Do IQ tests really measure intelligence? [POLL]

I personally do believe that natural intelligence is fixed and cannot be changed, but that IQ tests aren’t a great way to measure it because the “culture fair” problems given on IQ tests are just a skill which can be trained and improved like chess, mental math, or anything else we do here. This is also quite similar to what Ben Pridmore (@Zoomy) believes in his great book “How to be clever”. Interested to hear what other people here think about them.

To what extent do you think IQ tests are an effective way of measuring how intelligent a person is?

  • IQ tests are an effective way to measure someone’s intelligence
  • They are not perfect, but are are reasonably effective and the best way we’ve got
  • IQ tests measure a specific skill, which only makes up a small part of our overall intelligence
  • IQ tests are complete nonsense

0 voters


I don’t see that there’s any particular NEED to measure intelligence - that’s my foremost problem with the whole principle of IQ tests. It’s certainly easy to learn how to improve your score in them, if you want to do that just for fun!

I also have to protest that my book is in no way ‘great’, and certainly not more intelligent than the people who design IQ tests… :slight_smile:


What’s your definition of ‘intelligence’ or natural intelligence as you seem to call it? You can change most things with deliberate practice, just saying…

Which ones are those?

I’m not sure that their purpose is to measure somebody’s intelligence per se, even though the name might suggest that. So maybe this is not the right question to ask.

What IQ test do do is allowing you to compare to a statistical average. Since you can assume that intelligence (or reasoning ability if you prefer) is distributed on a normal curve and thus you’d know that every score within one standard deviation of the mean makes up around 2/3 of the population and can thus be considered average (i.e., 85-115). Whether 135 is really better than 132 is another thing, but both of those will be in the 95th percentiles since they are two standard deviation above the mean.


This could be of interest to people who haven’t taken statistics in college and think that IQ score are absolute numbers, like how fast you can run a 5k… which they are not.


I picked that choice because it was the closest to what my answer would be:

“‘IQ’ tests measure attributes of cognitive ability that make up a part of our overall cognitive abilities.”

I try to avoid words like “intelligence” and “smart” because they aren’t well defined and they have a lot of baggage. It’s hard to use the words without making assumptions. I prefer “cognitive ability”.


All the visual pattern recognition puzzles which make up most tests. For example below:

They are called “culture fair” puzzles because they are supposed to be accurate regardless of cultural background or any underlying knowledge. IIRC mensa is supposed to be phasing out their other sections of the test to only include these puzzles.

As far as I know, their purpose was to measure which children were struggling at school, or even suffering from learning disabilities. But the point is that still 90+% of society and even alot of experts who are educated on the brain still treat IQ scores like they are some objective measure of intelligence, like e.g. height. So its fun to see that so far nobody on this forum considers them an “accurate way to measure intelligence”.

I agree with @Josh that intelligence is really poorly defined, so It’s really hard to answer this question with a single definition when even scientists can’t. Even so, I believe that a small part of our cognitive ability is fixed that we cannot do anything about. I coach chess professionally, and I see many students who just fail to improve despite putting in hours of work, while some students, despite being lazy, seem to fly up to master level in a few years. What could be separating the two groups if not some sort of natural ability/intelligence? In the chess world it is so well accepted that some sort of intellectual “gift” or talent is required for mastery that it is virtually considered controversial to say otherwise. My friend, GM Ben Finegold, considers it an insult when people say to him that anyone can get the Grandmaster title with enough hard work, because it demeans his accomplishments.

1 Like

Of course IQ tests were designed to be normally distributed with a mean of 100 and std of 15, but if it’s already been established that IQ scores are not a matter of innate ability but rather practice, or in other words - people have some control over how high their scores are - then why should we assume that they follow the bell curve which is usually only seen in things determined by nature. ie. human height and other dimensions, length of blades of grass etc.

I actually voted for “IQ tests are complete nonsense”.

I did this despite me supporting the idea that there can be a test that measures cognitive ability and intelligence. Arguably, intelligence when it includes things such as creativity is objectionable to measure. So I won’t put a firm to measuring intelligence.

