Should You Know Your IQ?

As I mentioned in this post about things I’ve changed my mind on, one of them is IQ. I used to believe that IQ was unimportant or overly simplified. But I’ve since been educated against my prejudice—it is a very successful psychometric and has impressive predictive power.

Still, after accepting the usefulness of a general measurement for intelligence, I still don’t want to know my own value. I’m not sure why, I just get a squicky feeling when I think of reducing my own cognitive ability to a few digits.

Commenter Jay Cross summarizes his feelings against knowing your own IQ as well:

“Regarding IQ: while I fully concede that IQ matters, is predictive, and has value as a scientific concept, I don’t see any benefit to individuals knowing their own.

Seems to me it could only hurt. If it’s higher than you thought, you could become complacent. Lower, and you could get mired in self-doubt.”

I suspect that many (although certainly not all) of my readers share this aversion to taking an IQ test. Since it’s an issue I haven’t convinced myself of yet, instead of my typical stance where I phrase a question for the essay title and then proceed to argue heavily for one viewpoint, I’m going to open up the debate I’ve had with myself both for and against, and ask you to weigh in with your thoughts at the end.

Arguments for Knowing Your Own IQ

IQ is predictive of a wide range of life outcomes: academic achievement, income, productivity, and even whether you’ll commit crimes or not. IQ is also fairly stable and heritable. While the interpretations on that are somewhat murky, it does suggest taking the test isn’t going to give you terrible information about your cognitive ability.

In general, having more knowledge about your ability is important. It can be crucial information to help you decide whether to strive or settle, by altering the percentage likelihood of success for certain goals.

If you knew, for instance, that working your hardest at a starting a business, graduating college or becoming a physicist would have an 80% or only 8% chance of success that might change your decision. While taking an IQ test may not give you exact figures, it does give you more information. Theoretically, at least, that should make it easier to make important life decisions.

Consider an analogy: you want to become a professional basketball player. One important piece of stable, heritable information that is very important for that decision is your height. Scott Alexander explains the wild bias towards tallness in basketball in terms of your chances of being in the NBA for a given height:

“34% of the US male population is 5’9 to 6’0, so about 54 million men. There are 5 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 11 million people of this height is in the NBA.

13.5% of the US male population is 6’0 to 6’3, so about 21 million men. There are 40 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 500,000 people of this height is in the NBA.

2.35% of the US male population is 6’3 to 6’6, so about 4 million men. There are 95 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 40,000 people of this height is in the NBA.

0.15% of the US male population is 6’6 to 6’9, so about 200,000 men. There are 130 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 1,500 people of this height is in the NBA.

0.003% of the US male population is 6’9 to 7’0, so about 5,000 men. There are 160 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 30 people of this height is in the NBA.”

The analysis breaks down at the extreme ends of the distribution where slight deviations from the normal distribution in height are more apparent. But, in the middle (where most of us are in terms of height) this analysis holds pretty well.

If you can imagine we lived in a world where people didn’t automatically know how tall they were, you might seriously consider taking a height test before devoting years of your life trying to make it into the NBA.

So if knowing how tall you are would be the obvious thing to do if you plan on entering a height-dominated field, why do we feel squicky about knowing our IQ given how many life goals we work on depend on it?

Arguments Against Knowing Your Own IQ

As Jay Cross mentioned earlier, a big worry people might have is that if they know their IQ is high, that will make them complacent so they won’t work very hard and reach their potential. If they know it is low, that will discourage them from trying, and so they won’t work hard and reach their potential.

We know that effort is an important factor in succeeding at anything, and we seem to put more effort in precisely when the outcome seems to depend on it. If our IQ is largely genetic and predicts the outcomes we’ll have in life, it may feel like the outcomes have been decided in advance. If they have, why bother trying?

The obvious counterargument for this is simple: even if IQ is predictive, it doesn’t perfectly predict outcomes. There’s still plenty of room for chance, effort and the million other things in life we can’t imagine to influence your outcomes. Even if you know your IQ, therefore, you’ll still want to try hard.

The argument against knowing your IQ therefore has to explain why we seem to have trouble keeping it in that perspective.

One way to think of it is that people have a tendency to over-explain their lives in terms of signals with weak or non-existent predictive power. Think of astrology. People throw themselves to believe that they are totally a Gemini or Libra because of the month they were born, and explain everything from their personality to the events of their life through that lens.

If it isn’t horoscopes, it’s the modern pseudoscientific equivalent: personality tests. While some tests have scientific support, the incredibly popular Myers-Briggs test is essentially a sciencey-sounding horoscope. Still, people love taking the tests and viewing their behavior as being totally INTJ, ENFP, HYZX or whatever.

Given that IQ tests actually do have predictive power, I think it’s a reasonable worry that people might fetishize it in the same way. Rather than treat it as a source of partial information that can adjust the mental percentages you weigh to particular outcomes, which seems to be difficult to do intellectually, people switch to explaining everything in terms of their IQ just as people currently do with bogus horoscopes or Jungian personality tests.

