Geniuses defined by their IQs alone—often not hugely successful

Being a Genius is without any doubt the highest praise one can receive. The word “genius” signifies great intelligence, consummate talent, and remarkable ability. A genius is immaculate, someone who retains considerable respect and is completely laudable of such acclaim. In the words of Thomas Edison, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.” According to Glad well, geniuses are often defined by their IQ’s alone, our ideas about geniuses represent some of our strongest and most indelible misconceptions about how success works. Most of them in real life are not very successful because there are other factors in life to progress and having a high IQ will not guarantee you success in real life; you have to be socially and financially stable to pursue your dream of becoming successful in achieving your desired goal. People of high IQ’s are not always as successful as we label them because according to Glad well , that having a high IQ did not equate to success in real life due in part to facing financial and social hardship.

Every year hundreds of thousands of qualified “genius” students cannot pursue higher education after graduating from high schools, because colleges are expensive. Students get evaluated on the basis of their parents’ income in order to receive loans. If their parents do not meet the government’s given criteria, then they are not able to get any student loans, and most of them, being labeled as extraordinary at school, end up being an ordinary person.

According to an article by Janet Levaux, Editor in Chief of Research Magazine,

83% of Americans Say They Can’t Afford College: Edward Jones Poll

Plus, 66% cannot identify 529 plans, the annual survey finds

Investors need help with college savings.Investors need help with college savings.

College costs continue to rise, and an Edward Jones survey finds that 83% of Americans say they cannot afford the expense of a college education.

It’s the fourth year that Edward Jones has surveyed Americans about college savings. And this year’s poll also finds that just 34% can identify 529 plans, down from 37% in 2012, but up from 30% in 2014.

There is a famous quote by Salvador Dali: “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” The meaning of quote is simple: you can be genius but if you don’t have any path which you can follow then you are nothing more than any ordinary person. For example, being a genius does not guarantee that you will be financially stable enough to pursue your education.


Levaux, Janet. “83% of Americans Say They Can’t Afford College: Edward Jones Poll.” Think Advisor Think Advisor, 13 May 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.


Are People With High IQs More Successful?

A high IQ child - JW LTD / Taxi / Getty Images

Today in America, most students who qualify to pursue a college degree have an IQ of about 100 to 110, but this does not guarantee that they will be successful in achieving their professional goals. A student might ace college life, but once they graduate and enter in real world, the meaning of life changes. Since the beginning of pre-school, they have been defined by their high IQ level and nothing else and in real life things just don’t work according to their ability of being genius. Geniuses often have poor social skills and might struggle with mental instability. They should be more active in school and participate in school extracurricular activities, which will not only keep them socially active but will give the opportunity to work out of their comfort zone.

Are individuals with a high IQ destined for success? We have a tendency to believe that having a high IQ is a sure-fire way to guarantee success in life. After all, some of the most successful people in different fields such as science, art, business, and entertainment are extremely bright.

While today we often assume that those with extremely high IQs are naturally more successful, there also exists a competing stereotype that people with very high IQs are sometimes less likely to prosper in multiple life domains; that these highly intelligent individuals have poor social skills and that they might struggle with mental instability. Consider the brilliant but eccentric and socially awkward characters that abound in popular culture, from the brainy but persnickety Sheldon Cooper on television’s The Big Bang Theory to the clever yet idiosyncratic Sherlock Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective series.

You probably know a few extremely smart people who are also very successful, but you can also likely think of several people who are equally smart yet not as prosperous.

Does having a high IQ predict greater success in life?

Psychologists have long been interested in understanding how a person’s IQ influences their ability to function in multiple life domains. The very first IQ tests were developed as a means of identifying school children who needed extra academic help, but the tests quickly became a popular way of identifying individuals who had above average scores as well.

First let’s start by answering a basic question: What exactly do we mean by “high IQ?” On standardized tests of intelligence, such as the Stanford-Binet test, the average IQ score is 100 and anything over 140 is considered a high, or genius-level IQ.

One of the best-known studies on intelligence tackled the question of whether high IQ might be linked to life success.

Terman’s Study of Gifted Children

Starting in the early 1920s, psychologist Lewis Terman began to investigate the idea that genius-level IQ was associated with social and personal maladjustment. He selected approximately 1500 children from California between the ages of 8 and 12 who had an IQ of at least 140, the minimum required to be considered a genius. The average IQ score of the group of participants was 150, and 80 of these children had scores above 170.

Over the next few years, Terman continued to track these children to see how high intelligence might impact the course of their lives. What Terman discovered was that these kids tended to be both socially and physically well-adjusted. These high IQ kids were not only academically successful; they also tended to be healthier, taller, stronger, and less accident-prone than same-aged kids with lower IQs.

