The relationship between intelligence and education: A closer look

Ever noticed how society equates the concepts of intelligence and education?

Well, in our society, being educated is often mistaken for being intelligent. And indeed — when it comes to academic success, intelligence is often seen as the main determining factor. 

But is intelligence really the be-all and end-all of educational success? What’s the difference between being educated and being intelligent at all?

In this article, I’ll help you take a closer look at the relationship between intelligence and education and explore the role of other factors in academic achievement. So, let’s gain a more nuanced understanding of what it takes to succeed in education.

What’s the difference between education and intelligence?

Throughout my life, people around me have always thought that education and intelligence were almost the same. 

In the society I lived in, being educated was often mistaken for being intelligent. It seemed that the more degrees someone had, the more intelligent and successful they were assumed to be. 

I remember how my parents explained to me that I should learn the best I could at school in order to become more intelligent and succeed. 

Now I know they were wrong.

I remember one particular instance when I was at a social gathering with some friends and acquaintances. One person, who had graduated from a well-known university, began bragging about their educational achievements. 

Almost immediately, the rest of the group seemed to view this person as more intelligent, even though we had not yet discussed any specific topics. 

This person then proceeded to dominate the conversation, and their ideas were given more weight simply because of their educational background.

As the conversation went on, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. I had just as much experience and knowledge on the topics being discussed, but because I didn’t have the same level of education, my thoughts and ideas seemed to be dismissed or overlooked. 

This experience made me realize that education does not always equate to intelligence. Wondering what’s the difference?

Let’s then define the concepts of education and intelligence.

Education refers to the process of learning and acquiring knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits through various forms of schooling, training, or experience. 

It involves gaining knowledge and understanding of a wide range of subjects and learning how to apply this knowledge in practical ways.

What about intelligence?

Well, intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to think, reason, and solve problems.

It is a complex mental ability that involves the ability to understand and process information, as well as the ability to learn and adapt to new situations. 

Most of the time, intelligence is measured through various tests and assessments, such as intelligence quotient (IQ) tests.

Okay, I’m not denying that there’s some overlap between the two concepts. But it doesn’t mean they are the same thing. 

Still, studies prove that education can improve intelligence and vice versa — intelligence can also be an important factor in achieving a satisfying education. Let’s take a look at how this double link between the two concepts works.

Does education improve intelligence?

You probably won’t be surprised if I tell you that receiving an education and learning new things can improve intelligence. 

As a matter of fact, cognitive and developmental psychologists often state that a child’s cognitive abilities hugely depend on the things they learn at school and the skills they gain as a result.

For example, if we realize the main points of Jean Piaget’s theory, which was a Swiss developmental psychologist, we can conclude that he thought education should be tailored to the individual’s cognitive development to be most effective.

While he developed a classical approach in the field of educational and developmental psychology, modern researchers have somewhat the same understanding of the link between intelligence and education.

It turns out that the duration of education an individual receives and their scores on IQ tests are positively correlated. What does this mean?

Well, this can be interpreted in two ways:

  • Either students with greater intelligence have the need to receive more education.
  • Or a longer duration of education can lead to an increase in intelligence.

In either case, a 2018 study published in Psychological Science proves that receiving an education is the most consistent and durable way to increase intelligence. 

This means that if you want to become more intelligent, you should continue receiving education to develop your cognitive skills.

But what about the other way around? Does intelligence also determine your academic success? 

Let’s focus on how intelligence is related to your success in academic settings. 

Is intelligence a major factor in academic success?

As I already pointed out, receiving more and more education surely helps you develop cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, creativity, memory, and even attention span. 

But on the other hand, if you already have a high IQ score, you’re more likely to succeed in the academic field.

In fact, studies prove that IQ is a strong predictor of academic success and achievement. In a recent study published in the Frontiers of Psychology, individuals who had higher IQ scores were more successful compared to those with lower scores.

Most importantly, their academic success could be predicted based on the score they got on the IQ test. 

Nevertheless, I want you to know one thing — if someone tells you that they scored high on IQ tests, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are intelligent. Why?

Because standard IQ tests are known to be limited instruments for measuring intelligence. For example, some IQ tests have been found to have cultural bias, meaning that they may unfairly favor certain cultural groups over others.

Besides, IQ tests can hardly capture all aspects of intelligence or other non-cognitive factors. However, there are plenty of other factors that can influence academic and life success.

And you know what else?

IQ scores do change. They’re not generally stable over time and can change due to various factors, such as education, health, and life experiences.

What does it mean?

This means that intelligence is indeed a significant predictor of academic success. However, the way we measure it and conclude someone is intelligent isn’t always reliable. 

And what about other factors? Do your education and academic success solely depend on how intelligent you are?

Of course, not. The truth is that intelligence is one factor that can contribute to academic success, but it is not the only factor. 

And that’s why we’re going to discuss other non-cognitive and environmental factors that can impact your education level.

4 other factors that impact education

1) Motivation and self-discipline

Have you ever noticed how much motivation helps students to succeed and receive better education?

Well, one of the most important factors that can determine equality of education regardless of intelligence level is how motivated an individual is to receive an education.

The reason is that motivation helps people develop self-discipline. And when you’re disciplined enough, you can effectively manage your time, set goals, and develop good study habits. 

What about those who struggle to develop self-discipline and don’t have enough motivation to study?

In that case, chances are that they’ll have difficulty staying focused in class, completing assignments, or studying for exams.

This can lead to lower grades and academic performance, as a result. 

At least, that’s something proven by scientific studies. According to research conducted at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, students with higher self-discipline had higher initial knowledge and were more careful while performing tasks at school. 

The same can be said about motivation. 

Therefore, both motivation and self-discipline are important for academic success. They can help students to stay focused and motivated to learn regardless of their intelligence and IQ scores.

