IQ tests measure motivation - not just intelligence

Clever young boy IQ tests may not be a reliable measure of intelligence alone or a good predictor of future potential

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Intelligence tests are as much a measure of motivation as they are of mental ability, says research from the US.

Researchers from Pennsylvania found that a high IQ score required both high intelligence and high motivation but a low IQ score could be the result of a lack of either factor.

Incentives were also found to increase IQ scores by a noticeable margin.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Firstly, it analysed previous studies of how material incentives affected the performance of more than 2,000 people in intelligence tests.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, found that incentives increased all IQ scores, but particularly for those of individuals with lower baseline IQ scores.

Then the same researchers tested how motivation impacted on the results of IQ tests and also on predictions of intelligence and performance in later life.

Start Quote

Life is an IQ test and a personality test.”

End Quote Dr James Thompson UCL

By using data from a long-term study of 250 boys from adolescence to early adulthood, they were able to conclude that some individuals try harder than others in conditions where the stakes are low.

Therefore, the study says, "relying on IQ scores as a measure of intelligence may overestimate the predictive validity of intelligence."

Getting a high score in an IQ test requires both high intelligence and competitive tendencies to motivate the test-taker to perform to the best of their ability.

Dr James Thompson, senior honorary lecturer in psychology at University College London, said it had always been known that IQ test results are a combination of innate ability and other variables.

"Life is an IQ test and a personality test and an IQ result contains elements of both (but mostly intelligence).

"If an IQ test doesn't motivate someone then that is a good predictor in itself."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    As an eleven year old I passed an IQ test with quite high marks but in later life I must admit that present day IQ tests are not to my liking and I score poorly. Does this mean that my IQ is diminishing or that quite simply the tests have changed over the past 50 years?

  • Comment number 66.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I score highly on IQ tests, but my husband does not. He has dyslexia, yet he is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Who was it who said IQ tests measure nothing more than the ability to do IQ tests? And how is it news that motivation makes a difference, especially to those of lower ability? Every school teacher knows that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I have been told by various people that I am very intelligent. Motivation is quite another matter -- I am highly-motivated & energetic when it comes to doing something for others, but very lazy when it concerns myself. In fact, I have judged as defective because I have "no ambition". I guess doing IQ tests for my own sake is one of those things that are terribly unmotivating from my perspective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    IQ tests are a test of logic skills (fyi the tests are biased towards western culture); I have met highly motivated logical individuals (read high IQ) who lack the social skills to even converse at a basic level. What is important to us as individuals and a society is to be a rounded human being who fits in with society and for this we also need emotional, spiritual and philosophical intelligence.


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