Another possible argument is that the issue isn’t with IQ, but our conception of it as being fixed. Studies show that IQ’s heritability increases with age. One explanation for this is simply that environmental variables can push our IQ around a lot in early childhood, but eventually we settle onto our truer inherited value.

But another explanation is that IQ works through positive feedback. People who are a bit smarter when they’re younger (because of genetics) enjoy learning and cognitively demanding tasks more. By doing more of those tasks, they increase their IQ over time, widening the gap between them and those who didn’t like learning and cognitively difficult tasks.

In this second explanation, some of the perceived heritability of intelligence wouldn’t come just from having better mental hardware, but because enjoying the type of activities that increase intelligence is also heritable.

I’m not sure the split of evidence in favor of these two interpretations, or their relative prominence. But if the second one is a factor, then effort matters in your eventual intelligence. In this case, you might want to learn your IQ, assuming you adopt the perspective that it’s a partially trainable quality (like muscular strength) and not a mostly fixed on (like height).

A final argument against knowing could be that we already have good knowledge about our intellectual abilities and that IQ, far from adding more predictive power, actually distracts us because it is a cruder measurement than our own prior experiences (but has greater perceived legitimacy).

Most students know whether they’re good at school or not. So why not trust your dozens of years in an academic institution for guidance on whether you should go to college or what to major in, rather than a test that took only a few hours? Certainly that private experience not only includes details of your general cognitive ability but the many other factors that influence academic success (such as work ethic, habits, conscientiousness and interest).

From a rational, Bayesian perspective, more information can never hurt. However it may be that knowing a cruder instrument that has high perceived legitimacy, might cause you to exaggeratedly update your prior beliefs. Since we generally already have immense personal experience with cognitive tasks of different sorts, IQ would then appear to only offer information to the outside perspective where statisticians and psychologists can’t access our own intuitions and instead need to rely on hard numbers.

Still, all these arguments seem to weigh more in favor of taking IQ lightly, rather than ignoring it altogether.

Idiosyncratic Reasons for Ignorance

Ultimately I’m not sure. In presenting reasons for knowing or not knowing IQ, I feel like those on the side of knowing present a somewhat more convincing case. But I still can’t shake the gut aversion I have to taking an IQ test.

Maybe I have my own personal reasons for not wanting to take the test which would apply more to me than to others. After all, I’ve built a blog and following around learning accomplishments. If I took an IQ test and publicized it, what would that mean? If I have a higher-than-expected IQ, it might make it easy to dismiss the efforts I put in and the efforts other people put in who try to follow those projects. If I have a lower-than-expected IQ, it might undermine myself as a writer (who wants to listen to someone who isn’t very smart?).

My instinct, despite all the rational discussion I’ve presented is to ignore it and continue working on learning projects exactly as I have been before.

What do you think about knowing your IQ? Do you feel persuaded that it’s something worth knowing or ignoring? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • Satvik Beri

    Height tests also help you choose between options: if you’re short and athletic, that suggests you probably shouldn’t go for basketball, but there are still many other sports you could go for.

    The problem with just IQ, as a number, is that it doesn’t give you enough information to make practical choices. It would be very useful to know that, say, your mathematical talent is much, much higher than your verbal talent. This would be especially useful for people who are good at both and so didn’t have much evidence either way growing up. On the other hand, since IQ affects a broad range of occupations and choices, just knowing your IQ doesn’t really help you choose between them.

  • Satvik Beri

    Height tests also help you choose between options: if you’re short and athletic, that suggests you probably shouldn’t go for basketball, but there are still many other sports you could go for.

    The problem with just IQ, as a number, is that it doesn’t give you enough information to make practical choices. It would be very useful to know that, say, your mathematical talent is much, much higher than your verbal talent. This would be especially useful for people who are good at both and so didn’t have much evidence either way growing up. On the other hand, since IQ affects a broad range of occupations and choices, just knowing your IQ doesn’t really help you choose between them.

  • Josh

    I am actually dealing with this same issue myself. I feel like I should discount the fact that I feel like I shouldn’t find out about it as biasing me against doing what a rational agent would do. I also feel like since I have demonstrated reliably in the past that I enjoy exercising my current intellect, even though I don’t know what it is exactly in IQ, that knowing won’t really change my feelings toward intellectual work. This generalization might help others thinking about the issue, if you don’t like studying/ playing chess/ etc… then don’t expect learning your IQ to help you much to increase your motivation to do those things.

  • Josh

    I am actually dealing with this same issue myself. I feel like I should discount the fact that I feel like I shouldn’t find out about it as biasing me against doing what a rational agent would do. I also feel like since I have demonstrated reliably in the past that I enjoy exercising my current intellect, even though I don’t know what it is exactly in IQ, that knowing won’t really change my feelings toward intellectual work. This generalization might help others thinking about the issue, if you don’t like studying/ playing chess/ etc… then don’t expect learning your IQ to help you much to increase your motivation to do those things.

  • The largest problem with IQ are people’s misconceptions about the predictions it makes. While we see correlations between higher IQ and many positive qualities, this ignores many of the negatives.

    Those with very high IQs often have difficulty forming relationships, they feel isolated, and they can experience depression just as anyone else and often more so. They have fewer peers and fewer suitable mates simply because there are few people statistically similar to them.

