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A person’s IQ is traditionally based off one’s score on an IQ test. If your test score is above 119, it is generally accepted that you have a comparatively high IQ.
I was recently part of a training program that helps children with learning disabilities increase their IQ. We doodled while the sessions went on, played games and chatted when the trainers looked away, but still managed to grasp the content of the workshop and perform well on the final test.
We were later informed that the organization training us made each of their employees go through this IQ test (an adult version) and only hired those who achieved an excellent score.
But wait a minute! Why were those people with extremely advanced IQ scores unable to hold our interest? More importantly, what is IQ anyways? Did us not paying attention have anything to do with our own IQs? What does a high score on these tests really imply?
What is intelligence?
Intelligence is the human mind’s ability to collect information and use it appropriately, but there is no consensus within the scientific community about what kind of information this constitutes. Some theorists believe that there is one intelligence that underlies all specific abilities, while others believe that there are multiple intelligences.
Charles Spearman, one of the early pioneers in the study of intelligence, said that there was a general intelligence that represented a person’s overall ability. This postulate was definitely backed by research, but there were plenty of loopholes and nuances. Louis Thurstone openly opposed Spearman and proposed that intelligence for each ability was different. For example, one could not predict a person’s mathematical ability based on their verbal ability.
Taking this concept forward, many theorists built on this and proposed various different theories. Howard Garner said that there were eight different intelligences—linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, special, musical, kinesthetic, and naturalistic. He based his idea on the existence of people with autism who had severe social deficits, but displayed a high or even virtuosic ability in a particular domain (remember Forrest Gump?).
Other theorists, such as Sternberg, were more general in their outlook and proposed that intelligence could be divided into three main areas—creative, analytical and practical abilities. Although these theories were incorporated into improving school performances or measuring student ability, the world needed a single number and a standardized measure to represent intelligence.
The first ever intelligence test was developed by Francis Dalton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. He based his test on trying to determine if differences in intelligence were due to the environment or if it was based on one’s genes. However, this test had various drawbacks and the testing areas did not correlate with one another.
Much later, Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon were commissioned to design a test to identify ‘mentally subnormal’ children in French schools. This test was a pioneering moment in intelligence testing and is still used as a baseline to this day. The Binet-Simon test became rather famous and widely accepted because of two factors that it introduced—mental age and standardization.
Mental age is the functioning age of a child or a person. That is, if a seven-year-old could pass all the items that a child of five could pass, then his mental age would be considered to be five, while his chronological age would be seven (you’ll see why this is important a bit later).
The next innovation was the concept of standardization. The final IQ score would be calculated by comparing one’s performance to others of their age, rather than a general number.
Binet’s concept of mental age was a critical moment of innovation, and paved the way towards determining a person’s intelligence quotient. William Stern told us that there was no point in only identifying a child’s mental age when there was nothing it could be compared to. Therefore, Stern compared a child’s mental age to their chronological age in order to guess his intelligence. Thus, if a child of ten had a mental age of eight, then he was below average; if his mental age was ten, he was average; and if his mental age was greater than ten, he was considered above average.
Lewis Terman finally called this an ‘intelligence quotient’ and presented the world with the concept of IQ. He revised the concept slightly and made IQ a percentage measure.
The final formula now used to calculate IQ is MA/CA*100, where MA is mental age and CA is chronological age.
This approach works until an individual reaches the age of 17 or 18, but beyond that, it gives a rather skewed perspective. A more statistical approach was then adopted, where scores were converted into set scores to determine the final IQ score.
Currently, the Wechsler Scales, the Binet Kamet Test of Intelligence, MISIC, Raven’s Progressive Matrices etc., are used to assess IQ. The questions on these scales are different for children and for adults. These tests are composed of various subtests. For example, Wechsler’s consists of Information, Digit Span, Vocabulary, Arithmetic, Comprehension, Similarities, Picture Completion, Picture Design, Object Assembly, and Digit Symbol sub-tests.
What is considered a high IQ?
When a person scores 120 or above on an IQ test, they are said to have a high IQ; in fact, they are called ‘gifted’. A person who is gifted can have various characteristics, like an unusually brilliant memory and alertness, is deeply intuitive, can solve problems beyond his age, or have a vast vocabulary. These characteristics vary between individuals.
It often happens that a student who is a daydreamer in class may be gifted, but is in a class that is not challenging enough to raise his curiosity or engage him effectively.
How can you increase IQ: 5 ways to improve your IQ score
Many people try to enhance their IQ scores. Though some studies claim that IQ is hereditary and is fairly stable throughout a person’s lifetime, others claim that it can be enhanced.
How, you ask? As we said earlier, IQ is a comprehensive score, so by increasing the factors that contribute to it, we can increase it on the whole.
Education – Some studies suggest that the more time we spend in school or in the process of learning something, the more we can increase our IQ.
Exercise – This is more of a biological reason. Working out increases blood flow to the brain, which means an increase in oxygen. This causes the brain to be more active and its cognitive skills are generally enhanced.
Learning a new language – Learning a second language causes the brain to use its thinking skills, associating skills, memory and retrieval skills, as well as decision-making skills.
Meditation – We’ve all heard psychologists go on about the use of meditation, as the potential benefits of this practice are immense. Recent studies have indeed shown that meditating increases brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to regenerate. In turn, this increases our ability to retain information and boosts our overall cognitive ability.
Brain Training Programs – These programs, have been called out by many researchers as unreliable. They argue that once a person knows he is going to be “brain trained”, the hope of it working automatically boosts performance, similar to a placebo effect. That being said, many brain training programs do lead to a significant increase in a person’s performance, as they help people utilize more parts of the brain than normal.
Does ‘high IQ’ mean academic or professional success?
A high IQ is not a predictor of academic achievement or professional success. In fact, Richard Lobe and Nathan Leopold had IQs of 169 and 210; Jeffry Dahmer and Ted Bundy had IQ scores of 145 and 136, respectively (Source). If you’re wondering who these people are, they’re some of the world’s most ruthless serial killers. Lobe and Leopold believed that their ‘intellectual superiority’ helped them pull off their killing with at most ease. And it did, if not for their need to show off their crime.
Researcher Stephen Gourd believed that general intelligence was more of a mathematical artifact than anything else. Intelligence is definitely important, but rational thinking skills like judgement and decision-making are equally important, and intelligence scores do not encompass any of these areas.
If intelligence tests aren’t fully valid, then what’s the best way to determine intelligence? The “emotional quotient”, a person’s ability to understand one’s own emotions and those of others has recently been gaining attention in the psychological community. It has been able to predict one’s job performance, leadership skills and mental health. So now, we can’t help but wonder, is EQ the new IQ?