What’s the best predictor of success? Hint: it’s not IQ

spark* News

There’s so much focus on IQ, so-called ‘intelligence’ as the a predictor of learning and success. It just infuriates me when I hear people talk about a child as not being able to do something. How do they know? I’ve battled against this IQ-referencing a long time. People will cite a child’s IQ and use it to determine if they qualify for certain services or not. That’s just ridiculous in my opinion. 

Results of intelligence tests are used by some government agencies to decide what services someone can access. If your IQ score isn’t high enough, you’re considered to be ‘unable’ to benefit and you’re cut off. This same thing happens in school systems. If your IQ isn’t high enough, you’ll likely be routed through special education classes.

These ideas make a lot of assumptions. One of them is that the measured IQ is indeed the person’s level of ability. As the researchers at the University of Montreal have found, results of assessment can seriously underestimate intelligence, depending on the test used.

Another assumption is that IQ is the only predictor of achievement. A fascinating article was published in 2011 that made my heart soar. It presented the notion of the hungry mind as a factor in achievement. They found that, in addition to IQ, strong predictors of achievement were persistence and curiosity.

If a person is persistent, they put in the effort, they plan, they organize themselves …. they self-regulate. Persistence was found to be independent of intelligence – you didn’t have to be smart to work diligently.

Students who are curious look for chances to learn. They have a drive to know and to experience – an appetite for information. As with conscientiousness, curiosity was not related to how smart you are.

When persistence and curiosity were combined, they predicted achievement better than IQ! So, your IQ is less important if you have a drive to know and you refuse to give up.  

This reminded me of students I’ve known over the years. One young girl, in particular, was classified as “educably mentally retarded” (excuse the terminology, those were the olden days!). This meant she wasn’t allowed to attend mainstream classes. She had to be in special education. Her parents worked hard to give her learning opportunities. I remember being impressed by the girl’s persistence and drive to learn. Some years later, I met her again at a university where she was a student, getting her degree in early childhood education. She reminded me of the importance of perseverance as well as the injustice surrounding IQ referencing.

What does this all mean to children we live and work with? Number one, don’t let IQ determine how or what you teach. Number two, help children develop their behavioral, cognitive, and emotional self-regulation skills. Then they can more readily develop their persistence and curiosity. This, in turn, will impact their achievement.


For the curious, here are two interesting articles:
von Stumm, S., Hell, B., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011a). The hungry mind: Intellectual curiosity as third pillar of academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 51, 12-31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26168378
von Stumm, S., & Ackerman, P. L. (2013). Investment and Intellect: A Review and Metaanalysis. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 841-869.  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ea81/8d3ed84875d9981d9d39f61ac11bc2374f61.pdf

Leave a Reply