After Terman’s death in 1956, several other psychologists carried on the original research and followed the original subjects. Known as the Terman Study of the Gifted, the study continues to this day and is the longest-running longitudinal study in the history.

Psychologists continue to track the surviving original participants, some of whom have gone on to achieve great success in life. Some of these individuals include famed educational psychologist Lee Chronbach, I Love Lucy writer Jess Oppenheimer, child psychologist Robert Sears, scientist Ancel Keys, and many others who became faculty members at colleges and universities.

As of the year 2003, there were 200 original participants still living. The study is expected to continue until the last member of the group dies or withdraws.


How Successful Were Terman’s High IQ Participants?

So how did the majority of Terman’s subjects fare in life?

  • When they were assessed in 1955 when the average yearly income was $5,000, the average income level for Terman’s subjects was an impressive $33,000.
  • Two-thirds had earned college degrees and a large number of the participants had gone on to earn graduate and professional degrees.
  • Many members of the group became doctors, lawyers, business executives, professors, and scientists.

But not all of these high IQ subjects were so successful. Researcher Melita Oden, who had carried on the research after Terman’s death, decided to compare the 100 most successful individuals (group “A”) to the 100 least successful (group “C”). While they essentially had the exact same IQs, only a few people from group C had become professionals, most earned just slightly above the average yearly income, and they had higher rates of alcoholism and divorce than individuals from group A.

What could explain this disparity? If IQ predicts success, why did these individuals with similar intelligence scores fare so differently in life?

Terman had noted that as children the individuals in group A tended to exhibit “prudence and forethought, willpower, perseverance, and the desire to excel.” Later as adults, those from group A tended to rate higher than those from group C on three key traits: goal-orientation, self-confidence, and perseverance.

This suggests that while IQ can play a role in life success, personality traits are also important factors in determining outcomes.

Potential Problems With Terman’s Study

Critics have suggested that Terman’s study suffers from several notable weaknesses. First, the study lacked a generalizable sample. The original subjects were chosen for the study because they were nominated by their teachers before their IQ was actually tested. It is highly likely that teachers selected children who were both smart and well-adjusted over kids who may have been just as intelligent but less socially competent.

Because Terman’s study was longitudinal, the results might be influenced by cohort effects since the original group of participants may have shared characteristics and experiences tied to the specific era in which they lived. For example, the Great Depression and World War II may have prevented many members of the group from attending or completing college. Many women from the group may not have attended school because, at the time, it was more common for women to be homemakers rather than career professionals.

Other researchers have suggested that any randomly selected group of children with similar backgrounds would have been just as successful as Terman’s original subjects.

Modern Research on IQ and Life Success

One thing that IQ scores have been shown to reliably predict is academic success in school. However, it is important to note that doing well in school doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will be successful at work or in other life areas.

“The best thing IQ measures is the ability to do well in school,” suggested Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and director of the Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic at Yale University, toABC News. “At this age, consider it potential. But you have to have the right environment to nurture this.”

Other research has indicated that children with exceptional academic abilities may actually experience more social problems, including social isolation, than less-gifted students. Another study found that people with higher IQs were more likely to smoke marijuana and use other illegal drugs. Why? Researchers suggest that those with high IQs also tend to score higher on apersonality trait known as openness to experience. Since they are more willing to try new things, high IQ individuals may be more likely to seek out novel experiences.

While researchers continue to debate the extent that IQ influences life success, most contemporary research seems to support Terman’s overall findings. Intelligence is an important component, but high IQ alone is no guarantee of success in work or other areas of life.

So what’s the bottom line?

The results of Terman’s longitudinal study of gifted children suggest that IQ can play an important role in determining life success; but high IQ alone is not enough. Variables such as family background, socioeconomic status, and educational experiences as well as personality factors including motivation, willingness to work hard, being committed to goals, creativity and emotional maturity are also strongly linked to success in life.


Goleman, D. (1980, February). 1,538 little geniuses and how they grew. Psychology Today, 28-53.

Holahan, C. K., & Sears, R. R. (1995). The Gifted Group in Later Maturity. Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA.

Leslie, M. (2000). The vexing legacy of Lewis Terman. Stanford Magazine.

Szalavitz, M. (2011, Nov. 15). Why kids with high IQs are more likely to take drugs. Time. Retrieved from

Terman, L. M. (1925). Mental and Physical Traits of a Thousand Gifted Children. Genetic Studies of Genius Volume 1. Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press.

Terman. L. M., & Oden, M. H. (1959.) Genetic studies of genius. Vol. V. The gifted at mid-life: Thirty-five years’ follow-up of the superior child. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Winner, E. (1997). Exceptionally high intelligence and schooling. American Psychologist, 29, 1070-1081.


IQ or EQ: Which One Is More Important?