I do think intelligence isn’t fixed and didn’t take this point to form my vote.

The problem I have is simply the components believed to be measured with the according test tasks.

Take for example WAIS : image
It all looks nice in principle until you go down to the actual test task.

It’s like my online shopping list. I scroll down the list, apparently quickly, stop exactly at the item I want to put in, even if this is an item I haven’t seen before. The person next to me cannot even see the list and tells me to slow down despite frequenting the items more than I ever have. My eyesight isn’t better than theirs.

I make the conclusion I have higher processing speed than they do. That is not how conclusions should be formed…. This is however what it appears the test is doing.

I teach someone basic soh cah toa and they take a week to solve a single problem. I teach a second person and they take a few seconds, apparently with similar background.

I conclude person 2 has a higher IQ than person 1. This is not how it is supposed to work… This is however what it appears the test is doing indirectly.

It is like doing mathematics and saying the solution looks right, no proof required. No.

There is far too much over-generalization and lack of consideration for other possibilities.

1 Like

Hey @Josh, is there a way for me to change the poll so that it shows who voted for which option?

It isn’t possible to change that after the poll starts. (People are told what the visibility level is before they vote.)


My problem with intelligence tests is how little they seem to represent the real world.

I’ve talked about it before how there is little difference in level of expertise between a lower education based job like being a carpenter and a higher education based job like real estate or surgeon. Everything a surgeon knows about the body a carpenter knows about buildings and how to build them etc.

Now that I am studying law, what many people consider a higher education in my country, I am experiencing with my own eyes how intelligence doesn’t seem to play any role at all in real life. The only thing reliable is interest.

Even the speed of learning is something I think has nothing to with intelligence but with the way information is obtained and wether or not your brain works well in obtaining the information that way.

I think our brain has a sort of “cognitive interest”, the way it obtains information, independed of our own interest that also determines how well you learn something, Which answers the question why people still have a difficult time learning something despite having a major interest in the subject, like chess.

It also answers the question why people can be geniuses, experts or grandmasters in one area and donkey ass in another.

If your own interest aligns with your brain’s “cognitive interest” then you’ll have a much easier time dealing with the subject you’re interested in. Nothing to do with speed or intelligence.

This cognitive interest could be determined by a lot of different things like memory, working memory, sensitivity of your senses, bloodflow and even muscle memory whereby you have an easier time learning something when you physically do something.

I’ve met people who performed bad at school when learning from a book but had no problem learning the same information while doing physical activities about the subject. Sometimes they learned even faster than their peers that way.


I think the concept of quantification of intelligence to a 1-dimensional number is nonsensical.

People can be intelligent in different ways. Mozart was a genius, but in a different way from Einstein.

Einstein himself was considered a failure by the school system of his day.

I once saw a video about a photographer with cerebral palsy, and they could find beauty in ways that no-one else could.


First, the claim “Einstein himself was considered a failure by the school system of his day.” is false. Among other things Einstein had a PhD in physics which was the result of years of academic success.

Second, if you are interested in where the science of IQ stands today, I would recommend the recent book by Russell T. Wayne: In The Know: Debunking 35 Myths about Human Intelligence.


I do think that there are natural tendencies and that different people have different brains, but I’m not sure that a single number called “IQ” is a good way of measuring the entirety of the functioning of a human brain, which is a complicated machine that does all sorts of different things. Furthermore, the brain is highly plastic and changes depending on stimulation, environment, and deliberate practice. It’s kind of a meaningless thing to say “your IQ is 120”. It really doesn’t say anything about the actual brain in question or what it can do and what it can’t do. Is this person with the 120 IQ good at math? Good at language-related tasks? Good at social tasks? Kinesthetic? Musical? (Social skills, by the way, require a lot of cognitive processing and are completely disregarded on IQ tests)

Also, a lot of IQ tests are timed, and some people think slowly. Slow doesn’t mean dumb. Slow can also mean deliberate and deep. Deliberate, slow, deep thinkers are completely disregarded in our society, to its detriment, I think.


