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Education Science

What Does IQ Really Measure? 488

sciencehabit writes "Kids who score higher on IQ tests will, on average, go on to do better in conventional measures of success in life: academic achievement, economic success, even greater health, and longevity. Is that because they are more intelligent? Not necessarily. New research concludes that IQ scores are partly a measure of how motivated a child is to do well on the test. And harnessing that motivation might be as important to later success as so-called native intelligence."
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What Does IQ Really Measure?

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  • Problem Solving (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 )
    I always thought it mainly measured the ability to solve problems.
  • IQ is bullshit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:56PM (#35935920)

    I recommend Steven Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" for a thorough look at IQ tests over the ages and how that 99% of the time they are bogus.

    • Just like most statistics!

    • by Gordo_1 ( 256312 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @11:03PM (#35937890)

      IQ is highly correlated to conventional measures of success in life. My father's a psychologist and he says that IQ tests are instrumental in identifying learning problems (e.g. if you score high on an IQ test, but have poor grades, this can be an indicator that there's a deficiency that needs to be investigated) among other things.

      I think the main problem is what it's called. "Intelligence Quotient" is an unfortunate vestige of the bygone era in which its standard testing methodology was devised. The average Joe (like the AC above) assumes that IQ is treated as a comprehensive, innate label of the inner workings of your brain and that's just not how it's treated today.

  • Certainly there's a correlation between IQ and real intellect, but there's no causation between one and another one.

    So, it's safe to say that IQ tests ... measure "IQ" (exactly these two letters) and nothing more.

  • Created by another monkey to rate you on a monkey scale.

    What it really measures is pointless. Its only a made up monkey test.
  • In my opinion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tanman ( 90298 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:04PM (#35935992)

    I've always felt that the score from an IQ test was actually the real test. Reason being is that some people get a big score, think they're all that and a bag of chips, and let life beat them into the ground because they thought success was predestined. Other people get a low score, think they are stupid, and let life beat them into the ground because they thought failure was predestined. The most successful people, in my experience, see the score from an IQ test, say, "hmm, that's interesting," and then continue to try to do their best at whatever it is they want to do with their lives.

    In other words, I feel that IQ tests are largely curiosities that are frequently harmful and only rarely actually useful.

    Lets not even get started on the blatant testing demographic bias (target vs actual demographic/etc) that makes the scores skewed against people based on background.

    • by HBI ( 604924 )

      One could make a similar argument about college degrees, for that matter.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      I don't think it's very different than participating in a timed race. Some people will be faster than you, some people will be slower (hopefully) and you get a feel for where you stand. Whether you work harder or give up doesn't really depend on your time. I think all of us have at one point asked ourselves "Am they slow or am I just not making any sense?" when it seems people can't grip what you're saying. IQ is at least part of the answer, yes you *do* see logic and patterns the average person don't.


      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        "Am they slow or am I just not making any sense?"

        Emphasis mine. That's kinda funny really.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Heh, that's what I get for swapping order after I started typing out the sentence. Another reason not to go around bragging, some variation of Murphy's law will make sure you end up with egg on your face.

    • by cptdondo ( 59460 )

      I've always scored really high on IQ tests. But then I'm a slow learner. I mean s.l.o.w.w.w As in, it literally takes me a year or two sometimes to understand a lecture on a difficult topic and put it to use. I used to sit in a class, and do horribly on the tests, and barely pull a C. Four years after graduating college I'd finally understand what the class was about.

      So IQ measures something; I think a lot of it measures your ability to think under stress and how quickly you can change your mode of think

  • TFA mentions that intelligence is connected to dedication and how interested you are in a subject. Well duh.
    Anyone can learn something if they really want to.
    Intelligence is, I think, about how quickly and how easy it is to understand something. I believe that the ability to understand something without (much) effort is the sign of intelligence.

    In other words, I am stupid.
  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:05PM (#35936000)

    Lemme be an iconoclast here for a moment.

