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Hey, Smartypants: There’s No Such Thing as “IQ”

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Since the early 20th century, it’s been the tool we use to find out whether someone’s an Einstein, an average Joe, or a little slow on the uptake.

But according to new research released this month, the concept of an intelligence quotient (IQ) is basically BS. Instead, researchers suggest intelligence can be broken down into three types of cognitive abilities: short-term memory, reasoning skills, and verbal aptitude.

Why It Matters

More than 100,000 volunteers took an online test (you can take it, too!) that measured their memory, reasoning, concentration, and planning abilities. The researchers also found 16 participants willing to have their brains scanned in fMRI machines. Results showed there was no one number which could predict performance on all categories. Even cooler? Each type of cognitive task corresponded to activity in a different part of the brain.

Since the test also asks questions about lifestyle factors, the researchers were able to measure how age, gender, and health habits affect cognitive abilities. Turns out Grandma’s not kidding about forgetting our names: People in their 20s performed better on tests of memory and reasoning than those in their 60s. And World of Warcraft fans, rejoice: People who played a lot of video games scored higher on tests of reasoning and short-term memory. Among other interesting findings, the researchers noticed smokers did poorly on short-term memory and verbal tests, and highly anxious people performed poorly on short-term memory tests.

Is It Legit?

These researchers aren’t the first to suggest intelligence is actually a combination of different cognitive abilities. In 1983, psychologist Howard Gardner proposed a theory of “multiple intelligences,” essentially at least seven different abilities that include interpersonal, spatial, and musical intelligence. And in 1992, Robert Sternberg developed the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test, which divides intelligence into analytic, practical, and creative abilities.

This latest study could have a big impact on the way we measure intelligence in the future and could possibly pave the way for a complete overhaul of the IQ test as we know it. As the researchers collect more data about intelligence and the way it relates to other aspects of our lifestyle, we’ll only get smarter about the whole thing.

Have you ever taken an IQ test? Did you think it was legit? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author directly @ShanaDLebowitz.

I'm the senior writer at Greatist, and I mainly cover new trends in psychology and mental health. When I'm not hanging out at Greatist HQ,... Read More »