Why your IQ score doesn’t define your intelligence

Intelligence comes in many forms and can be measured in various ways. 

The most well known way to measure intellectual smarts is called an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test. 

It’s clear that IQ and intelligence are linked, but to say they are the same would be inaccurate.

Here’s a brief explainer of the difference and overlap between intelligence and IQ.

What does IQ measure?

The term IQ was developed by William Stern, a German psychologist in the early 1900s. 

According to Stern, IQ could be determined by:

“Cognitive age/chronological age multiplied by 100.”

Variations of this model continue to be used up to the present day, although Stern himself came to believe that the concept of IQ was being used as an overly simplistic and reductive measure of somebody’s true intelligence and value. 

There are various kinds of IQ tests that measure your overall intellectual and reasoning ability. 

As Kendra Cherry explains

“An IQ test assesses cognitive abilities and provides a score meant to be a measure of intellectual potential and ability.”

The first IQ test was the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale developed in 1905 and later made into a standardized test by Lewis Terman. 

Later variations arose including the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale in 1939 and the Woodcock Johnson Tests. 

The key challenge of an IQ test is that it has to be made by people with enough intelligence or grasp of what intelligence is to meaningfully measure the intelligence of others

This leads to a lot of debate, since there is no single conclusion about what intelligence is or how to remove any bias, cultural conditioning or perceptual subjectivity from the IQ tests themselves. 

The tests are all slightly different in terms of focus and may lean more towards measuring your verbal intelligence, logic, nonverbal intelligence, or puzzle-solving abilities by asking you to answer a series of questions within a set time limit.

  • The Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children;
  • The Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test;
  • The aforementioned Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities;
  • And the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. 

The majority of IQ tests are standardized, meaning they give you a score that is based on how you compare to your peers who took the same test, rather than just a measurement of how many questions you got right or wrong. 

Can smart people have low IQ test results?

The true answer to this question is maybe.

It depends on:

  1. What we mean by “smart”;
  2. What the test measured;
  3. Who else took the test (since it is likely to be standardized rather than a raw score).

It’s clear that while IQ and intelligence have overlap, IQ does not fully measure all the aspects of intelligence.

Deeper analysis also shows that the concept of IQ leaves out vital aspects of intelligence such as vocational skill, “street smarts” and more subtle forms of emotional or artistic intelligence. 

Let’s take a bit of a deeper dive into what is meant by smart since this is actually not a settled matter among researchers, psychologists, and specialists. 

A frank look at different forms of intelligence 

The specific definition of intelligence is not something every expert and specialist agrees on.

In fact, the exact definition and correct understanding of what intelligence encompasses and how it can be measured is an ongoing debate in the scientific community and psychological field. 

There is no consensus about what intelligence means, but there are a number of widely-accepted conclusions about what it can mean in certain contexts. 

This includes: 

  • Learning from experience;
  • Problem-solving and conflict resolution;
  • Numerical and mathematical reasoning;
  • Verbal and literary comprehension and ability;
  • Spatial visualization and understanding of surroundings;
  • Associative memory and perceptual and comparative speed;
  • Emotional and social intelligence in navigating social situations and interactions.

There’s no doubt that a person who’s highly emotionally intelligent will be considered lacking in intelligence if they’re brought in to calculate and understand the physics behind construction of a massive new bridge. 

But by the same token, a brilliant engineer who’s good with numbers would also likely be found lacking in intelligence if brought in to participate for a semester in a high-level literary analysis course at Harvard. 

This shows how intelligence can partly be dependent on context and interpretation rather than just a blanket statement.

A look at influential theories of intelligence

IQ vs intelligence 1 Why your IQ score doesn't define your intelligence

Key theories of intelligence have arisen over time. 

In just the past 150 years, numerous influential ideas of what intelligence really means have come from social scientists and psychologists. 

These include some of the following influential theories.

General intelligence 

Charles Spearman (British psychological researcher) believed in general intelligence which he defined as overall cognitive ability and smarts able to be measured fairly similarly across various types of intelligence tests. 

Thurstone’s theory

Louis Thurstone (American psychologist) believed there were seven main components of true intelligence, namely:

  • Memory;
  • Mathematical ability;
  • Sorting differences and similarities;
  • Determining rules and exceptions via reasoning;
  • Spatial intelligence;
  • Verbal intelligence in being able to comprehend and analyze written or spoken material; 
  • Word fluency in being able to speak and express yourself well and fast. 

Multiple intelligences theory

Howard Gardner (American psychological researcher at Harvard) believes in the multiple intelligences theory. This holds that there are eight types of real-world intelligence that determine how smart somebody is, namely:

  • Physical intelligence in body movements and actions;
  • Social intelligence in navigating interpersonal relations; 
  • Self-awareness and consciousness in knowing what you believe and prioritize and why;
  • Logical and mathematical intelligence; 
  • Musical intelligence;
  • Understanding of nature and the natural environment; 
  • Spatial intelligence;
  • And verbal and linguistic intelligence. 

Sternberg’s ‘real-world’ intelligence

Robert Sternberg (Psychology Professor at Cornell) posits that intelligence is about solving and shaping “real-world environments” and that while there are different forms of intelligence he believed Gardner’s definitions had been too broad and included things that would more accurately be described as talents rather than particular forms of intelligence. 

Fluid vs. crystallized intelligence 

Raymon Cattell (British psychologist) and his protégé John Horn developed the idea that intelligence is all about a strong existence of both fluid and crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence means the ability to adapt and learn new things, while crystallized intelligence refers to an accrued amount of knowledge and understanding. 

IQ vs. Intelligence: the final verdict

IQ claims to be a comprehensive measure of somebody’s overall intelligence

The truth is that it is only one of many methods and theories for measuring the smartness of an individual

Theories of intelligence continue to evolve and develop along with humanity as a whole. 

IQ can tell you a lot about somebody’s intelligence level, but so can many other aspects of somebody’s life, skills and abilities. 

Indeed, as Valeria Sabater reminds us

“The man who coined the concept of IQ ended up being its biggest detractor. 

In fact, William Stern warned that classifying an individual’s mental aptitude should also take into account everything, from their emotions to their determination…

He was a defender of the philosophical theory of personalism, an approach that perceives the human being as a free and unique individual who has an inherent value just for being who they are.” 

Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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