How IQ and Intelligence Affect Our Life (or Not!)

Have you ever wondered how intelligence and IQ can affect your life? Does a higher IQ mean a happier, more successful life? Or is it more complicated than it would seem? Read on to hear the full story based on scientific research

The full story

For my father intelligence was all that matters. Ever since my brother Charles was diagnosed to be a gifted child, all he talked about was IQ and intelligence research. A high IQ apparently strongly predicts good grades, a good career, and even health and mortality and stuff. His favorite story is Kim Ung-Yong, a Korean with an official IQ of 210. Just 6 months old, he was already speaking fluent Korean, and at age 3, wrote essays in German and English. Then he would hug Charles and look at me with this question on his face. I hated that. I wondered if I could reach my little brother in anything?

When I was young, me and my dad were best buddies. He never even cared much about IQ or G or whatever. When my brother started reading at just 2 years old; everything changed. Suddenly I was forgotten and soon after I was the “slow” one. Once when I got a C in math, he didn’t even look at my paper and just told Charles that an Ape is believed to have an IQ of 40. I hated his sarcasm! 

Once at dinner, when he started talking about intelligence, or G, he’d say — G stands for general intelligence, and scientists say it exists because apparently, most IQ tests correlate — whatever — he was talking about it and then drew up this graph on a piece of paper saying: “look boy, this is the distribution of intelligence of all people in town: 
0.1% of people will have an IQ of 55 or below. 2% have an IQ between 55 to 70. 14% between 70 and 85. 34% will score between 85 and the average, which is set at 100. Another 34 have an IQ between 100 and 115 and 14% between 115 to 130. Only 2% have an IQ higher than 130 and only 0.1% will have an IQ of a genius of 145 or above – like your little brother. I told him I’m not interested. I guess I shouldn’t have…

He exploded. Not interested? You know what this all means boy? He turned the paper around and started all over: It means that if you take the 1,000 people then 1 has some form of mental retardation, which means trouble of living alone. 20 will have difficulty reading the map. 140 can perform simple tasks at work but can not qualify to become a soldier in the US army. 340 probably finish high school and another 340 will go to college. Maybe 140 can do a Ph.D. and later work as surgeons. 20 are capable of producing significant scientific work and only 1 will make it into an ivy league college, like M.I.T. where the average IQ is 145. Your little brother got an IQ higher than that! 

The Wechsler IQ Test

A few weeks later was career day at my school. Some people in suits showed up and told us about a new form of cognitive assessment we could be doing which would help us find the right job. The technical term is the Wechsler IQ Score. When I heard the words IQ I got completely sweaty hands. My heart started racing… This could be the moment of truth. Then one woman started speaking. She told us that we are now going to take a test and just one week later we all get the results with some specific ideas about our future career path. She said it takes only 90 minutes and measures our intelligence in the following 4 areas: Perceptual Reasoning, Verbal Comprehension, Working Memory, Processing Speed. 

The assessment was voluntary and my friend instantly stood up to leave the class, showing what he thought about this whole thing. My heart still racing, I wasn’t sure what to do and kept seated. Our teacher then handed out some questions. When she passed by my table she simply said: “you’re gonna do fine here”. I don’t think she realized this, but I was so happy to hear her say that! Maybe I am not all that bad at these stupid IQ tests. Maybe it’s the day I can actually show my dad who I really am. What shall I do? I was so ready to show my dad that I’m no idiot. I decided to stay. 

Perceptual reasoning

I turned the first page over. It read the following: Perceptual reasoning is the ability to think and reason with visual information. It is the ability to ‘see’ what is being asked and to organize information in our heads through images. The first question was: when folded into a cube, which of the following corners would touch corner “A?”: D, B, E or C. I tried to fold the cube in my head and yeah. It worked. It must be D. 

Working memory

The second section was about working memory: our ability to keep several chunks of information in our mind simultaneously. One of the questions was: What is the next number in the series: 4, 12, 6, 9, 8, 6. There were 4 options: 6, 5, 10 or 12. The trick here was to put all digits in my head and look for a pattern: 4, X, 6, X, 8, X, which means the next would be 10. 

Verbal comprehension

The third section was verbal comprehension, which measures our ability to access vocabulary, express ourselves in a meaningful manner and apply reasoning skills to information presented verbally. In the first QUESTION it said: What is the difference between the words refuted and irrefutable? Do they: Have similar meanings? Have contradicting meanings? Or mean neither the same nor the opposite? They must have contradicting meanings. 

Processing speed

The fourth section was about processing speed, the pace at which we take in new information and make sense of it in order to prepare a response. One of the QUESTIONS asked was: What is the 12th letter of the alphabet. Is it: T, L, R or B. When I looked at it, I realized I had to rule out all options that didn’t look right counting would have taken way too long, L as the right answer. 

Nature, nurture, and IQ

I had completed all of the 50 questions in time and I was very relieved. In the end, the woman said: “A lot of research over the last century went into the IQ test we had just taken and there is convincing evidence that our intelligence is mainly a product of our genes. There is an estimate of a heritability range from 50% to 90%, although the environment also matters”, she continued: “especially negative influences during your childhood, like infectious disease, malnutrition, air pollution or lead in the paint of your walls at home. These things can reduce your IQ forever.” She explained that it’s because during the prenatal period and early years of life a child’s brain consumes a huge part of the bodies’ energy to grow and if the body was under attack, it can not support the brains’ growth to its full potential. 

In other words: You were born with a pretty fixed IQ. Good parents and schools can keep the IQ at its genetically predefined level and maybe increase it a bit, negative influences, however, can surely reduce it a lot. “I am just saying this”, she closed, “because if you are getting your results next week and you are not happy with your score or our recommendation – then know that there is little you can do about that. Even if you practice for years or continue school indefinably, it’s almost impossible to improve your score by more than 10 points. Just think about that before you open that envelope. You don’t have to.” 

The envelope

When the envelope was handed to me a week later, I got excited to open it. I took a deep breath. But before I ripped the cover apart, I halted. Do I really want this? Why do I care so much? Do I really want to compete with my brother? And if so, what does this prove?
There are so many aspects of my life that matter more than my measured intelligence. I’m probably no genius, but I know I did well!  But more importantly, I know that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone! I decided not to open the envelope. And I loved this new idea of myself – free from these limitations. I felt like I had grown up. 

Now when I heard my father speak all proud about Charles, I just smiled. I realized that it’s not that he loved him more. No, my brother just gave my dad the chance to get attention, to be someone. He’s the dad of a genius and not just another middle manager at the bank on middle street. 

A few years later I dropped out of college and started my own company and soon after fell in love with a wonderful woman and also started a family. My brother is now a professor at a famous university, but never found the right girl and like many very smart people, suffers from depression. 

My dad doesn’t care so much about IQ anymore; he is now a proud grandfather. They say it takes intelligence to know how to do things right, but wisdom to do the right thing. Leaving that envelope closed was the best thing of my life. 

“So who else was yelling ‘open the letter.'”

– Sea Celery


Dig deeper

Classroom exercise

Here are 5 questions from a real IQ test. When you are done, post your answers in the comments. Good Luck!

1. A package of gift cards has a length of 8 cm, a width of 4 cm and a volume of 64 cm cubed. What is the height of the box?

2. Some bargles are chongos and some chongos are munhatsens. Are some bargles definitely munhatsens? Yes or No?

3. Max needed to get seven new doors from the home-improvement store for his house. His car could only hold two doors at once. How many times did Max have to visit the store? 2, 4, 7, 8, 9

4. Art is to wall as cup is to:

5. What is the missing number in the series? 1, 16, 81, __, 625, 1296

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