The pros and cons of intelligence tests: A critical analysis

Intelligence tests have been popular in measuring ‘intelligence’ for more than a century. 

And with content all around the web detailing famous people’s IQs, they are more popular than ever. Many of you will have read that Einstein and Steve Jobs were both said to have an IQ of about 160. 

We have previously covered “The Science Of IQ” and “Why Your IQ Score Doesn’t Define Your Intelligence”, but today, we get down to the question many ask: “Are intelligence tests actually useful?” 

Well, yes, but there are some pros and cons you need to be aware of. 

In this post, we lay them out in simple terms. 

Let’s dive in. 

The pros 

Pro #1: Can identify ‘gifted’ children

One undeniable advantage of IQ tests is their ability to identify those with exceptional cognitive abilities. This is particularly beneficial when concerning children. 

Early recognition of such abilities can help parents and educators to provide the most suitable education for such children.  As noted by Advanced Psychology Services, the “advantages of specialized education are especially profound” for intellectually gifted kids. 

Such programs allow children to progress rapidly in areas where they excel. That is, considerably faster than they would progress in a standard learning environment. 

As noted by Dr. Micheal Postma, director of Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted, highly intelligent children “learn more rapidly” and need challenges. Without the opportunity to develop at their own accelerated pace, they may become bored and frustrated at school. 

If you are a parent and think your child might be gifted, it could be a good idea to have them take an IQ test administered by a professional. 

Pro #2: IQ tests can help with career path choices 

Okay, so this is one with which many people will disagree. Let me explain. 

While they are not the be-all and end-all, intelligence tests hold the potential to provide valuable insights that can guide our career choices. 

You see, average IQ varies for different jobs. This was outlined in some detail in a lecture presented by the now-famous academic Dr. Jordan Peterson. Jobs with higher average IQ (116-130) scores include Attorneys, Engineers, and Executives. Jobs that have more average IQ scores are Cashiers, General Office staff, and Receptionists. 

So, how does knowing your IQ help you?

Many would say that if you work hard enough, you can do whatever you want to do. While that may be true in some cases, it will be a hell of a lot more challenging to succeed and prosper in a career where most people are naturally more ‘intelligent’ than you. 

As noted by Peterson, “If you go into a job and you are not smart enough for that job, you’re going to have one bloody miserable time”. 

So, should we just choose a career based on our IQ?

No, it’s not that simple, I am afraid.  

As we covered in a previous post, “IQ does not fully measure all the aspects of intelligence.”

Most notably, many IQ tests do not measure emotional intelligence, which can have a great impact on what career you will be successful in. 

Additionally, as noted by Dr. Peterson in the same lecture, it’s also crucial to consider other factors such as how agreeable you are, how conscientious (hardworking and organized) you are, and your level of stress tolerance. 

So, can IQ tests help us to choose an appropriate career? Absolutely. However, relying solely on IQ tests is not sufficient. 

IQ tests are helpful in this respect but don’t show the whole picture; we’ll discuss this more when we come to the cons. 

Pro #3: IQ tests can provide a mental workout

While IQ tests have some limitations, and as we will mention soon, many of those available online leave much to be desired, they are a great mental workout tool. 

Like our bodies, our brains can also benefit from a mental workout. Doing online IQ tests can keep your mind sharp and be quite entertaining. 

And even if these online tests are not perfectly designed, I think we can all agree that doing them is a lot better than mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds. 

intelligence tests 2 The pros and cons of intelligence tests: A critical analysis

The cons

Con #1: IQ tests are not the full story 

If you have read our previous post on IQ, you will know that IQ tests are limited. Other factors must be considered when measuring overall intelligence. 

The main problem with such tests is that they provide an incomplete picture of what most of us would consider ‘intelligence’. That is, most popular IQ tests focus on specific cognitive skills such as logical reasoning, verbal reasoning, working memory, and processing speed

However, many fail to address emotional and social intelligence, not to mention personality characteristics, which can also play a role in what many would perceive as ‘intelligence’. 

It’s also commonly believed that IQ is a predictor of success. This is true in general.  Some studies show a correlation between IQ and career success as well as wealth. 

However, as noted by Very Well Mind, a high IQ “may suggest a potential for success, but it doesn’t guarantee an outcome.” Outcomes require other traits like work ethic and self-discipline

Con #2: IQ scores can cause limiting behaviors

Another key drawback of IQ tests is that they may result in limiting behaviors. That is, by knowing our IQ score, there is a potential for us to adopt negative behaviors based on it. 

This potential for self-fulfilling prophecies exists at all IQ levels but is most easily exemplified at the extremes. 

Let’s say someone gets a genius-level IQ score; this may result in them becoming complacent and not exerting the effort necessary to take advantage of the cognitive ability they were gifted. It can also lead to a perception of superiority. 

On the other end of the spectrum, people who achieve low IQ scores, or lower than they expected, may lose confidence in their abilities and give up on their hopes for the future. More than that, they may feel that they can never be happy, but as we will see in the next point, evidence would suggest that this is not true. 

Con #3: Your IQ score probably won’t help you to be happier 

At the end of the day, what most of us want in life is to be happy. 

We have more detailed goals that we think will get us there, but when we really break them down, our ultimate goal is usually happiness. 

We have financial goals so that we can feel secure, which we think will make us happy. We have fitness goals to look better, which we feel will ultimately make us happy. 

But how does happiness relate to IQ?

Ernest Hemmingway once wrote, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” As well as being a catchy quote, more recent studies would suggest that he may well have been right. 

Research around the link between happiness and IQ is complicated, with some studies suggesting that those with a higher IQ are happier and others suggesting the opposite. 

However, the longest-ever study on happiness conducted by Harvard researchers suggests that it is not a high IQ, career success, or money that gives us life satisfaction. 

Instead, it is positive relationships in our lives. 

I recently wrote a full post on this, and what the study has revealed so far is truly fascinating; you can read it here

Con #4: Most online IQ tests are not accurate (and the ones that are cost a pretty penny)

It would be great if we could do some IQ tests for free and from the comfort of our own homes to get an accurate sense of where we are on the scale, but that’s not really the case. 

While cheap or free online IQ tests are available, most lack the proper professional oversight and scientific validation to mean much at all. 

Getting a reliable indication of your IQ requires taking an official test conducted by a licensed professional. Unfortunately, such tests can be quite expensive. One source suggests they range from $250 to over $10,000! 

Is it worth it, given what we covered in this post?

I’ll leave that up to you. 

The bottom line 

Defining ‘intelligence’ is difficult, let alone coming up with tests that measure it. 

Some would say they have no meaning, but evidence would suggest that we can learn a lot about ourselves and others from such tests. 

They are particularly helpful for identifying ‘gifted’ children so they can get the tailored education they might require. They may even help us to make better career choices. And if nothing else, they are a good mental workout!

That’s not to say IQ tests are perfect or even close to it, though. They paint an incomplete picture, and the results can cause undesirable behaviors. Even if we do pay for a real test, knowing our score can tell us little about how to be happy, which is the ultimate goal for most of us. 

As always, I hope you found this post enjoyable to read and that it has answered some of the questions you may have had. 

Until next time. 

Picture of Mal James

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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