2) Study habits and time management

If you’ve ever struggled to manage your time in the studying process, you probably understand how important time management and study habits are in the process of receiving an education.

Regardless of how intelligent you are, if you don’t have sufficient time management skills, it is likely that your academic performance will suffer. 

Now you might be wondering what exactly I mean by time management skills. 

Well, I’m speaking about the ability to plan, organize, and prioritize tasks and activities effectively to manage one’s time effectively.

The truth is that skills such as the ability to set a schedule and prioritize tasks are important for academic success. Why?

Because these skills help students to manage their time effectively and to complete assignments and projects on time.

So, imagine you scored as high as 140 on IQ tests but you lack time management skills. 

Despite your intelligence, you’re likely to struggle academically due to your inability to manage your time effectively. 

This means that you’re just losing your potential to thrive just because you don’t necessarily have study habits. 

For instance, you might have difficulty completing assignments and projects on time which will lead to lower grades and academic performance.

Based on studies, study habits and time management are important factors that can impact education.

So, even if your intelligence level is high compared to your peers, try to develop proper study habits and manage your time efficiently. That way, you’ll be able to take advantage of your cognitive skills and succeed.

highly analytical personality The relationship between intelligence and education: A closer look

3) Access to quality education

Other than cognitive and non-cognitive factors, some environmental factors also determine how satisfying your education level can be.

Access to quality education is one of these factors.

As a matter of fact, regardless of their intelligence level, an individual will not be able to succeed academically if they do not have access to education. 

The reason is that limited access to education can lead to a lack of opportunity for learning and personal growth. 

For example, an individual who lives in a rural area with limited access to schools may have fewer opportunities to learn and achieve their educational goals compared to an individual who lives in an urban area with more access to schools.

Have you ever heard of students who struggle to perform well just because they attend a school with outdated textbooks and insufficient funding?

As a result, they face challenges in completing assignments and projects due to a lack of access to technology or other resources.

Needless to say, this makes it harder for you to learn and understand the material.

Still, some famous people who had high potential for intelligence but lacked access to education managed to succeed.

For instance, Albert Einstein, a German-born physicist who is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent people in history, struggled with traditional education and was often critical of the rigid and authoritarian schooling system. 

He later dropped out of school and pursued self-study, which allowed him to develop his ideas and theories about the nature of the universe.

Therefore, even if you don’t have access to quality education, your cognitive skills might find a way to help you succeed without receiving education. However, it’s undoubtedly one of the most important factors that affect education.

4) Family background and socioeconomic status

Have you ever felt pressure from your family to get a good education? Or maybe you’ve faced some cultural and societal expectations to become an educated individual.

Even though my parents never pointed out explicitly that they wanted me to thrive and receive the best education, I somehow felt the demand from them and their social class to do so. 

To be honest, their perfectionism caused me a lot of anxiety throughout my life, but that’s a different matter.

The thing is that family background and socio-economic status can have a significant impact on education.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re an intelligent person or not; if you or your family members have a background in high education and you feel the demand, chances are that you’ll try to go to university and obtain degrees.

How can your family background affect your education?

Well, a child from a family with a strong emphasis on education may be more likely to value education and achieve academic success compared to a child from a family with less emphasis on education.

Similarly, socio-economic status can affect education in several ways, including access to quality schools and resources, exposure to learning opportunities, and the ability to afford higher education.

What’s more, cultural and societal expectations can also provide a sense of purpose and direction, and can drive you to work hard and strive for excellence in your studies.

Still, don’t forget to find what works best for you and recognize that intelligence and academic success are not the only measures of worth or achievement.

Emotional intelligence & academic performance 

Before we sum up an article, there’s one more thing I’d like to discuss the relationship between intelligence and education.

When it comes to intelligence, people immediately think about mental abilities such as thinking, decision-making, reasoning, and the ability to learn and adapt to new situations. 

However, if you’re into positive psychology (and even if you’re not), chances are that you’ve heard of the concept of emotional intelligence. 

Well, emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to recognize and understand one’s own and other’s emotions, as well as the ability to manage and regulate these emotions. 

And guess what?

Not only is cognitive intelligence related to education, but research has shown that emotional intelligence is also significantly related to education and academic performance. 

The truth is that individuals with higher levels of emotional intelligence tend to perform better academically. What’s more, according to studies, emotional intelligence can lead to positive results such as better life satisfaction and career success.

Considering this, it’s not surprising that people with high levels of emotional intelligence can have better academic performance. Why?

Because students who can recognize and manage their own emotions are more likely to be motivated and self-disciplined, which can help them succeed academically. 

Similarly, students who are able to understand and manage the emotions of others may be better able to form positive relationships with their teachers and peers. And this can also contribute to academic success.

So, as you can see, emotional intelligence is also an important factor that can influence academic performance.

This means that if you try to focus on developing emotional intelligence skills, chances are that you’ll achieve academic success with less effort.

Final thoughts

All in all, the relationship between intelligence and education is a complex one. While receiving an education can improve intelligence, intelligence, in turn, can also predict academic achievements and success.

One thing is for sure — equating intelligence with education is a simple misconception. 

So remember that your potential for personal growth and development doesn’t depend on the education you’ve received or the level of intelligence you have. The key to success is to focus on developing your strengths and skills and to take advantage of opportunities for learning and personal growth.

Picture of Nato Lagidze

Nato Lagidze

Nato is a writer and a researcher with an academic background in psychology. She investigates self-compassion, emotional intelligence, psychological well-being, and the ways people make decisions. Writing about recent trends in the movie industry is her other hobby, alongside music, art, culture, and social influences. She dreams to create an uplifting documentary one day, inspired by her experiences with strangers.

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