High IQ and Success: Myths and Facts

Do you think success in academics is the only scale for measuring intelligence in children? If so, you’ll be surprised to know that it isn’t.

By Roshini Varghese  • 9 min read

High IQ and Success: Myths and Facts

Every parent wishes to have intelligent and successful children. But, even intelligent children require support and nurturing from their parents to translate their intelligence to brilliance. When it comes to developing intelligence in children, sadly, many of our existing ideas are rooted in age-old beliefs. But, recent studies have contradicted these ideas and have thrown new light on intelligence and creativity, and ways to help a child realise his full potential.

Let’s look at some of the common myths and facts about intelligence or high IQ.

Myth 1:

A high IQ is necessary to do well in life and to have a successful career.

Fact: While a high IQ is important and children with high IQs do tend to perform better at school, several other factors are also crucial to succeed in life. A study titled, ‘Managerial Intelligence: Why IQ isn’t enough’, by Robert Sternberg was published in the American Journal of Management in 1997. The study says that we need confidence and assertiveness to achieve our career goals. It also states that we need emotional and social intelligence to form good professional relationships and manage conflicts effectively at the workplace. Psychologists also now understand that people need resilience to bounce back from adversity, and self-regulation skills to deal with disappointment and anger. We develop most of these life skills during our childhood by observing others, especially our parents. Therefore, psychologists encourage parents to help their children develop these qualities, just as much as they would general intelligence.

In his book, ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ’, renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman also states that the existence of the above traits and skills are strong indicators of successful outcomes in life.

Myth 2:

IQ is the only meaningful way of measuring a child’s intelligence.

Fact: Measuring IQ level is often criticised as being a one-sided method of measuring intelligence. A person’s IQ can depend on factors out of their control, such as their socio-economic status and cultural background. In the 1980s, psychologist Howard Gardner proposed a theory of multiple intelligences to reflect the idea that intelligence is not a single construct. Gardner identified eight different types of intelligences—musical-rhythmic, verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, logical-mathematical and bodily-kinesthetic. This suggests that even if a child is not ‘book-smart’, he may have talents that are not recognised and nurtured in traditional school environments.

Myth 3: 

Studying only maths and science can help children succeed at school and later in life.

Fact: While studying maths and natural sciences are crucial, they are not the only subjects children should focus on. Unfortunately, our education system lays greater emphasis on learning maths and natural sciences rather than on arts and social sciences. As far as learning natural sciences is concerned, it boosts analytical and cognitive processes, and encourages problem-solving skills through linear and sequential thinking. But, learning arts and the social sciences require children to employ whole-brain processes and encourages problem-solving through holistic thinking. We need to develop both linear and holistic thinking in children in order to prepare them to meet the challenges of life. So, it is important to acknowledge the diverse and complementary contributions of all subjects, instead of focussing on the benefits of studying only maths and natural sciences.

Myth 4: 

Use of apps and technology-based learning aids is always the best way to boost my child’s creativity and intelligence.

Fact: Several studies have confirmed that the use of ‘smart’ devices by children needs careful monitoring and control so that they don’t interfere with cognitive, social and emotional development. Psychologist Susan Pinker in her book, ‘The Village Effect’, questions the apparent ‘superiority’ of technological teaching aids compared to traditional pen-and-paper methods. She notes that in classrooms where children are provided with tablets to read eBooks, they can easily get distracted by the other features of the tablet. On the other hand, a real book encourages ‘mono-tasking’ because we can only do one thing with it. This improves children’s ability to concentrate.

A 2007 literature review titled, ‘Interactive Whiteboards in the Classroom’, by Tim Rudd for Futurelab, UK, studied various research done in classrooms. The review suggests that the presence of a good teacher, and not technological aids, is the main factor that boosts children’s performance. This finding is also supported by the 2012 study, ‘The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood’, by Raj Chetty et al, published by National Bureau of Economic Research, USA.

Myth 5:

Children need to be disciplined when they do not perform well at school.

Fact: Parents often tend to directly confront and punish children when they don’t fare well in studies. This kind of a disciplinary approach towards children is often met with resistance and does not always ensure commitment to change. Poor performance in academics can be symptomatic of many potential complex underlying problems. So, it is important to first connect with children and understand the causes before adopting any strategies to deal with the issue.

A recent case I handled explains this. A 12-year-old boy, who was a good student, began performing poorly in school. Consequently, he was brought to me for counselling. After speaking with him, I understood the reason behind the drastic fall in his academic performance. He had been subjected to bullying by some of his classmates earlier. So, in order to avoid being thought of as the teacher’s pet and bullied further, he started failing in his subjects. Had his parents punished him for his failures, the real cause of his poor performance would not have come to light.

High IQ and Success: Myths and Facts

Now that we have elaborated how IQ is not the only measure of your child’s success, ensure that you nurture all his interests and talents.