    Knowing your IQ is only useful in that you have a good understanding of what it really means and what it really predicts. For some it may be a relief which explains some of their experiences, for others it may be meaningless.

    Finding out that you have a higher than expected IQ is no more likely to make you lazy than having the experience of a high IQ where things come to you easily.

    On the flip side, many people who do poorly in school and may be told there is something wrong with them often have very high IQs. This knowledge may change the perception of themselves to a more positive and also more accurate picture of their own capability.

  • Allen

    The largest problem with IQ are people’s misconceptions about the predictions it makes. While we see correlations between higher IQ and many positive qualities, this ignores many of the negatives.

    Those with very high IQs often have difficulty forming relationships, they feel isolated, and they can experience depression just as anyone else and often more so. They have fewer peers and fewer suitable mates simply because there are few people statistically similar to them.

    Knowing your IQ is only useful in that you have a good understanding of what it really means and what it really predicts. For some it may be a relief which explains some of their experiences, for others it may be meaningless.

    Finding out that you have a higher than expected IQ is no more likely to make you lazy than having the experience of a high IQ where things come to you easily.

    On the flip side, many people who do poorly in school and may be told there is something wrong with them often have very high IQs. This knowledge may change the perception of themselves to a more positive and also more accurate picture of their own capability.

  • kipki

    Research on future outcomes based on IQ differences is only significant for large differences in IQ (at least 20-30 points difference, the typical range used to group people in population segments). And if you are honest with yourself (or ask someone who know you well) you know in which ball park you play or to which group you belong. There is no need to know a more specific number as it will trigger all the unwanted psychological effects you listed in your article.

    By the way, I think that the honest assessment of a mentor/teacher who has worked with you over an extended period would be far more informative to predict future outcomes than any standardized test can do, as the latter always takes a limited amount of variables into account. After all, such a personal assessment would normally also include a rough estimation of your general intelligence, which is more than sufficient.

  • kipki

    Research on future outcomes based on IQ differences is only significant for large differences in IQ (at least 20-30 points difference, the typical range used to group people in population segments). And if you are honest with yourself (or ask someone who know you well) you know in which ball park you play or to which group you belong. There is no need to know a more specific number as it will trigger all the unwanted psychological effects you listed in your article.

    By the way, I think that the honest assessment of a mentor/teacher who has worked with you over an extended period would be far more informative to predict future outcomes than any standardized test can do, as the latter always takes a limited amount of variables into account. After all, such a personal assessment would normally also include a rough estimation of your general intelligence, which is more than sufficient.

  • Astrapto

    Scott, doesn’t it come down to “squickiness”?

    Sure, knowing your IQ might cause cognitive bias, just like astrology; but you’re too smart to believe in astrology, right? Did that stop you from learning your zodiac sign?
    If you want to live the most reasonable life, shouldn’t you chase your biases and bust ’em up, rather than run in fear? Like in Harry Potter: fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself. Instead of running from potential bias, why not confront it so you can overcome it?

    That’s why it comes down to “squickiness,” and I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to let vague feelings of discomfort stop me from pursuing the most reasonable life I’ve always wanted; not in education, not in learning foreign languages, and not in learning a magical integer that ultimately has no psychological power over me.

  • Astrapto

    Scott, doesn’t it come down to “squickiness”?

    Sure, knowing your IQ might cause cognitive bias, just like astrology; but you’re too smart to believe in astrology, right? Did that stop you from learning your zodiac sign?
    If you want to live the most reasonable life, shouldn’t you chase your biases and bust ’em up, rather than run in fear? Like in Harry Potter: fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself. Instead of running from potential bias, why not confront it so you can overcome it?

    That’s why it comes down to “squickiness,” and I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to let vague feelings of discomfort stop me from pursuing the most reasonable life I’ve always wanted; not in education, not in learning foreign languages, and not in learning a magical integer that ultimately has no psychological power over me.

  • Rashid

    All a person should know regarding IQ are the ways to improve it and to be in the loop on the recent studies that have to do with raising IQ. Any sort of thoughts beyond that are just negative and useless. I used to obsess over IQ and it was a complete and utter waste of my time. I want good relationships and good stable job with enough income to have a very high degree of freedom. That’s all I need to be happy, having a super high IQ doesn’t give me happiness on a silver platter.

    If you’re in extremely taxing cognitive fields like physics, it’s beneficial in the sense that it gives you a sense of proportion. But people should focus on enjoying their work instead of doing it to gain a certain outcome (a Nobel Prize). I want to have a super high IQ, but it’s not an end, just a means to an end. I can get that end(happiness) without the means.

  • Rashid

    All a person should know regarding IQ are the ways to improve it and to be in the loop on the recent studies that have to do with raising IQ. Any sort of thoughts beyond that are just negative and useless. I used to obsess over IQ and it was a complete and utter waste of my time. I want good relationships and good stable job with enough income to have a very high degree of freedom. That’s all I need to be happy, having a super high IQ doesn’t give me happiness on a silver platter.

