Intelligence measurement. IQ as an reliable predictor of success?

Term Paper, 2014

15 Pages, Grade: A






IQ in relation to success life

Supportive view on the IQ‘s predictive reliability

Critical view on the IQ‘s predictive reliability




This essay investigated the research question: To what extent is a person‘s IQ a reliable predictor of success in life?

It was essential to primarily discuss the definition of intelligence in relation to IQ with reference on its impact on success in life, whereby it was revealed that even amongst psychologists there is no agreed standard characterization of intelligence in humans as well as there is no consistent perception of success.

As intelligence measurement is such a disputed yet highly important psychometric paradigm to determine the future potential of an individual, this investigation analyses both supportive as well as critical views towards the IQ in terms of its reliability in predicting academic, professional, financial and social success while simultaneously considering its weaknesses and limitations.

The investigation of studies concerning the correlation of IQ and a likely college graduation or IQ and financial success has shown that IQ can in a certain way be predictive of success in life. However, the analysis of research that puts the predictive value of the IQ in a questionable position suggests that intelligence is not only context dependent and influenced by personality, but can also be expressed in different ways. Hence it seems justifiable that multiple forms of intelligences exist what proves the IQ to be a too one sided measurement of intelligence as it does not regard human personality and behavior as a whole.

In conclusion, the intelligence measured by IQ tests is a fairly accurate predictor of objective success in terms of academics and professional achievements. However, there is an individual sense of self-fulfillment which always relies on personal traits and motivation, hence the predictive validity should not be overestimated and regarded as the ultimate indicator of future success.


Intelligence testing plays currently a significant role in judging a person‘s suitability for certain positions. Universities looking for the best students as well as employers selecting the top candidate for a position often base their decision on a sole number referred to as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). This rigorous procedure affects the future of millions of people, closing doors to those who only achieved comparable low scores on the intelligence tests in question. Regarding the significance that is given to the IQ in life important decisions, it seems ironic that there is still great discrepancy amongst psychologists what intelligence tests actually measure as there is to date no standard definition of intelligence.

Typically, intelligence can be described as “the ability for complex thinking and reasoning“( Ceci, 2001, p.47). However every human being behaves individually and therefore intelligence can be expressed in different ways. Regarding the fact that Duckworth ( 2011) describes the purpose of IQ as to “measure performance of individuals on tests designed to assess intelligence“ (p.7716), it seems contradictory that this “manifest variable“ is supposed to indicate such a latent and multidimensional occurrence as intelligence in order to predict a standardized version of success, which is also a individually interpretable term. The controversy of whether a person‘s overall intelligence can be expressed by a single IQ score, in addition to the vague nature of success, give some limitations to the investigation of the IQ‘s reliability in predicting success in life.

Undeniably, the IQ as an indicator of one‘s cognitive ability does play a certain role in the decision for a career path and thereby professional success. According to Goleman ( 2013), for the pursuit of higher professions such as medicine or finance, an IQ that is approximately a standard deviation among the norm, namely 115 or higher, is required. Nonetheless, once people are set in this range a higher IQ does not necessarily entail an outstanding performance or more professional success as everybody in their surrounding is as smart as they are. That is a point where not mere academic but rather emotional intelligence is valuable in order to compete successfully in life.

According to Gardner ( 2011) an “intelligence test does predict one‘s ability to handle school subjects, though it foretells little of success in later life“ (p.3) This statement is based on the theory that schools predominantly focus on teaching mathematical and linguistic skills, hence students who are well trained in those skills also perform well on IQ tests. Nevertheless, not every student is the same, and those who are extraordinarily gifted in rather creative or social tasks clearly have a disadvantage in IQ tests whereas they might still be successful in the future.

In the light of the research question : “To what extent is a person‘s IQ a reliable predictor of success in life?“, this essay will explore in what way cognitive ability correlates with academic, professional, financial and social achievements. Hence, it will be argued that the IQ can be objectively an accurate indicator of successful performance, however it becomes evident that other factors such as personal motivation play a key role so that the predictive value of IQ should not be overestimated.

2. IQ in relation to success in life

IQ scores are given great importance when predicting an individuals life outcomes, ranging from academic performance as a student to professional success in adulthood.

While the intelligence testing developed in 1911 by the French psychologist Alfred Binet was originally intended to identify those children who were in need for special education, it soon became a widely applied practice to classify individuals concerning their cognitive ability ( Locurto, 1991, p.13).