    So IQ doesn't measure intelligence. So what? If IQ score is, as claimed, highly correlated with success in life, and if it's measuring motivation and determination rather than intelligence, and if it's motivation that determines success in life, doesn't that make the IQ test pretty damned useful?

    Who even knows what "native intelligence" means, anyway? If I've got a test that tells me whether someone understands problems, can find solutions to them, and is motivated enough to carry through, isn't that as useful a definition of "intelligence" as any?

    Or to put it bluntly: of what use to anyone is a brilliant mind who doesn't give a shit?

    • Lemme be an iconoclast here for a moment.

      So IQ doesn't measure intelligence. So what? If IQ score is, as claimed, highly correlated with success in life, and if it's measuring motivation and determination rather than intelligence, and if it's motivation that determines success in life, doesn't that make the IQ test pretty damned useful?

      Seems more like it would make it redundant. Motivated people are going to actively seek out opportunities for advancement. You don't need a test to identify them.

    • by Puff_Of_Hot_Air ( 995689 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @08:12PM (#35936646)
      If you couple this with the research that shows a high correlation between self-control and success (much higher correlation than IQ), then an inescapable conclusion results. It is not the brilliant mind that is destined for success, but rather the motivated well-disciplined mind. So how does one achieve such a mind? The research suggests that having parents who provide routine and discipline, a stable environment, and have a loving relationship. This is why social problems are so difficult to resolve; the child needs certain things from the parents, but the parents cannot provide. Consequently, the child grows into a poor parent and the cycle repeats. This cycle is very hard to break (even with the state system designed for this purpose, schooling). On a related note; the increasing gap between rich and poor globally is of grave concern. Increased financial pressures lead to an increase in the number of problem home environments, and the problems take such a long time to resolve. Here is where you end up with different philosophical views. Social conservatives will suggest that we must focus on unchanging structured social environments (e.g. No gay marriage, a support community via religious involvement, if religious etc). Socialists and left leaning will suggest a government provided support network is essential. The politically right will focus more on options to enable individuals to break free of the cycle. Personally, I think we as a society in the west have lost our way. Reducing economic stress was key to relieving a primary cause of social problems, however economic growth is only one component. As we now place economic growth as higher importance than societal health, we neglect that which is fundamental to the health and success of our societies. We risk letting greed destroy us, I can't put it more plainly than that.
    • You sound like a pragmatist. Better watch out - Homeland Security will be after you!

    • OK. I know you said you were being an iconoclast, so fair enough that you're on the attack. The point I've often heard espoused in defense of the IQ test is that a student from a less than ideal home setting who's naturally bright or "natively intelligent" might be overlooked without it. That he or she might not have the opportunities to achieve something with his/her "native intelligence" that a bright child from a better home might. I'm not saying this is right, just that it's an argument I've heard in th
  • Couldn't it also be that higher intelligence makes you more motivated? After all, we all like to go in and show something we do well in. If you suspect you're not really all that bright, you're not very motivated to have it confirmed. "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." and all that.

    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      To be fair, I didn't read TFA, but it seems like not being motivated and scoring poorly on a test will always be correlated.

      Also, apparently one of the reasons they prefer to do IQ tests on young children is that you're more successful at factoring out motivation or lack thereof. (Though I suppose for people who are sufficiently old, the only people taking IQ tests are ones who are pretty motivated to score well.)

  • It measures IQ of course!

    Your IQ must be in the (Celcius) room temperature range.

  • It's a measure of your propensity and stupidity to buy into another form of elitism and exclusivity. Like the world doesn't have enough of those social partitioning devices already!
  • Motivation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:09PM (#35936040)
    Wow, so IQ measures motivation and intelligence? It's an even more useful test than we thought!

    Granted this distinction may be useful, since the remedies (if any) for lack of motivation vs. lack "native intelligence" may be different - or maybe not. I suppose the assumption is that native intelligence is more genetically determined, whereas motivation is more determined by environment, but I find that questionable. Some people have exceptional drive and energy throughout life, even despite circumstances, and most of us don't.

