IQ tests: Measure of merit or the key to performance enhancing resources?


 

Eliza Byington

New research by doctoral candidate Eliza Byington and Dr. Will Felps challenges the idea that people with high IQs are better performers simply because they are smart.

In their article, which appears in volume 30 of Research in Organizational Behavior, they argue that the use of high stakes tests in primary school, for university admission and by employers allows people with high IQs to have access to performance enhancing resources. Further, these resources have a long term impact on achievement and life outcomes.

 

Will Felps

Byington and Felps’ article reviews a body of research from psychology, sociology, and management which suggests that there are a number of resources critical to an individual’s ability to perform well. Experienced teachers, motivated peers, scholarships that allow for time to study, a state of the art university education, and opportunities to be fast tracked into managerial training can all play a role.

“Policy makers, administrators, psychologists and parents recognise that these are important resources,” said Byington, “but what gets less attention is the fact that these resources are more likely to be given to those who perform especially well on IQ reflective tests.” This is because many of the high stakes tests that are used to decide who has access to these resources measure IQ. Among the tests strongly associated with IQ are the achievement tests used by schools and university admissions exams, such as the SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT.

As a consequence, the stakes of IQ tests have never been higher. Byington and Felps point out that different versions of what are essentially IQ tests are now being used throughout Western Europe and North America to determine ‘life chances’ in primary and secondary schools, as well as universities. For example, in the Netherlands, the Cito test is given to students at age 11 to determine whether a child is placed on track for a vocational or university education.

The effect of these resources may be self-compounding, creating increasing differences in performance between high and low scoring students over time. But, according to the article, the impact of IQ reflective tests on life outcomes doesn’t end at graduation. Many companies also use IQ reflective tests and credentials to select between job applicants. Such practices are based on a large body of research that finds a strong link between IQ and job performance. However, nearly all of this research has been done in North America and Western European countries – where IQ scores are tightly linked to resources. Interestingly, new studies in the Middle East and China are finding a substantially weaker, and in some cases negative, relationship between IQ scores and performance.

This research raises important questions for public policy and about the use of high stakes tests to distribute resources that may be critical ingredients for an individual’s future. The article also calls into question many companies’ use of IQ tests to select employees with non-western backgrounds.