One problem entailed by intelligence measurement is that some assume that intelligence can be equally measured like physical quantities, however it is not as simple as that ( Howe, 1997, p.4). Given that physical measurements are based on precise definitions and adjusted to scientific scales, intelligence tests are a rather subjective matter. It is disputable to what extent physical and psychological experiments can be approached in the same way ( Howe, 1997, p.5). According to Wechsler, there exists no natural unit in which intelligence could be measured, therefore it is not possible to define a zero point for a scale ( Bartholomew, 2004, p.16). This again leads to the problem that the vague classification of intelligence impedes an accurate comparison between people in terms of their intelligence. Consequently it is difficult to draw clear conclusions and give accurate predictions based on a sole number, that is supposed to indicate a person‘s potential for success.

Another factor that complicates a mere scientific approach of the issue is the subjective nature of success as every human being defines and experiences it individually. Forms of success that most people aspire can be found in academic and professional achievements, as well as in wealth and a diverse social life. However, there are also objective values such as happiness or self-fulfillment that are experienced in various ways but should not be neglected in the characterization of a successful person.

According to Firkowska-Mankiewicz ( 2002), a person‘s intelligence largely builds upon “a complex system of bio-psycho-sociocultural factors“ that are enhanced by one‘s personal socioeconomic background (p.26). However not every individual is exposed to the same conditions as some are more privileged with their environment than others. Given that the IQ is partly depended on exterior factors while it is supposed to measure humankind's general intelligence it can be argued that some people have an advantage in those tests and thus a more promising prediction for future success what in turn is motivating to pursue.

Moreover, while intelligence is said to affect one‘s position in the social structure in the future, one‘s position in education and job in turn affects the intellectual capability ( FirkowskaMankiewicz , 2002, p.26). This reverse relationship emphasizes that both intelligence and success are influenced by the person‘s environment, so that IQ as a predictor of success might disadvantage those with a less fortunate background.

Gardner ( 2011) argues that a person‘s performance can be related to its cultural environment, the quality of the education, the pressure of one‘s parents as well as the provided opportunities within one‘s life (p.17).

Considering all these influences, research has shown that IQ scores may vary up to 15 points on different IQ tests that are conducted by independent psychologists which shows the widely interpretable nature of IQ tests ( Strydom & du Plessis, p.4).

3. Supportive view on the IQ‘s predictive reliability

Despite all controversies, there is evidence that individuals with a higher IQ do in fact better in school because they are more likely to graduate from college compared to those with a lower IQ. Locurto ( 1991) supports this claim with a study conducted in Wisconsin with a group of male high school seniors in the 1950s whose likelihood for college graduation was investigated regarding their IQ and social class. Both factors clearly contributed to success in higher education. On the whole it became apparent that as IQ increased, so did the likelihood for graduation, namely from 3 percent for low IQ students to 47 percent for those with a high IQ. Regarding the impact of IQ on a likely graduation within in the same social class demonstrates that IQ alone has a considerable effect (p. 96). Analyzing the data within the highest social class the study reveals that students with a low IQ only had a 10 percent chance of graduating while 64 percent of high IQ students were likely to finish college. The same upwards trend is evident while examining only the lowest social class, however in smaller dimensions as the likelihood rises from 0.3 percent for low IQ students to 20 percent for high IQ students (p.183). This result suggests that even though social class has an impact on educational success, the level of IQ seems to play the crucial role that differs successful graduates from less successful ones. In fact, a high social class might enable access to a more sophisticated level of educational opportunities whereas it is the IQ that eventually reflects a person‘s own academic competences that appear to decide about a successful graduation (p.96). Therefore, “a child‘s IQ in itself is a predictor of eventual success, quite apart from that child‘s social class“ (p.97).

Furthermore, IQ scores are proven to be predictive of real world success in terms of income, because people with a higher level of cognitive ability tend to earn more compared to those with a lower cognitive ability level. One might argue that the income is largely dependent on the schooling one has completed. According to Ceci ( 2001) this is true to the extend that for example “college graduates earn $812,000 more than high school dropouts“ over their lifetime (p.52). However within every level of schooling the intellectual ability also varies, therefore the level of schooling one has completed cannot be the only deciding factor for the level of income. Ceci ( 2001) further refers to a study from 1992 which examined the weekly wages of workers from three different completed schooling levels, ranging from high school over two years college to four years college. The participants were classified by their cognitive ability levels ranging from one to five, where one was the lowest IQ level and five the highest.


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Intelligence measurement. IQ as an reliable predictor of success?
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Stefanie Mücka (Author), 2014, Intelligence measurement. IQ as an reliable predictor of success?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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