There is a widely-held belief, especially in employment and educational environments, that a person’s educational and employment success, can be predicted by their score on a standard intelligence (IQ) test. For this reason, they are routinely conducted in schools to make decisions on student placement and variations of these types of tests are used for recruitment purposes.

These tests were developed over one hundred years ago, and at that time they primarily measured logical, mathematical and linguistic ability. They became popular after their use during the First World War to help select officers for the British army, and were later refined and modified to also include attention, memory and problem-solving skills.

Their validity is dependent to a large extent on scores remaining constant over time, on being unaffected by external factors and on their ability to predict success.

Problems with the test itself

Firstly, there are problems with the test itself. Many current methods of determining IQ, measure skills traditionally associated with education (for example a knowledge of vocabulary) and this may disadvantage some students from recent immigrant or low socio-economic backgrounds.

Scores can vary depending on the circumstances

Secondly, while intelligence measured in these tests is largely considered to be fixed through inheritance, this has been questioned recently with experiments showing that results can be influenced by offering short-term incentives. In one experiment, IQ scores increased when children were offered chocolate as an incentive for correct answers.

The role of character

The connection between intelligence and success has also been questioned with some studies showing that character skills such as persistence and self-motivation are stronger determiners of high grades and income levels than IQ.

The importance of self-motivation or conscientiousness came from a deliberately simple and repetitive number matching activity. It was found that students with a relatively low IQ who could motivate themselves to do well in the test even when there was no perceived reward were later found to be more successful in their studies and made significantly more money than those who did poorly but who had higher IQ’s.

The importance of self-control and willpower came initially from an experiment conducted by Angela Duckworth, which found that young children who could resist the temptation of eating a marshmallow for a specified time period so they could receive a second, went on to achieve higher school results

American psychiatrist Martin Seligman sees optimism as an important character trait. He believes that the best way to view negative events is as having a short-term effect, as being impersonal and only impacting a small part of their lives. He further believes that skills and strengths related to character are changeable and malleable – they are skills that can be learned, practiced and taught.

IQ is not the only measure of intelligence

In 1993, psychologist Howard Gardner introduced the theory of multiple intelligences. His studies showed that there are different types of intelligence that are not measured by traditional intelligence testing. One of these is visual-spatial intelligence which is the ability accurately perceive the visual world. People strong in this area can excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Another is Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. Those who are gifted in this area can use their bodies to express emotion, feelings, or ideas as well as to perform well in sports. A third intelligence type is Musical Intelligence where some have an aptitude towards interpreting and using rhythm, tempo, and pitch. Interpersonal Intelligence refers to a person’s leadership qualities and their ability to empathise with and care for and support others, while Intrapersonal Intelligence is the capacity to understand ourselves and to appreciate our own feelings, fears, and motivations. People who can easily understand the natural world around them have strong Naturalist intelligence. They will for example be able to appreciate the differences between animal species.

Click on the link below to take a free quiz that identifies your areas of strength according to this theory:

Multiple Intelligence Test

Emotional intelligence

Another form of intelligence is emotional intelligence. This form of intelligence is related to a persons’ ability to control their own feelings and emotions and to act appropriately when reacting to others. People with strong emotional intelligence are good at building productive relationships and working in teams.

You can also take a free emotional intelligence (EQ) test by clicking on the link below:

Emotional Intelligence Test

In conclusion

We can see then that intelligence does not have to be a limiting factor. With development of character skills and a knowledge of our natural skills and abilities we can expect to be successful in the choices we make.

Where to from here