In his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman suggested that EQ (or emotional intelligence quotient) might actually be more important than IQ. Why? Some psychologists believe that standard measures of intelligence (i.e. IQ scores) are too narrow and do not encompass the full range of human intelligence. Instead, they suggest, the ability to understand and express emotions can play an equal if not even more important role in how people fare in life.

What’s the Difference Between IQ and EQ?

Let’s start by defining the two terms in order to understand what they mean and how they differ. IQ, or intelligence quotient, is a number derived from a standardized intelligence test. On the original IQ tests, scores were calculated by dividing the individual’s mental age by his or herchronological age and then multiplying that number by 100. So a child with a mental age of 15 and a chronological age of 10 would have an IQ of 150. Today, scores on most IQ tests are calculatedby comparing the test taker’s score to the scores of other people in the same age group.


Man writing on chalkboard - Justin Lewis/Stone/Getty Images

EQ, on the other hand, is a measure of a person’s level of emotional intelligence. This refers to a person’s ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and express emotions. Researchers such as John Mayer and Peter Salovey as well as writers like Daniel Goleman have helped shine a light onemotional intelligence, making it a hot topic in areas ranging from business management to education.

Since the 1990s, emotional intelligence has made the journey from a semi-obscure concept found in academic journals to a popularly recognized term. Today, you can buy toys that claim to help boost a child’s emotional intelligence or enroll your kids in social and emotional learning (SEL) programs designed to teach emotional intelligence skills. In some schools in the United States, social and emotional learning is even a curriculum requirement.

So Which One Is More Important?

At one point in time, IQ was viewed as the primary determinant of success. People with high IQs were assumed to be destined for a life of accomplishment and achievement and researchers debated whether intelligence was the product of genes or the environment (the old nature versus nurture debate). However, some critics began to realize that not only was high intelligence no guarantee for success in life, it was also perhaps too narrow a concept to fully encompass the wide range of human abilities and knowledge.

IQ is still recognized as an important element of success, particularly when it comes to academic achievement. People with high IQs typically to do well in school, often earn more money, and tend to be healthier in general. But today experts recognize it is not the only determinate of life success. Instead, it is part of a complex array of influences that includes emotional intelligence among other things.

The concept of emotional intelligence has had a strong impact in a number of areas, including the business world. Many companies now mandate emotional intelligence training and utilize EQ tests as part of the hiring process. Research has found that individuals with strong leadership potential also tend to be more emotionally intelligent, suggesting that a high EQ is an important quality for business leaders and managers to have.

So you might be wondering, if emotional intelligence is so important, can it be taught or strengthened? According to one meta-analysis that looked at the results of social and emotional learning programs, the answer to that question is an unequivocal yes. The study found that approximately 50 percent of kids enrolled in SEL programs had better achievement scores and almost 40 percent showed improved grade-point-averages. These programs were also linked to lowered suspension rates, increased school attendance, and reduced disciplinary problems.



  • “…a national insurance company found that sales agents who were weak in emotional competencies such as self-confidence, initiative, and empathy sold policies with an average premium of $54,000. Not bad, right? Well, compared to agents who scored high in a majority of emotional competencies, they sold policies worth an average of $114,000.”
    (Cooper, 2013)
  • “Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge. Additionally, Nobel Prize winning Israeli-American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, found that people would rather do business with a person they like and trust rather than someone they don’t, even if the likeable person is offering a lower quality product or service at a higher price.”
    (Jensen, 2012)
  • “IQ alone is not enough; EQ also matters. In fact, psychologists generally agree that among the ingredients for success, IQ counts for roughly 10% (at best 25%); the rest depends on everything else—including EQ.”
    (Bressert, 2007)

Enjoy this article? You might also be interested in learning more about:


Bressert, S. (2007). What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?. Psych Central. Retrieved from

Cooper, S. (2013, March 18). Look for employees with high EQ over IQ. Forbes. Retrieved from

Goleman, D. (n.d.). Emotional intelligence. Retrieved from

Jensen, K. (2012). Intelligence is overrated: What you really need to succeed. Forbes. Retrieved from



The Intelligence Quotient (IQ) doesn’t measure what we know; it measures what we are able to understand. An IQ test consists of a series of exams aimed at assessing how well we reason, process information, and solve problems relative to other people our age. Anyone scoring within 10 points of 100 is said to be of average intelligence, which makes someone who scores a 130 the smartest person in the room. That is, unless they’re in a room with some certifiable genius types such as Einstein, Da Vinci, Plato, or Ivan Drago (aka Rocky Balboa’s rival), who all have an IQ over 160. But even those with the gift of genius aren’t handed a guarantee — success, like batteries, is sold separately.


Since studying is unlikely to boost our IQ, being born with genius in our genes is kind of like hitting the intelligence lottery. Although it is possible to boost cognitive ability by learning new skills and playing problem-solving games, these changes are unlikely to increase overall IQ (sorry, Sudoku lovers). In this way, IQ is like physical health: We can exercise our brain and muscles to help them grow, but the changes aren’t permanent; the moment we stop exercising, our brains and muscles start to return to their original form .

