The IQ Myth

The following item is taken from an IQ test.

Two of the following numbers add up to 17:
6 – 13 – 2 – 12 – 7 – 14
True False

Nobody is born with the knowledge to answer this item. We cannot answer this item without first learning numbers and simple arithmetic. Contrary to the IQ myth that is so pervasive in society, IQ is not innate. IQ must be learned.

The IQ test was developed by Lewis Terman at Stanford University. IQ was a milestone in psychology, but the invention of the IQ test had unfortunate consequences for how scientists, psychologists and educators and everyone came to think about intelligence.

The IQ test led to what psychologist Richard Gardner calls the IQ way of thinking: “that people are either smart or not, that there’s nothing much you can do about it, and that tests can tell you if you are one of the smart ones. The SAT test for college admissions is based on the same notion of a single kind of aptitude that determines your future. This way of thinking permeates society”. [1]

The IQ way of thinking:

1. You are born with a given IQ.
2. IQ is invariant; nothing can change your IQ.
3. IQ and college admissions tests can tell if you are one of the smart ones or not, and
4. IQ largely determines if we win or lose in the game of life.

All of these assumptions are false!

In the late 1970s Dr. Cecil Field and I at the University of New South Wales followed more than 200 students through school. Each year we tested each child, giving them standardized math, English and Stanford-Binet IQ tests. [2]

Like just about every psychologist at the time we believed the IQ Myth. We thought that IQ scores were innate and very stable over the life of the individual. When we analyzed our data we checked and double checked our results because those results contradicted the universally accepted IQ Myth. We were more than a little surprised.

Our data showed that standardized test results and IQ test scores fluctuate widely in grade school children. We found that there was an average correlation of about 0.50 between IQ scores for the 200 children, from one year to the next.

A correlation of 0.50 might seem to be quite high, but it is not; it does not indicate a high level of stability in IQ scores. Our findings were published in the peer reviewed British journal Educational Research. Even then we did not quite realize that we had helped cast doubt on the powerful IQ Myth. In looking back I am surprised that our findings even got published, they contradicted the conventional wisdom.

There are many instances in science where findings subsequently found to be true were rejected by learned journals because they contradicted the conventional wisdom – that which ‘everyone knew to be true’ but was not.

What our research thirty years ago showed is that IQ is not fixed, as the IQ Myth had led us to believe, and that an individual IQ score in one year predicts only about 25% of the same person’s IQ score in a subsequent year. This agrees with Golem’s assertion that IQ predicts no more than 20% of worldly success.

Our research has been widely quoted since 1980 and is part of the seminal research into Neuroplasticity of the brain. Our research was part of the early stages of the exciting developments of the past thirty years in neuroscience, the science of the brain.

International research has also documented the Flynn Effect, an average rise in IQ scores of 3 points in each decade in a number of technologically advanced nations. The Flynn Effect increase has been continuous and close to 3 IQ points from the earliest years of testing to the present. [3]

The Flynn Effect is attributed to technological and educational change. In other words children today have access to more information that their parents had, and this raises IQ. IQ is not innate; it is a result of learning.

A large scale study by the American Psychological Association concludes that “IQ scores do change over time. … The average change between age 12 and age 17 was 7.1 IQ points; some individuals changed as much as 18 points.” [4] This is something Dr. Field and I showed fifteen years earlier.

Given that the normal range for IQ is between 84 and 116 points a change of 18 points is huge. If you have an average IQ of 100 points, you are at the midpoint of IQ scores. A rise in your IQ of 18 points would take you into the top 15% of IQ scores.

So a change in IQ test scores is not only possible it can be large. And upward movement in IQ takes place as a result of learning. This finding destroys a central part of the IQ Myth.

IQ Does Not Predict Performance Well

As Daniel Goleman says in his book Emotional Intelligence “At best, IQ contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success … ‘The vast majority of one’s ultimate niche in society is determined by non-IQ factors, ranging from social class to luck’” (Goleman, p. 36). This accords with the findings of Cecil Field and myself.

In fact, IQ and related tests like the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and the British 11+ are very bad at predicting performance in university.

For many years people have been hoodwinked by the educational testing authorities; the SAT is not a fair test of ability to perform in university, nor is the Australian HSC or the British 11+ exam.

As we have seen, research cited by the FairTest organization shows that both SAT I and SAT II together predict less than 10% of college grades. [5]

As a result of ongoing studies at the University of California, President Richard Atkinson presented a proposal in February 2001 to drop the SAT I requirement for University of California applicants.

Bates College, a leading US Liberal Arts college, dropped all pre-admission testing requirements including the SAT in 1990. The College conducted studies which determined that the variable which best predicted success at the college was students' self-evaluation of their "energy and initiative". Self-evaluated energy and initiative was a better predictor of performance at Bates than either Math or Verbal SAT scores. Energy and initiative are of course part of Emotional IQ.

Adopting a voluntary stance to testing for admission did Bates College no harm at all. Bates is still one of the most innovative and highest ranked liberal arts colleges in America.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, "It is still far too early to sound the death knell, but for many small liberal arts colleges, the SAT may have outlived its usefulness." (New York Times, 31 August 2006)

In summary, all IQ tests and academic tests like the SAT, the British 11+ and the Australian Higher School Certificate are invalid; they do not measure more than about 9% of academic ability at best. And yet the arbitrary results of a single test can leave you excluded from higher education.

IQ tests reflect the social order

It is no coincidence that IQ tests reflect the social order. After all, the people who make up the IQ tests are from the educated middle class. What they are saying to others who score high on IQ tests is “You must be intelligent, you think just like me”.

The values that are reflected in IQ tests are those of the middle class. It is not surprising that working class children and working class adults perform less well in IQ tests than children from the middle class. The middle class develop IQ tests to reflect their own values and experience. The middle class academics who develop the tests include items that they think are important for general knowledge and survival in the world, but the tests are for survival in the world of the middle class, not the ghetto.

There is no conspiracy or ill-will against minorities or the poor among the people who develop the IQ tests. They simply do not know what items would be important to know in the ghetto or on the street, nor do they care. Even ‘culture free’ IQ tests are culturally biased.

When I taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I used to administer the Chitling IQ Test to my white American students. The Chitling IQ test was designed for the black ghetto by an African American sociologist, Adrian Dove. Typically Blacks (as African Americans preferred to be called in those days) would perform well on the Chitling test and Whites would not. Whites would score a ghetto IQ of about 70, which would make them mentally challenged or educationally subnormal if the values and curriculum of the school were those of the Black ghetto.

The Chitling IQ Test by Adrian Dove

The first four questions of the Chitling IQ test, developed by the black sociologist Adrian Dove follow. My White students at the University of Wisconsin typically averaged an IQ score of less than 70% (sub normal) on the full version of the Chitling test. Can you answer these questions?

1.A "handkerchief head" is:
(a) a cool cat,
(b) a porter,
(c) an Uncle Tom,
(d) a hoddi,
(e) a preacher.
2.Which word is most out of place here?
(a) splib,
(b) blood,
(c) gray,
(d) spook,
(e) black.
3.A "gas head" is a person who has a:
(a) fast-moving car,
(b) stable of "lace,"
(c) "process,"
(d) habit of stealing cars,
(e) long jail record for arson.
4."Bo Diddley" is a:
(a) game for children,
(b) down-home cheap wine,
(c) down-home singer,
(d) new dance,
(e) Moejoe call.

The answers to the first four questions of the Chitling Test are as follows:
1. (c) 2. (c) 3. (c) 4. ( c)

Could you answer any of these questions? Blacks in the ghetto could. The main lesson to be learned from the Chitling Test is that all IQ tests are culturally biased. Unfortunately for poor minority groups it is the wealthy white minority that writes the ‘real’ IQ tests.

The outcome of educational testing is that in Britain about 15% of the children of unskilled workers get into university, this contrasts with the 86% of the children of professionals who get into university. Things are much the same in the USA and most other nations. This is manifestly unfair as everyone has the potential to develop a high IQ and do well in school.

1. Daniel Goleman (1995) Emotional Intelligence, New York: Bantam Books, p.40

2. Michael F. Petty; Cecil J. Field (1980) Fluctuations in Mental Test Scores Educational Research, Volume 22, Issue 3 June 1980, pages 198 – 202.

3. Flynn, James (2009). "Would you wish the research undone?". Nature 458: 146.

4. Report of a Task Force established by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association Released August 7, 1995


Copyright (c) 2011 Michael Petty. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. MICHAEL PETTY is a leading authority on accelerated learning, IQ, Neuro Science and brainwave entrainment. He has a BA from Durham UK, an MA from Calgary and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He was a Canada Council Doctoral Fellow and his 1980 research on change in IQ scores, published in the British Journal Educational Research is still cited in Psychological texts. His latest book is Michael Petty, IQ Unlimited, Amazon Kindle. Visit Dr Petty’s website at