    I also take issue with the article:

    Duckworth suggests that admissions to programs for "gifted and talented" children should not be based on IQ scores alone, but also on "who wants to do the work."

    Why? If IQ scores measure motivation as well as intelligence, then admissions based on IQ already do favor those who want to do the work.

    • This is silly. ADHD children also aren't motivated to do well on IQ tests. That's because motivation is a confounding variable that will mess up the test. Rather than say the concept of IQ is flawed, we should be saying that the measurements can be flawed.

  • IQ (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:11PM (#35936052) Homepage Journal

    This is a subject I've studied before. IQ means different things to different people. Looking over some major tests, I found several schools of thought:
    1) Mental quickness and flexibility
    2) Factual knowledge
    3) Ability to do problem solving
    4) Spatial recognition.

    IQ is *supposed* to be a general measure of how "smart" someone is (general intelligence), but while it does seem true that general intelligence does exist (doctors can pick up new knowledge in unrelated fields faster than people in some low-level fields), generally the tests just measure specific intelligence.

    For example, when trying to test for mental quickness, they might give a kid a jigsaw puzzle to solve (this is what they did on my test in 2nd grade, actually - I spent half my time trying to put it together in unusual ways). But a kid can be "smart" and still be bad at jigsaw puzzles. Since its a timed event, there's also a certain amount of luck involved in how well a kid scores. The difference between "gifted" and "normal" might just be the time span it takes an unlucky kid to try the wrong pieces before he randomly pulls the right piece.

    Factual knowledge is also a very difficult to assess subject. I looked over the Titan test (, which is supposed to identify the top 0.0000....01% most intelligent people on the planet. Ok, cool. But one of the answers was an analogy involving Kuru, the prion brain disease contracted by cannibals in Papua New Guinea. I think the test only allowed you to miss a few questions (out of 45) before it ruled you out of the cool kids club. But my objection is, how does knowing what Kuru is make you a smart person? You might just be a trivia buff. And how can you rule someone out for not knowing it? The potential knowledge space for humanity is so impossibly large, that the probability of knowing individual random tidbits of knowledge like that is correspondingly low. How do you differentiate between smart, super-smart, and super-duper-smart? I don't think that any IQ test can provide that level of resolution, really.

    More unanswered questions:
    Another problem is, of the four categories above, and others people have thought of, which do you assess on an IQ test, and how do you average them together?
    Why do we assume that IQ follows a Gaussian distribution?
    What role does linguistic fluency and creativity play into the assessment?

    I'm not saying that IQ tests are bullshit, but I think people assign them too much value. When you can have the same person take five different IQ tests and get scored between 150 and 230 (, I think we could agree the person is "smart", but beyond that, I don't think tests really mean that much.

    • 2) Factual knowledge

      ..should never be on an IQ test. Ever.

      What role does linguistic fluency and creativity play into the assessment?

      Should be 'zero' otherwise it's not an IQ test.

  • Ever since that stupid book "The Bell Curve", talking about IQ has been considered to be in bad taste, because to many it sounds like a step away from outright racism. And in general, society doesn't feel comfortable with discriminating between people based simply on native intelligence.

    However, we are perfectly comfortable with rewarding people for effort, motivation and concentration. So if this is what IQ tests largely measure, it becomes politically OK for, say, an employer to use an IQ test as a part

    • Which makes perfect sense as soon as we go back to employing children. The article is not about adults (who would presumably have substantial motivation when applying for a job). The IQ test has not gained an extra dimension of significance, so your argument is without merit.
  • I'm glad that they are identifying how much motivation is important in success compared to the numeric value you get on an IQ test.

    I scored very highly on my IQ testing from an early age. I was able to coast through school achieving high marks and all the praise and benefits that entailed without putting almost any effort into it. Then I hit university and was completely bludgeoned by the fact I had to self-motivate to produce and that there was actual efforted required to succeed and I couldn't just poun

    • I'm glad that they are identifying how much motivation is important in success compared to the numeric value you get on an IQ test.