    If you’re in extremely taxing cognitive fields like physics, it’s beneficial in the sense that it gives you a sense of proportion. But people should focus on enjoying their work instead of doing it to gain a certain outcome (a Nobel Prize). I want to have a super high IQ, but it’s not an end, just a means to an end. I can get that end(happiness) without the means.

  • jcmets4112

    Jay Cross here. (For some reason I cannot comment with my name right now.)

    This was a great post and gave me a lot to think about.

    Three initial thoughts come to mind:

    1) If the IQ floor in my field was as stark as the height statistics of NBA players, I would 100% want to know.

    Maybe it *is* that stark. But I cannot say for sure.

    Absent that clarity, I think the higher perceived legitimacy of IQ relative to one’s own experiences poses too great a risk.

    2) Your sentence “From a rational, Bayesian perspective, more information can never hurt” cuts to the core of my rather-not-know position. Looking at life from a rational, Bayesian perspective is hard for humans to do. We retreat from it under stress. Or when we feel threatened.

    It feels like a roll of the psychological dice to hope I can always view my score rationally.

    3) Maybe this is better framed as a case-by-case question. For instance, if you are happy with your career, don’t feel held back, and are clearly not struggling…what’s the point? If you *are* struggling, then ask: am I struggling for lack of effort, lack of knowledge, or lack of brainpower?

    If it’s lack of effort, put in the effort. If it’s lack of knowledge, get that knowledge.

    If you are STILL struggling after closing effort and knowledge gaps, then you can safely wonder if IQ is the limiting factor and take the test.

  • jcmets4112

    Jay Cross here. (For some reason I cannot comment with my name right now.)

    This was a great post and gave me a lot to think about.

    Three initial thoughts come to mind:

    1) If the IQ floor in my field was as stark as the height statistics of NBA players, I would 100% want to know.

    Maybe it *is* that stark. But I cannot say for sure.

    Absent that clarity, I think the higher perceived legitimacy of IQ relative to one’s own experiences poses too great a risk.

    2) Your sentence “From a rational, Bayesian perspective, more information can never hurt” cuts to the core of my rather-not-know position. Looking at life from a rational, Bayesian perspective is hard for humans to do. We retreat from it under stress. Or when we feel threatened.

    It feels like a roll of the psychological dice to hope I can always view my score rationally.

    3) Maybe this is better framed as a case-by-case question. For instance, if you are happy with your career, don’t feel held back, and are clearly not struggling…what’s the point? If you *are* struggling, then ask: am I struggling for lack of effort, lack of knowledge, or lack of brainpower?

    If it’s lack of effort, put in the effort. If it’s lack of knowledge, get that knowledge.

    If you are STILL struggling after closing effort and knowledge gaps, then you can safely wonder if IQ is the limiting factor and take the test.

  • Christine Isabel

    As someone who was always considered to be highly intelligent, although a lazy individual, finding out that my IQ was average or only slightly above average (115) was very depressing to be honest. Ever since, I’ve become kind of obsessed with ways of improving iq, only to discover that it is virtually impossible to do so in adolescence/early aduldhood. My academic life has been suffering as I simply lost the motivation to learn new stuff, mostly due to inferiority complex. The fact that my colleagues still think of me as some super-smart girl that picks up stuff easily doesn’t help either. In reality, I’m just different, not more intelligent than the others. – This has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been reading up on various learning methods that Scott teaches here, using mnemonics and stuff…

    So yeah, in my opinion, it entirely depends on how highly one values iq. Personally, knowing the score has done me no good. I would have much preferred to live in ignorance, believing that it was my lack of discipline and perseverance that prevented me from scoring top grades in med school.

  • Christine Isabel

    As someone who was always considered to be highly intelligent, although a lazy individual, finding out that my IQ was average or only slightly above average (115) was very depressing to be honest. Ever since, I’ve become kind of obsessed with ways of improving iq, only to discover that it is virtually impossible to do so in adolescence/early aduldhood. My academic life has been suffering as I simply lost the motivation to learn new stuff, mostly due to inferiority complex. The fact that my colleagues still think of me as some super-smart girl that picks up stuff easily doesn’t help either. In reality, I’m just different, not more intelligent than the others. – This has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been reading up on various learning methods that Scott teaches here, using mnemonics and stuff…

    So yeah, in my opinion, it entirely depends on how highly one values iq. Personally, knowing the score has done me no good. I would have much preferred to live in ignorance, believing that it was my lack of discipline and perseverance that prevented me from scoring top grades in med school.

  • I took an IQ exam sometime when I was in high school because it was one of the class exercises we had to do. Mine was average, I guess. But that is fairly unimportant to me because during those years I was always in the top 5 in class standing. That is because of pride. I studied hard to do well. I thought I must be among the brightest in class. Later on in life, that penchant for studying served me well. As a graduate from mechanical engineering, i had to evolve into acquiring a working knowledge about pneumatics, electronics and automation. And now I am learning how to be a great writer. Is it IQ or just wanting to excel?