A really fascinating topic, I saw some research, that IQ has its usefulness in a myriad of research in psychology, but also there’s some doubt about the validity of the construct. “What is intelligence?” seems to be the question of note here, I would agree to a certain degree with the OP, for if we treat the brain as a system capable of computation, that is, it can achieve certain tasks and it’s formed by discret units (“neurons”) that are connected in specific ways.
So one could claim that there is a group of states that give the most effective “Processing power” in a range, so yes it would be “fixed”. It’s of importance here to note that neurons are cell that do not multiply easily, in fact we lose them with ease when exposed to enviromental factors, so I think that we could claim that there’s a range of intelligence that’s an individual can achieve, but there’s not much after that, I really think that in the near future we can have a better test of intelligence. Of course, knowledge isn’t intelligence.


I once did an IQ test. It broke.

I have an IQ lower than the temperatures on the Antarctic


Is anyone else surprised to find that they voted for the most voted one.


They were not designed to be, they are normalized to have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Just like on a GMAT (just as an example) you get a raw score of up to 51 in verbal and up to 51 in quant, but in the end the highest you can score on the test is 800.

Why? That just means that everyone would get a slightly higher raw score but then it would still get normalized so that the mean is 100.

Simple… Law of Large Numbers (LLN) & Central Limit Theorem (CLT)

Are you getting this mixed up with the golden ratio or phi maybe? Nature has nothing to do with normal distributions.

…IQ test scores :wink:

1 Like

Let’s hope somebody still in high school will one day use this comment to tell their teacher that all they did was “run a more deliberate and deep 5k than the rest of the class.” :wink:

It’s also kind of meaningless to tell somebody they have a BMI over 25 when even natural bodybuilders and other athletes which are clearly not overweight would be considered overweight; however, these outliers don’t make up the majority of the population, so it’s still fine to use IQ scores statistically, but as said before…

…also, it’s called “IQ Tests” (unfortunate choice of name for sure) but it’s not a “brain test,” so it’s also not supposed to tell you anything about the brain of the person or…

Take a math test if you want to know if you’re good at math or a language test if you want to know if you’re good at a language.


Let’s hope somebody still in high school will one day use this comment to tell their teacher that all they did was “run a more deliberate and deep 5k than the rest of the class.”

I’d hope that they do things other than running as their high school curriculum, and I hope that the essays they write for English class take longer than 5 minutes to write. As a grownup who has been in the working world for many years now, I can tell you that most employers just want you to get it done right. Also, as a grownup who spends way too much time on the Internet, I can tell you that “fast” is not a substitute for “thoughtful”.

I’m a fast thinker myself and was always rewarded for that in school. In my first engineering job, I sped my way through designing some huge sheetmetal parts because I wanted to get it done fast. I didn’t notice that some fastening holes were in the wrong place because I was going so fast. I ended up with some bulky and expensive scrap metal that cost the company money. My boss stacked the scrap metal in my cubicle so that I would not do that again.

When you read a novel, do you care how long it took the author to write it? Which novel would you prefer - the one that was knocked out in a day by someone who wanted to get a good grade for writing fast, or the one that was carefully and thoughtfully written by someone who wanted to take their time to get it right?

It’s also kind of meaningless to tell somebody they have a BMI over 25 when even natural bodybuilders and other athletes which are clearly not overweight would be considered overweight; however, these outliers don’t make up the majority of the population, so it’s still fine to use IQ scores statistically, but as said before…

Yeah, but what’s that measuring, exactly? If you’re hiring athletes for a football team, do you go by BMI or do you see how fast they can run and catch and do football things? If you’re putting together an Olympic high-jump team, do you just put together enough people with a BMI of 20 and call it done?

Take a math test if you want to know if you’re good at math or a language test if you want to know if you’re good at a language.

And an IQ test to know if you’re good at … what?

1 Like