Computers and Technology

What Does IQ Really Measure?

Kids who do better on IQ tests tend to do better in other areas of their lives as well, such as doing well in school, making money, staying healthy, and living a long time. Should that be because they are smarter? Not all the time. A new study says that a child’s IQ score can show how driven they are to do well on a test. And using that drive could be just as important for future success as having so-called “native intelligence.”

What Does IQ Really Measure?

There has been a lot of discussion for a long time about what IQ tests really measure and whether differences in normal IQ scores. L like those between racial and ethnic groups, show differences in intelligence, differences in social and economic factors, or both. The Bell Curve, written by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray and published in 1994, brought the debate to a lot of people’s attention. It said that the lower average IQ scores of some racial groups, like African Americans and Hispanics, were mostly because of genetic differences between those groups and Caucasian groups. A lot of experts don’t agree with that point of view. In his 2009 book “Intelligence and How to Get It,” Richard Nisbett, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, said that differences in IQ scores don’t matter much when we take social and economic issues into account.

Thoughts from psychologists

A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania named Angela Lee Duckworth led a new study that was published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study looks at how drive affects how well people do on IQ tests at People who are taking these kinds of tests put in their best effort. However, past studies have shown that not everyone does. A lot of research has shown that people do much better on IQ and other cognitive tests when they can get money if they do well.

Duckworth and her team did two studies, both of which are reported in today’s paper. They wanted to find out more about how drive affects both IQ test scores and the ability of IQ tests to predict life success. First, they did a “meta-analysis” that put together the results of 46 earlier studies that looked at how money could affect IQ scores. These studies included more than 2,000 test-takers. The money prizes were anywhere from less than $1 to $10 or more. They also use a statistical measure called Hedge’s g to show how much the rewards affected IQ scores. Values less than 0.2 are thought to be small, values between 0.5 and 0.7 are thought to be large.

The average effect

Duckworth’s team discovered that the average effect was 0.64. This is about 10 points on a scale of 100 for IQ. This effect stayed higher than 0.5 even after three studies with unusually high g values were thrown out. Also, the effect of money rewards on IQ scores got a lot stronger as the prize got bigger. As a result, rewards greater than $10 had g values greater than 1.6. This is about the same as more than 20 IQ points. The rewards less than $1 were only tenth as successful.

Duckworth and her coworkers looked at data from a previous study of more than 500 boys from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The University of Wisconsin, Madison team in the late 1980s tested their IQs. The boys, who were about 12.5 years old on average, were videotaped while they took the IQ test. After the test, people who knew how to spot signs of boredom and lack of motivation, like yawning, putting their heads on the table, or looking around the room a lot, watched the videos and gave the boys motivation scores.

Researches implemented

Researchers kept track of the boys over time. When they were young adults (average age 24), 251 of them agreed to take the interview about their school and work experiences. There were no differences in IQ or other important factors between the boys who took part and those who didn’t.

Duckworth’s team looked at the earlier studies’ findings to see what they said about the link between drive, IQ, and success in life. By using a number of computer models to look at the data, the team discovered that higher motivation was a big reason for the changes in IQ scores and for how well IQ predicted future success. Like, up to 84% of the differences between the boys in how many years of school they had finished or whether they had been able to find a job were due to differences in how motivated they were. The differences in how well they did in school as teens, on the other hand, were only about 25% due to changes in motivation. The researchers say that this shows that natural intelligence still plays a big role in both IQ scores and how well people do in school.


Still, the Duckworth team comes to the conclusion that IQ tests measure more than just raw ability. They also measure how badly people want to do well on the test and in life. But Duckworth and her colleagues warn that motivation isn’t everything. They write that the fact that motivation doesn’t play a big part in academic success. This also suggests that “getting a high IQ score requires high intelligence in addition to high motivation.”

“The study has important policy implications for social policy,” says Duckworth. “I hope that social scientists, educators, and policy makers turn a more critical eye to any kind of measure, intelligence or otherwise,” she says. She also addsthat how hard people work “could be as important to success in life as intellectual ability itself.” It’s not just IQ tests that should decide who gets into programs for “gifted and talented” kids, says Duckworth. It should also be based on “who wants to do the work.”

Key things

Nisbett also agrees that the study is “tremendously important in what it means.””Key” things are motivation and self-discipline, says Nisbett. “A high IQ and a subway token will only get you into town.”

Lex Borghans is an economist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He has also looked into the link between IQ tests and economic success. He says that the new report proves that “both personality and intelligence matter.” Borghans says that “there might be other routes to success” even if Native intelligence can’t be raised.

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