  • Joseph Dabon

    I took an IQ exam sometime when I was in high school because it was one of the class exercises we had to do. Mine was average, I guess. But that is fairly unimportant to me because during those years I was always in the top 5 in class standing. That is because of pride. I studied hard to do well. I thought I must be among the brightest in class. Later on in life, that penchant for studying served me well. As a graduate from mechanical engineering, i had to evolve into acquiring a working knowledge about pneumatics, electronics and automation. And now I am learning how to be a great writer. Is it IQ or just wanting to excel?

  • Scott Young

    I’m not sure simply translating “squickiness” to fear and then using the maxim “fear = bad, therefore bravery” is necessarily the best way of looking at this issue though.

  • Scott Young

    I’m not sure simply translating “squickiness” to fear and then using the maxim “fear = bad, therefore bravery” is necessarily the best way of looking at this issue though.

  • Astrapto

    Okay, but don’t you agree that confronting potential bias to overcome is a better way than running from it because of vague feelings of discomfort?

  • KoinToss

    As much as it may pain us, we should absolutely know our IQ. We shouldn’t favour ignorance because we don’t yet have good coping mechanisms for the truth.

    The problem is when, not if, we should know our IQ. Being told my IQ at 10 years old would have been disastrous for the reasons you’ve already mentioned, Scott. I think it’s best to wait around 18 years of age and older to know one’s IQ, that is, after we’ve had time to realise and appreciate the importance of effort in reaching our potential.

    IQ is measured regardless of whether one sits a formal IQ test, since IQ is positively correlated to academic ability, we’re all subconsciously aware of our ability throughout our school career anyway.

    And Scott, I think you absolutely should publicise your IQ. Knowing what you now know, I think it’s dishonest to implicitly continue attributing your successes to your productivity systems and learning techniques. Yes, I’m assuming your IQ is high than average, which is what 99% of your blog readers assume anyway.

  • KoinToss

    As much as it may pain us, we should absolutely know our IQ. We shouldn’t favour ignorance because we don’t yet have good coping mechanisms for the truth.

    The problem is when, not if, we should know our IQ. Being told my IQ at 10 years old would have been disastrous for the reasons you’ve already mentioned, Scott. I think it’s best to wait around 18 years of age and older to know one’s IQ, that is, after we’ve had time to realise and appreciate the importance of effort in reaching our potential.

    IQ is measured regardless of whether one sits a formal IQ test, since IQ is positively correlated to academic ability, we’re all subconsciously aware of our ability throughout our school career anyway.

    And Scott, I think you absolutely should publicise your IQ. Knowing what you now know, I think it’s dishonest to implicitly continue attributing your successes to your productivity systems and learning techniques. Yes, I’m assuming your IQ is high than average, which is what 99% of your blog readers assume anyway.

  • jcmets4112

    “I think it’s dishonest to implicitly continue attributing your successes to your productivity systems and learning techniques.”

    Are you saying that a higher-than-average IQ is sufficient to explain Scott’s success?

  • jcmets4112

    “I think it’s dishonest to implicitly continue attributing your successes to your productivity systems and learning techniques.”

    Are you saying that a higher-than-average IQ is sufficient to explain Scott’s success?

  • KoinToss

    No.

    When someone says “Look guys, I did MIT Maths course in a week and here’s the productivity systems and learning techniques I used”, we’re lead to implicitly discount the native intelligence of the person and assume it’s all in his methods.

    Analogously, it’s like a good looking tall guy saying “Look guys, I seduced a super model within 30 minutes and here’s the pickup lines I used”. I’m sure the pickup lines streamlined the process, perhaps had an additive effect, but let’s not discount the largest innate contributing factor: his looks.

  • KoinToss

    No.

    When someone says “Look guys, I did MIT Maths course in a week and here’s the productivity systems and learning techniques I used”, we’re lead to implicitly discount the native intelligence of the person and assume it’s all in his methods.

    Analogously, it’s like a good looking tall guy saying “Look guys, I seduced a super model within 30 minutes and here’s the pickup lines I used”. I’m sure the pickup lines streamlined the process, perhaps had an additive effect, but let’s not discount the largest innate contributing factor: his looks.

  • Gregory Lewis

    As per others, I’m not really sure knowing your IQ gives you that much extra information you couldn’t have gotten through honest introspection.

    Precisely because IQ correlates so widely, it seems we can infer it pretty well from looking at other aspects of our lives: Did we do well in school (particularly, what about the standardized tests)? Do we earn a lot of money? Do our peers regard us as particularly intelligent? Obviously there will be exceptions to all of these broad associations, but I think when combined together they should provide an idea of ‘middle of the pack’, ‘below par’, ‘above average’ ‘very exceptional’. The precision of this sort of lay estimate may not be that much worse than the test-retest of an IQ test anyway.

    As noted elsewhere, although the correlations between IQ and (other stuff) are convincing, they are generally mild, and thus the precision for individual prediction even with perfect knowledge of IQ is similarly mild. There are cases of PhD’s with IQs of 90 (albeit rare), and extremely successful groups (doctors, academics, harvard undergrads) have IQ averages that are good but not exceptional (120-130) – and that these are averages implies the ‘floor’ would be even lower than this. Granted knowing your IQ can help for particularly ‘g-loaded’ aspirations if you score well below par for these aspirations: finding out you have an IQ of 110 should probably make you reconsider your plan to be a theoretical physicist, but (again) you surely would likely have had similar ‘non-IQ’ evidence of the same point (e.g. you need to be *really* good at physics to do theoretical physics full-time, yet I’m not even the top of the physics class at my high school).

