#29981186)

    My brother-in-law is one of the smartest people I know. Earned his PhD in optical physics and does some very high-level work with it. Way above the head of anybody he explains it to. He's written some pretty intense C++ programs to handle neural-network computations of extremely complicated mathematical problems.

    But I can't count how many cellphones he's destroyed from accidental drops from his shirt pocket into the toilet. And a few times he lost his keys for a week because he left them hanging in the door lock.

    He's a smart guy, but sometimes we wonder about him.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stimpleton ( 732392 )
      Yes, good example. I have a friend similar to yours. PhD and very smart. But coordination problems like those seen in someone with mild MS(Multiple Schlerosis), yet tests reveal nothing. That is, generally clumsy but can get thru life fine. He is 42 but must walk, as he knows if he drove someone would be killed.

      He is a good table tennis player too, yet has impeded ability:

      - Cannot use a tin opener
      - Fumbles for upto 30 seconds trying to get a key in a lock
      - Must tip a fried egg from the pan, as using
  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:35PM (#29981198)

    Why a High IQ Doesn't Mean You're Smart?

    They're still smart, but even smart people can do dumb things. That's why it's important to be clear with phrases like "You are dumb" and "That was dumb." (I have finger puppets if the /. editors are confused about this...)

  • by Headw1nd ( 829599 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:38PM (#29981276)
    Intelligence is a tool to be used toward a goal, and goals are not always chosen intelligently. -Larry Niven
  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:39PM (#29981282)

    IQ measures raw mental abilities. It's a bit like measuring raw CPU power and memory in a computer.

    EQ (Emotional Quotient) measures things like self-motivation abilities (including things like optimism), self-control and inter-personal abilities. They're a bit like measuring the quality of the software that runs in a computer and how well it works together with other programs in the network.

    [Sorry, no car metaphors]

    In real life, even though a large IQ will allow you to solve incredibly complex problems, if you have a low EQ, you might actually be incapable of doing so because, for example:

    • Low self-motivation means you give up too easy unless constantly rewarded
    • Lack of self-control means you constantly get side-tracked with other "interesting things" not directly related to solving the main problem
    • Difficulty with relating with others means that you will either never be assigned the big problems to solve in the first place or will have trouble communicating the solution at the end. Also if the problem is not fully and clearly defined up-front (like the vast majority of real-world problems) you will have trouble with getting more information from others

    In the end, a high EQ is much more highly correlated with success than a high IQ.

    Simply put, being optimistic means you're more willing to take chances (which might eventually result in a big payout), being self-motivated means that you can keep going even when things are though, having self-control means you can deny yourself a small reward now for a much bigger one later and being good with people means you can more easily find the chances and convince others to work with you.

    That said, the good news is that one can change one's own EQ over one's life - most of its component are behavioral traits that can be learned.

  • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:44PM (#29981406)
    My ex-wife had an amazing memory. She could remember names and phone numbers of people she had only met once. She could remember all the SKU numbers when she worked part time at Sears. When she got her RN license, she filled her head with drug information and could spout interactions on request.

    But she wasn't so good at things like programming a VCR or directions. I noticed that while she had a great memory, she was terrible at spatial type tasks. Where I was just the opposite ... I have a terrible memory but can write code like crazy because I can keep several parts of a program in my head and understand the requirements, interactions, and dependencies. I never memorized math formulas, but the idea behind them.

    Cooking was very telling. I'm a passable cook, but not very inventive. She was a better cook, but had problems when she had to cook more than a couple of items at a time in getting the sequence of the various recipes merged so that everything was ready at the same time. That part, I was very good at.

