Nicholas McDermott, Daily Mail (London), December 19, 2012
It will come as a relief to those who failed to shine when taking an IQ test.
After conducting the largest ever study of intelligence, researchers have found that far from indicating how clever you are, IQ testing is actually rather ‘meaningless’.
In a bid to investigate the value of IQ, scientists asked more than 100,000 participants to complete 12 tests that required planning, reasoning, memory and attention.
They also filled in a survey on their background.
They discovered that far from being down to one single factor, what is commonly regarded as intelligence is influenced by three different elements – short-term memory, reasoning, and verbal ability.
But being good at one of these factors does not mean you are going to be equally gifted at the other two.
Scientists from Canada’s Western University in Ontario, also scanned some of the participants’ brains while they undertook the tests.
They found that different parts of the brain were activated when they were tested on each of the three factors.
Traditional IQ tests are ‘too simplistic’, according to the research, which found that what makes someone intelligent is too complex to boil down to a single exam.
IQ, which stands for Intelligence Quotient, is an attempt to measure how smart an individual is.
The average IQ is 100. Mensa, the high IQ society, only accepts individuals who score more than 148, putting them in the top two per cent of the population.
They use the Cattell III B test, which consists of six batches of multiple choice questions aimed at testing mental agility, with each section lasting between eight and 18 minutes.
The new study, published in the journal Neuron, suggests that intelligence is too complex to be represented by a single number.
Study leader Dr Adrian Owen, a British neuroscientists based at Western University in Canada, said an ‘astonishing’ number of people had contributed to the research.
‘We expected a few hundred responses, but thousands and thousands of people took part, including people of all ages, cultures and creeds and from every corner of the world,’ he said.
‘When you take 100,000 people and tested their brain function, we couldn’t find any evidence for a single uniform concept of intelligence.
‘The best we could manage is get it down to three elements that contribute to intelligence. But they are completely different factors, unrelated to one another, and you could be brilliant at one and awful at another.
For example, the absent-minded professor.
‘IQ tests are pretty meaningless – if you are not good at them, all it proves is that you are not good at IQ tests.
‘It does not say anything about your general intelligence.’ The majority of IQ tests were developed in the 50s and 60s when the way we thought and interacted with the world was different, said Dr Owen.
‘Study co-author Roger Highfield, from the Science Museum, said: ‘The most surprising thing is that we still haven’t got over the hang up about IQ tests.
‘This really is a wake-up call. We have now shown that on the evidence, these tests are meaningless.
‘We need to stop trying to simplify the brain, which is very complicated organ, down to a number.
‘We need to think of intelligence like the Olympics. Is the gold medal winner in the marathon fitter than the gold medallist in the 100m sprint?’