      To me it seems they're just stating the blindingly obvious - motivation is important for anything.

  • 1 + log(# of slashdot posts)

  • IQ is a correlation to academic success. It is measuring some combination of "intelligence" (whatever that is because no one agrees on a definition) and motivation. However doing well at most IQ tests is skewed by being familiar with Western standardised testing which is overly represented in Western education systems.

    I wish this had been more widely understood when I was a child as I was bought up on the cult of Intelligence* and have a severe lack of long-term motivation.

    * And unfortunately standard Weste

  • In children, IQ measures mental age/chronological age. It's useful for assessing developmentally delayed or precocious children. In adults...your mileage may vary.
  • OK. I had a course in the theory of psychological testing, so I know the answer. IQ tests are designed to (and sometimes do) correlate with things such as success in school, general problem solving ability, occupational success in fields such as science, etc. To say that they measure “intelligence” is a very vague way of saying this. And, of course, the correlation may not be very strong in some cases because of the limitations of the tests, and the influence of other factors.
  • I'm pretty unmotivated, and I turned out to be a loser.

  • New research concludes that IQ scores are partly a measure of how motivated a child is to do well on the test.

    Sure, that makes sense. And they're partly a measure of how smart the child is. Probably something like a smart * motivated (with other factors thrown in) = IQ.

    That "smart" is a particular kind of smart, too. Emotional intelligence is very important, but not covered by IQ tests.

  • I've got students who lament their lack of prowess. They have to work very hard for every A or B they earn and are discouraged by those who breeze by without any effort. I try to console them. I tell them that they are learning how to work hard, which is at least as important (possibly more so) than being 'smart'. I tell them I've seen 'smart' kids who never learned how to work hard and went nowhere in life. I tell them getting to work and solving a problem is more valuable to an employer than being able to
  • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @08:14PM (#35936668)

    I didn't realize how smart I am. I took an IQ test and scored 100 percent!

  • by Alomex ( 148003 )

    It measures a very weird type of fast thinking and deep concentration as far as I'm concerned. My score is something like 152 yet over the years I've certainly have met people with lower scores and much smarter than me.

  • This guy lives next door to me. He probably wouldnt understand the questions on an IQ test much less get any right. He is also a home builder/contactor. He is like a damn idiot savant with a nail gun and wood. I can rank in the 150's pretty regular on IQ tests. My friend makes me look like a moron when I get him to help me building and framing my house. Who is smarter...well.. I guess that depends..
  • "Kids who score higher on IQ tests will, on average, go on to do better in conventional measures of success in life..."

    To the best of my knowledge, this only holds true within a couple of standard deviations from the "average". Prior studies have shown little correlation between very high IQ scores (say, Ïf >= 3) and standard measures of "success" in life. Some have even claimed a negative correlation.

    Certainly we know of a few shining examples of same, but that does not a correlation make.

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @10:17PM (#35937564) Homepage

    Another good reason to doubt whether IQ is meaningful is the Flynn effect [], which is a long-term upward trend in IQ scores (which is swept under the rug by curving the tests downward). Nobody is really sure what the Flynn effect means, or what causes it, but it's such a huge effect that based on their IQ scores, average people from 1930 would be classified as dull or borderline retarded today. What it really suggests is that IQ testing is pseudoscience -- and that is exactly what a lot of psychometricians consider it to be.

  • by Darth Cider ( 320236 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @12:55AM (#35938568)

    The Prometheus Society has a great article, The Outsiders [], on two important studies of IQ, one by Lewis M. Terman, who provided the "Stanford" half of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, and the other by Leta S. Hollingworth, whose book on her findings is Children Above 180 IQ. Both studies were longitudinal and long-term, drawn from very large pools of subjects.
    Conclusion? The smarter you are, the more likely you are to be maladjusted.

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.