    The telling point came one day when we were talking about taxes. We owed a lot because she had started working part time as an RN and we didn't pay attention to the amount being withheld from her paycheck for taxes. When I did the taxes normally, i.e. married filing jointly, we owed $3,000. She came back to me a few days later and said that if she filed as married, filing separately, she would get $1,000 back. I explained that I always did our taxes both ways and then when we did it that way, she did get $1,000 back, but I ended up owing $5,000. I was never able to get her to understand how the tax brackets worked and why this was the case. So I gave in and took it to HR Block. Guess what, the best way to file was married, filing jointly. For years she thought I was trying to cheat her out of money and refused to increase her withholding to the same percent of income as mine, so I had to withhold even more from mine. Which meant she had to put more into the household account in order to pay bills, so the end result was the same anyway.

    As I told my son at the time ... there are some battles that just aren't worth fighting. Because even if you win ... you lose.

    I remarried three years ago, and my lovely wife can talk with me about such matters. It's a wonderful thing to find someone that is smart, beautiful, and thinks sex is only dirty when it's done right.
  • Amen (Score:5, Funny)

    by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:44PM (#29981410)

    I know a guy in Mensa who was genuinely surprised that I stopped talking to him after he hit on my wife and tried to talk her into divorcing me.

    I don't think it's occurred to him yet that she and I actually speak to each other.

  • by TheLuggage2008 ( 1199251 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @01:52PM (#29981536)

    It doesn't, however, mean you're observant, grounded, emotionally stable, possess common sense, have even average social skills, or even an interest in using your intelligence for anything of consequence.

    TFA references G. W. Bush, stating his IQ is estimated to be at or around 120 but even those close to him had concerns about his decision making skills, and "Bush himself has described his thinking style as "not very analytical"." Seems to me this is connected far more to his personality, shaped by his upbringing and experiences. IQ is an indicator of intellectual potential; if someone tests consistently in the 70 - 80 range, no amount of positive thinking or assistance is getting you through medical school; if someone tests in the 160 - 180 range (let's assume an accepted standardized scale, such as Wechsler), this indicates that academically there is nothing they are not capable of understanding if they applied themselves. That doesn't mean it's reasonable to assume someone with that level of intelligence *will* become a doctor or the like, only that if circumstances are right, they *could*.

    It is not unusual for people with high IQs to fall short of their potential for myriad reasons, the one I think is most impactful is the significant difference between intellectually gifted (meant generically) and the average person. To qualify for organizations like Mensa, you need to be 2 standard deviations ahead of the average in intelligence, which is the same difference between the average person and someone considered to be retarded. People who are that far removed from the median (on either side of the scale) experience the world in a very different and often times alienating way. Perhaps the perceived "stupidity" of people with high IQs is simply the manifestation of their inability to communicate effectively with "little brains".

    While many people with high IQs are perfectly functional and move among us unnoticed as braniacs,(Mensa members must be in the 98% percentile of the population which sounds lofty, but it means that roughly one in every 50 people are smart enough to make the cut, so you probably have a better shot at getting into Mensa than you do of winning a beauty pageant) some people with high IQs may never learn how to interact successfully with those around them... robbing them of the kinds of experiences that teach the very skills TFA suggests smart people don't manifest in a consistent manner.

    Raw brain power isn't enough to guarantee success or even a base level of competence at anything, including living.

  • Reminds me... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Talisman ( 39902 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @02:10PM (#29981902) Homepage

    Reminds me of a quote I heard years and years ago, that I never thought was particularly useful, until now.

    "Everyone thinks dogs are smarter than cats, until you ask a dog to climb a tree."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by value_added ( 719364 )

      "Everyone thinks dogs are smarter than cats, until you ask a dog to climb a tree."

      I'd suggest that if there is a change of opinion, it reverts to the original when the cat gets "stuck" in the tree.

      Either way, animals have little need or use for logic and abstract reasoning, but instead, devote their energies to learning how best to respond to a world that's filled with irrational behaviour and emotions.

      In that sense, having a dog or cat as a pet serves as a reminder that our capacity for thinking and ideas

  • by foog ( 6321 ) <> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @02:56PM (#29982920)

    When a smart person does something stupid, it's because he lacks common sense. When a stupid person does something stupid, it's because he's stupid.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus