Five Common Misconceptions about IQ and Intelligence

Intelligence is inherent, and every gifted individual is “eccentric”. These are examples of some of the widely-held notions about intelligence and intellectually gifted people. However, intelligence is a highly controversial and complicated topic, and many assumptions about intelligence are, in fact, misleading. 

So, how to distinguish misconceptions from facts, especially when there is so much about this topic that is still being discussed? Well, for starters, here are five common clichés about intelligence and evidence that pertains to the validity of each one.

1. Intelligence is Fixed

There is a widely held belief that IQ is a fixed figure. However, numerous studies prove that that is not the case. Rather, it is suggested that the intelligence quotient is more of a measure that can be used to make comparisons. 

When a person takes an IQ test, their performance is determined in relation to the performance of a control group. Thus, its validity stems entirely from comparison with others who are in the same population group and took the same test. 

This means that every individual has multiple IQs – depending on the number of tests they take and the population group against which they are being compared. Thus, an individual with an average IQ will score lower if intellectually gifted people make the majority of the control group. 

2. Intelligence is Inherent

Some argue that every child has the potential to grow up into a highly intelligent adult. Others disagree, claiming that intellectual capacity depends on the genetic endowment. But even though the evidence clearly shows that intelligence is, to some extent, inherited, this does not mean an individual cannot alter their cognitive abilities. 

On the contrary, every person can improve their abilities to a lesser or greater extent, regardless of their genetic endowment. Moreover, even highly intelligent people have to put in the effort, even though it might be easier to do so for them than it is for the less gifted individuals. Thus, what’s important to take away from this is that learning promotes comprehension, regardless of one’s IQ. 

3. Highly Intelligent People Are Eccentric

Is there any scientific basis for those beliefs that highly intelligent people find it harder to interact with their surroundings and less gifted contemporaries? Well, according to long-term studies, the answer is – no. 

Findings on this issue reveal that highly gifted children’s social and emotional development does not differ from those of less gifted children. Multiple studies show that intelligent people are generally more successful in every area of life. 

This does not mean that people with average IQs are less likely to succeed in life. Rather, such studies usually reflect generalized conclusions, which stem from average values obtained through observations of large groups of respondents over long periods.

4. High IQ is Necessary for Success 

The average IQ spans from 85 to 115, with only 2% of the population having an IQ over 130. On that note, the distinguishing characteristic of highly intelligent people is their exceptional logical thinking ability. Such individuals can quickly grasp complex logical relations, and they are very adaptable to new situations and challenges that are thrown their way. 

However, every person has different habits and personality traits, which significantly impact who they are. Thus, a highly intelligent person who does not necessarily put effort into developing their abilities will not find more success than a hardworking individual of average intelligence.

5. People are Getting More and More Intelligent

In the 1980s, intelligence researcher James Flynn discovered that IQ levels had been rising over the past decades. His observation – the Flynn effect – which was later confirmed by other scientists, showed that the average IQ level was gradually rising over generations. 

However, recent data suggests that this trend has stopped or even gone in reverse. New studies explicate that the rise has stalled. Moreover, the variation of IQ is much higher when examined within a single age cohort than a series of cohorts. 

Researchers attribute this trend to various environmental influences, like changes in education and upbringing, or the consumption of media. But additional research is required to fully clarify this phenomenon. 

So, there you have it – the five misconceptions about intelligence. Of course, there are a lot more, but what these can teach us is that intelligence is a rather complicated and intricate field of study, and we still have a long way to go until we can fully grasp the totality of human intelligence.

[1] “Examining Common Myths about IQ.” Medical Xpress [Online] Available at: [Accessed on: 7 July 2020]

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