If we assume we’re all racing towards some version of “success,” a high IQ is one heck of a head start. But that doesn’t mean we should give up just because our number falls a little lower on the scale. The first runner out of the blocks doesn’t always win the race, and having the highest IQ in the crowd doesn’t guarantee success. That’s because there are some things an IQ test can’t measure. For starters, there’s no Street Smarts section on an IQ test, meaning a degree from the school of hard knocks doesn’t carry much weight. Testing our reasoning also overlooks the various ways we learn: Some people can read and retain information while others need to get hands-on, and so on. One method isn’t necessarily “smarter” than another; they’re just different.

IQ also overlooks what researcher Howard Gardner refers to as “multiple intelligences,” or the human capacity to possess a range of traits and abilities — not all of which can be measured via testing. Similarly, the IQ test fails to measure traits such as creativity, imagination and innovation, all of which can contribute to a person’s success (or lack thereof) .


what iq can do for you — and what it can’t

Despite flaws in IQ testing, intelligence has been shown to play a role in determining achievement, business success, and even the rate of our mortality — mostly because IQ strongly correlates with income . Having a high IQ also increases the likelihood of becoming a high-performer in a variety of aptitudes, from science to music. That’s because a genius can process, store, and recall an absurd amount of highly complex information — it’s called working memory capacity .

But if being a brainiac was the one and only criterion for success, everyone with a lofty IQ would be wildly successful — and obviously, that’s not always the case. Even a genius can squander their intelligence jackpot . When smart people encounter a problem that needs solving, they tend to forgo facts in favor of mental shortcuts. Trouble is, these shortcuts can lead to foolish mistakes and ultimately the wrong answer. Turns out Mom was right: We can be too smart for our own good.

So if great intellect doesn’t guarantee success, what factors separate an average Joe from a highly intelligent outlier? The real question becomes: Can we actually compete with genius by going from good to great?

The Genius Myth — The Answer/Debate

Genius is real, but it can also be really misleading. For one thing, putting too much stake in “genius” implies the entire average-achieving population is virtually helpless. When taken at face value, the idea of innate intelligence plays into the genius myth. This legend would have us mere mortals believe that we either have it or we don’t — whatever “it” is. But when the curtain is pulled back, we see that genius is nothing more than a comforting parable. It comes in handy when trying to explain why some people seem to have it all, but it doesn’t accurately depict the full scope and scale of human intelligence.

In reality, success is based on a whole lot more than genius alone.Persistence, practice, socio-emotional skills, our environment, the way we’re raised, and luck all combine to determine what we will achieve . This explains why early interventions in child development so often improve individuals’ chances of success — our potential isn’t fixed the day we’re born; rather, it’s highly fluid and dependent on a number of both external and internal factors.

One of these factors — grit — has been shown to play a particularly big role when it comes to success. Grit is best defined as theperseverance and passion for a long-term goal. It’s a single-minded focus that allows us to persist well beyond the point at which others would give up. One study found that West Point cadets and spelling bee superstars linked this grit factor with success time after time . The soldiers and spellers who were most successful were more determined, had greater willpower, and exhibited better self-control than their lower-achieving peers. Researchers found that the smarter kids just didn’t try as hard or want it as bad as the gritty kids . Grit and IQ are only weakly associated with each other, so a person doesn’t need to be a genius to be gritty as all get out. I guess we could say it’s better to be average and hardworking than to be a lazy genius.

Smart Versus Successful — The Takeaway

When it comes determining to success, IQ isn’t a promise, it’s more of a performance enhancer. If genius is the elevator to the top, we’ll just have to take the stairs. It may take longer, but it’ll still get us to where we want to go.


VENNARE, JOE. “Does A High IQ Guarantee Success? Maybe Not.” Greatist Inc., 29 Mar. 2013. Web. 6 May 2016.


I believe that having a high IQ does not alone make you successful, but if you are socially active and have a high IQ, it will not only help you develop better relationships with people; but it can also greatly reduce stress and anxiety in life. Improving social skills is linked to better mental health which can help you avoid financial issues due to lack of social interaction. People with high IQ should exert their special abilities towards something they can apply in real life; for example, if a genius is interested in baseball, or any sort of game or interest, they should make the best out of it. It would not only make them more focused on something that they are fond of, but it can also move them closer to what they want to achieve in life. Along with this, they will excel in their activity because of their extraordinary abilities of going beyond an average student’s capability. Social interaction along with high IQ can be a better way to progress in life. It will not only help in them being a better person, but it can also make them achieve their desired goals in life. So people in real life and in the work force should begin to realize that having a high IQ alone won’t guarantee more successful life than those with lower IQ.