    So apart from the worries of it ruining self esteem or complacency, the ‘upside’ isn’t that great compared to just being honest with oneself about where you stand. IQ may have value in cases where you don’t have good ‘lay signals’ of your intelligence (e.g. your schooling was ruined by adverse circumstances, substance addiction, or whatever), or if you suspect some sort of specific learning disability. IQ is predicated on the fact that for most people all their mental abilities converge: those who are better at math tend to be better at english, even those who have faster reaction times have a bigger working memory. If your brain is an exception to this trend, it might be worth knowing that, as it might offer insight as to how best to compensate for your weaknesses and exploit your strengths.

  • Gregory Lewis

    As per others, I’m not really sure knowing your IQ gives you that much extra information you couldn’t have gotten through honest introspection.

    Precisely because IQ correlates so widely, it seems we can infer it pretty well from looking at other aspects of our lives: Did we do well in school (particularly, what about the standardized tests)? Do we earn a lot of money? Do our peers regard us as particularly intelligent? Obviously there will be exceptions to all of these broad associations, but I think when combined together they should provide an idea of ‘middle of the pack’, ‘below par’, ‘above average’ ‘very exceptional’. The precision of this sort of lay estimate may not be that much worse than the test-retest of an IQ test anyway.

    As noted elsewhere, although the correlations between IQ and (other stuff) are convincing, they are generally mild, and thus the precision for individual prediction even with perfect knowledge of IQ is similarly mild. There are cases of PhD’s with IQs of 90 (albeit rare), and extremely successful groups (doctors, academics, harvard undergrads) have IQ averages that are good but not exceptional (120-130) – and that these are averages implies the ‘floor’ would be even lower than this. Granted knowing your IQ can help for particularly ‘g-loaded’ aspirations if you score well below par for these aspirations: finding out you have an IQ of 110 should probably make you reconsider your plan to be a theoretical physicist, but (again) you surely would likely have had similar ‘non-IQ’ evidence of the same point (e.g. you need to be *really* good at physics to do theoretical physics full-time, yet I’m not even the top of the physics class at my high school).

    So apart from the worries of it ruining self esteem or complacency, the ‘upside’ isn’t that great compared to just being honest with oneself about where you stand. IQ may have value in cases where you don’t have good ‘lay signals’ of your intelligence (e.g. your schooling was ruined by adverse circumstances, substance addiction, or whatever), or if you suspect some sort of specific learning disability. IQ is predicated on the fact that for most people all their mental abilities converge: those who are better at math tend to be better at english, even those who have faster reaction times have a bigger working memory. If your brain is an exception to this trend, it might be worth knowing that, as it might offer insight as to how best to compensate for your weaknesses and exploit your strengths.

  • lotusbubble

    I think one of the reasons it can be good to take an IQ test (that I don’t see discussed here) is the case of learning disorders/disabilities.

    One thing people don’t realize is that those diagnoses exist on a spectrum, and I think that whether or not you are at a clinical level ie, a level where its so bad that you are going to be diagnosed as disabled by it, it is very helpful sometimes to people to have a learning disorder detected and treated, therefore enhancing your ability to learn by using methods that are really effective for you.

    An IQ test isn’t just one number – it covers numerous aspects of how you think, so you end up with a spread of scores, and certain patterns within the subscores can be demonstrative of learning disabilities like ADHD. I think an important misconception people have is that intelligent people don’t have learning disorders, which is untrue – there is no correlation between iq and learning disorders so you can have a high iq and still be learning disabled – and its possible that you don’t have a learning disorder that is bad enough that its disabling you, but having something like that identified can be helpful for understanding yourself and what will work for you best regardless.

  • lotusbubble

    I think one of the reasons it can be good to take an IQ test (that I don’t see discussed here) is the case of learning disorders/disabilities.

    One thing people don’t realize is that those diagnoses exist on a spectrum, and I think that whether or not you are at a clinical level ie, a level where its so bad that you are going to be diagnosed as disabled by it, it is very helpful sometimes to people to have a learning disorder detected and treated, therefore enhancing your ability to learn by using methods that are really effective for you.

    An IQ test isn’t just one number – it covers numerous aspects of how you think, so you end up with a spread of scores, and certain patterns within the subscores can be demonstrative of learning disabilities like ADHD. I think an important misconception people have is that intelligent people don’t have learning disorders, which is untrue – there is no correlation between iq and learning disorders so you can have a high iq and still be learning disabled – and its possible that you don’t have a learning disorder that is bad enough that its disabling you, but having something like that identified can be helpful for understanding yourself and what will work for you best regardless.

  • Scott Whalen

    As someone who was tested to discover an explanation for my behavior/performance in school, I feel that knowing my own IQ has at times been a factor in my own decision making process. (No one asked me if I wanted to know my score.)

