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Motivation: IQ Tests More Than Intelligence

Motivation: IQ Tests More Than IntelligenceOne of the common misconceptions about psychological testing is that even the so-called objective psychological tests (usually done on a computer or paper-and-pencil tests) tap into a single “truth” about the person. And that there is very little subjectivity in such tests.

In fact, one’s approach to taking a psychological test has a big impact on the test’s results — and the interpretations of those results by a trained psychologist.

The problem is that psychologists — and worse, the legal system — uses these tests as not only an indicator of where a person is in their life right now, but as a predictor of their future potential. If something as simple as one’s motivation can have a significant impact on one of these scores, what does that mean for the predictive power of these tests?

We see this today with a new study out showing that a large component — an entire standard deviation, in fact — of a person’s IQ may in fact be simply due to motivation. The researchers in the current study found this result with those who scored below-average on the IQ test. The difference for higher-than-average IQ scores was significantly smaller (16 points versus 4 points).

If people are taking an IQ test as a part of some sort of standardized school-based testing procedure or research study, the test scores gained may be inaccurate, as kids’ motivation may not be all that consistent:

“When people use IQ tests in social science research, where thousands of kids are taking IQ tests where it doesn’t matter to them what they get, what’s the effect of motivation on those scores?” researcher Duckworth said.

“IQ scores are absolutely predictive of long-term outcomes. But what our study questions is whether that’s entirely because smarter people do better in life than other people or whether part of the predictive power (is) coming from test motivation,” Duckworth said.

“This means that for people who get high IQ scores, they probably try hard and are intelligent,” she said. “But for people who get low scores, it can be an absence of either or both of those traits.”

The problem is, we just don’t know. Is a person truly of less-than-average intelligence? Or were they simply not very well-motivated to approach the test to perform as well as they possibly could?

Even in an individual, one-on-one setting with a psychologist, how a person approaches the testing being performed on them is highly important. While psychologists can do a fairly good job at ascertaining an individual’s motivation during testing, it ultimately helps the person being tested if they approach such testing with the best possible attitude and the ability to put their best effort forward.

Read the full article: IQ Test Scores Influenced by Motivation

Motivation: IQ Tests More Than Intelligence

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Motivation: IQ Tests More Than Intelligence. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 28 Apr 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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