IQ Tests: The End All Be All of Intelligence?

Ryan Modafe

March 17, 2023

In a society that has evolved from a primal instinct to hunt and fight for survival, with strength and athleticism being most valued to one in which intellect proves to be a superior tool, there has been a constant need for quantification of such an attribute. Strength can be measured with how much weight one can lift, cardiac stamina can be measured with how long one can run, but intelligence has generally been a more qualitative characteristic. However, some psychologists have managed to develop a test which assesses multiple cognitive functions and gives a score based on a user’s performance on this exam. However, this test also known as the “intelligence quotient” revealing one’s “IQ” has become a buzzword thrown around and lost the true meaning of what it truly evaluates. 

In the early 1900s, French psychologist Alfred Binet developed the primordial stages of the IQ test known today. His mission was to develop a test which would help struggling students in France and identify their weaknesses. This cognitive test began to develop into a more widespread standardized test which came in many different forms. All of them had the end goal of evaluating one’s mental ability to logically reason and problem solve. This is where the number “100” came to be as a reference to average intelligence in respect to IQ tests. The general population’s level of intelligence falls in a range that is one standard deviation above or below the mean, meaning between 85 and 115 IQ points. While those with higher IQ points are generally seen as more intellectual and smarter, this does not fully encapsulate the outcome of an IQ test. 

A study conducted by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, showed astounding results in relation to what is typically associated with IQ tests. In fact, it repurposed the test for an entirely separate functionality. In two test groups all members took an IQ test, but, in one of the groups, a monetary reward was also brought up to incentivize higher performance. Lo and behold, this group scored significantly higher and proportionally higher to the amount of money they were offered as a reward. In groups which received negligible amounts like $1, there was little effect but those that received $10 or more had between 10 - 20 IQ point increases. So, IQ tests are just as much a test of motivation as they are of cognitive ability. It is this motivation which leads people to better careers and deems them as “smart” in our society. One cannot capitalize on high intellect without the hard work and diligence required to hone it and utilize it as an advantage. When one is gifted with this unique ability, they are given an advantage, a speed boost, to the finish line; but, they must still put in the work necessary to get to the finish line and succeed.