    How I represent the influence of my IQ on my performance in a given situation does change what I choose to attempt. Would I have chosen my current field if my IQ test were lower? Hard to say, but I believe that I would. I have tried my hand at plenty of other things along the way. Was I confident that I had the capacity to handle the task? Absolutely. IQ score was only one point in the support for my belief in myself. Past performance was the lions share.

    I had an eye exam this year. 20/20. So, I guess that means I know I can see as well as that measure. Having a poor score on that exam would not mean I can stop trying to see, but maybe it would mean I already know I need assistance for the fine print. People squint and strain to try to see something outside of their capability. Brain teasers are very popular. I try to lift heavy (to me) objects unsuccessfully.

    I would discourage sharing your IQ score with anyone. I can not think of a time where that has turned out well. Either accept that you are good at helping people grow and improve, or stop doing it. Make that decision prior to taking the test.

    Good post!

  • Scott Whalen

    As someone who was tested to discover an explanation for my behavior/performance in school, I feel that knowing my own IQ has at times been a factor in my own decision making process. (No one asked me if I wanted to know my score.)

    How I represent the influence of my IQ on my performance in a given situation does change what I choose to attempt. Would I have chosen my current field if my IQ test were lower? Hard to say, but I believe that I would. I have tried my hand at plenty of other things along the way. Was I confident that I had the capacity to handle the task? Absolutely. IQ score was only one point in the support for my belief in myself. Past performance was the lions share.

    I had an eye exam this year. 20/20. So, I guess that means I know I can see as well as that measure. Having a poor score on that exam would not mean I can stop trying to see, but maybe it would mean I already know I need assistance for the fine print. People squint and strain to try to see something outside of their capability. Brain teasers are very popular. I try to lift heavy (to me) objects unsuccessfully.

    I would discourage sharing your IQ score with anyone. I can not think of a time where that has turned out well. Either accept that you are good at helping people grow and improve, or stop doing it. Make that decision prior to taking the test.

    Good post!

  • jcmets4112

    I think Scott’s frank exploration of IQ (in this post and others) constitutes enough of a disclaimer. Especially considering he never said “anyone of any ability level can do this with my learning techniques and nothing else.”

    In fact, if Scott’s audience is self-selecting, it’s likely a decent percentage of his readers have a similar IQ to his own.

    So it may be a wash.

  • jcmets4112

    I think Scott’s frank exploration of IQ (in this post and others) constitutes enough of a disclaimer. Especially considering he never said “anyone of any ability level can do this with my learning techniques and nothing else.”

    In fact, if Scott’s audience is self-selecting, it’s likely a decent percentage of his readers have a similar IQ to his own.

    So it may be a wash.

  • kane morgan

    Where do your opinions on mbti come from? I don’t think I agree with you. Also what makes the big five one better?

  • kane morgan

    Where do your opinions on mbti come from? I don’t think I agree with you. Also what makes the big five one better?

  • KoinToss

    “I think Scott’s frank exploration of IQ (in this post and others) constitutes enough of a disclaimer.”

    Hardly. His “exploration” constitutes enough of a disclaimer the way a drop of water constitutes enough of a drink.

    “Especially considering he never said “anyone of any ability level can do this with my learning techniques and nothing else.” ”

    He doesn’t need to say it; it’s implied in everything he does.

    If only intelligence was as visible as physical looks we’d be able to easily discern how much of a result is influenced by method and how much by innate ability. Take Scott, I’m willing to bet he had close to straight As in pre-school and throughout high-school, his parents are most likely middle-class with a college education. All this signals an above average IQ and thus a much larger contributing factor to his intellectual pursuits than he’d have us (unintentionally) believe.

  • KoinToss

    “I think Scott’s frank exploration of IQ (in this post and others) constitutes enough of a disclaimer.”

    Hardly. His “exploration” constitutes enough of a disclaimer the way a drop of water constitutes enough of a drink.

    “Especially considering he never said “anyone of any ability level can do this with my learning techniques and nothing else.” “

    He doesn’t need to say it; it’s implied in everything he does.

    If only intelligence was as visible as physical looks we’d be able to easily discern how much of a result is influenced by method and how much by innate ability. Take Scott, I’m willing to bet he had close to straight As in pre-school and throughout high-school, his parents are most likely middle-class with a college education. All this signals an above average IQ and thus a much larger contributing factor to his intellectual pursuits than he’d have us (unintentionally) believe.

  • jcmets4112

    Okay, so let’s say that Scott takes your advice, does the IQ test and posts his score.

    What does that prove? Absolutely nothing.

    If Scott’s IQ is, say, 20% of above average…does that mean 20% above average is the minimum required IQ to do what he did?

    Not necessarily. We would need a statistically meaningful number of folks with varying IQs to attempt The MIT Challenge to have any clarity on the IQ floor.

    Absent that, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Scott is being dishonest for not disclosing his IQ.

    That said, reasonable people can disagree and I respect your point of view.

  • jcmets4112

    Okay, so let’s say that Scott takes your advice, does the IQ test and posts his score.

    What does that prove? Absolutely nothing.

    If Scott’s IQ is, say, 20% of above average…does that mean 20% above average is the minimum required IQ to do what he did?

    Not necessarily. We would need a statistically meaningful number of folks with varying IQs to attempt The MIT Challenge to have any clarity on the IQ floor.

    Absent that, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Scott is being dishonest for not disclosing his IQ.

    That said, reasonable people can disagree and I respect your point of view.

  • jcmets4112

    Curious about this also, Scott.

    Comparing MBTI to astrology seems unfair.

    Astrology is arbitrary, made up, rooted in nothing. There’s not a shred of evidence to warrant taking it seriously.

    MBTI may not explain everything, but many of its observations accord with practical, daily experience.

    For instance, we all know people who strike us as extroverted or introverted. We all know people who prefer facts to theories, who are more emotional than logical, who are more spontaneous than structured, and so forth.

    I know the CEO of a company that helps Fortune 500’s apply personality insights to grow, build stronger teams, etc. It seems to help them.

    Where people go wrong, I think, is mistaking the map for the territory.

    A common reaction: “Oh, so if I’m an extrovert, it means I ALWAYS need to be around people and NEVER want to be alone? That doesn’t sound like me. This is all bullshit.”

    Rather, I look at the personality functions probabilistically. If you’re an introvert, sure, there’ll be moments when you behave like an extrovert. But chances are, if you pause the “tape” of your life at any random moment, you’re more likely to behave like an introvert.

    People are too complex to be captured in one tidy model. However, I don’t think we should leap from “MBTI doesn’t explain everything” to “therefore, it explains nothing.”

  • jcmets4112

    Curious about this also, Scott.

    Comparing MBTI to astrology seems unfair.

    Astrology is arbitrary, made up, rooted in nothing. There’s not a shred of evidence to warrant taking it seriously.

    MBTI may not explain everything, but many of its observations accord with practical, daily experience.

    For instance, we all know people who strike us as extroverted or introverted. We all know people who prefer facts to theories, who are more emotional than logical, who are more spontaneous than structured, and so forth.

    I know the CEO of a company that helps Fortune 500’s apply personality insights to grow, build stronger teams, etc. It seems to help them.

    Where people go wrong, I think, is mistaking the map for the territory.

    A common reaction: “Oh, so if I’m an extrovert, it means I ALWAYS need to be around people and NEVER want to be alone? That doesn’t sound like me. This is all bullshit.”

    Rather, I look at the personality functions probabilistically. If you’re an introvert, sure, there’ll be moments when you behave like an extrovert. But chances are, if you pause the “tape” of your life at any random moment, you’re more likely to behave like an introvert.

    People are too complex to be captured in one tidy model. However, I don’t think we should leap from “MBTI doesn’t explain everything” to “therefore, it explains nothing.”

  • Caro

    What would be a reliable IQ test now?
    When would it be reliable and when not? (If and if not)
    /
    I was given one when I was 11, at school. It should have changed my beginnings in life. It didn’t. Social circumstances prevailed over school.
    Then a lifetime helped and the decades it took of personal realization.

    So…what did the IQ test showed? I don’t know. It is as if it was not intended for me nor for anyone else.

  • Caro

    What would be a reliable IQ test now?
    When would it be reliable and when not? (If and if not)
    /
    I was given one when I was 11, at school. It should have changed my beginnings in life. It didn’t. Social circumstances prevailed over school.
    Then a lifetime helped and the decades it took of personal realization.

    So…what did the IQ test showed? I don’t know. It is as if it was not intended for me nor for anyone else.

  • Johanna

    Well there is having a sharp mind and knowing how to use it.
    I like comparing it to being handed a supremely crafted sword. You still have to learn how to handle it, and it takes years of dedicated practice and discipline to become a Samurai.

  • Johanna

    Well there is having a sharp mind and knowing how to use it.
    I like comparing it to being handed a supremely crafted sword. You still have to learn how to handle it, and it takes years of dedicated practice and discipline to become a Samurai.

  • KoinToss

    “Not necessarily. We would need a statistically meaningful number of folks with varying IQs to attempt The MIT Challenge did to have any clarity on the IQ floor.”

    Oh cmon dude, seriously?

    Scott should take an IQ test and publicise it so that his audience can better frame his intellectual challenges.

    Those that have a vested interest in promoting methods and techniques for learning will be most vocal in opposing the publicising of one’s IQ.

  • KoinToss

    “Not necessarily. We would need a statistically meaningful number of folks with varying IQs to attempt The MIT Challenge did to have any clarity on the IQ floor.”

    Oh cmon dude, seriously?

    Scott should take an IQ test and publicise it so that his audience can better frame his intellectual challenges.

    Those that have a vested interest in promoting methods and techniques for learning will be most vocal in opposing the publicising of one’s IQ.

  • jcmets4112

    Not opposed to it at all. If he wants to, bless him.

    I’m saying it wont signify much. You’re implicitly saying “whatever Scott’s IQ is, that’s the floor of cognitive capability for doing what he did.”

    And I don’t see the basis for that.

    It’s even less relevant if (as I strongly suspect, but cannot prove) Scott’s audience is self-selecting and has IQs similar to his own.

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