What intellectual difference is there between IQ scores of 135, 157, and 162?

Nth Bar-Fields, Co-founder and director of Elysian Trust. Neurofeedback tech.

My answer probably won’t be popular, but it will be verifiable with licensed psychometricians. There is currently no job known beyond the intellectual ability of someone with an IQ at or above 135. That is the Wonderlic occupational cutoff for theoretical physics and philosophy, the two occupations with the highest IQ minimum at this stage.

Secondly, when Nobel Prize winning scientists (literary and peace laureates were ignored) at my alma mater U.C. Berkeley were tested for IQ (it had something to do with a eugenics sperm donation program that ultimately floundered), it was discovered they didn’t necessarily have “genius IQs” (IQs at or beyond 140). For instance, Nobel Prize winning biologist James Watson only scored 130-ish (and that was a childhood score, so his adulthood score was likely lower). Yet, some of their peers without Nobel Prizes did have astronomical scores. Thirdly—and I’ll go into more detail below—IQ scores above 135 aren’t particularly reliable. So it very well could be one person scoring 135, 157, and 162 on different tests.

Consequently I would say the answer to all your example questions is: “It’s a crap shoot”

Some additional trivia that may be useful later on for you:
Because of the way intelligence tests are normed, test scores beyond a certain range (some psychometricians say it is anything beyond 136 to anything beyond 145, depending on who you ask) aren’t particularly reliable. An adult with a score of +135 on legitimate IQ tests will likely routinely score that high on other legitimate IQ tests they take. But it may be 140 on one test, 165 on another, and so on. However, I can all but guarantee such a person will only mention their highest score from all the IQ tests they’ve taken (legitimate or not). When I hear someone go on and on about their 180 IQ or whatever, almost invariably it’s someone talking about their personal best, not their average, and probably not their average exclusive to IQ tests recognized by the APA as legitimate.

Granted, there are people who reliably score within a certain score range—say 150–155 or or 160–165— but they are rarer than would be statistically expected. When an IQ test says that there is a 1 in 30,000 chance someone will score 160 or higher on said IQ test, it is not suggesting that if you administer it to 3,000,000 people, then the 100 people who score 160 or higher at one given moment will be the same ones who score that high at another given moment. There will be quite a few who make it to that level on one test, but not the other. This phenomenon is a large contribution to why the right tail of the Bell curve is fatter than would be expected by Gaussian distribution.

Another reason behind the +135 quirk is the math itself. Generally speaking, you need about 10x the normative sample for your official ceiling. So if you want an IQ test to have a ceiling of, say, 145 (1-in-1000-ish), then you’d need 10,000 people in the normative sample stage. Otherwise the individuals who score into the extreme of (140, 150, 160, 170…) may have just got there by chance. Now if you look at a test like the WAIS or Stanford-Binet, you’ll see they only use around 2,000 people in their normative sample. The result is the real ceiling being somewhere around 138. David Wechsler himself, creator of the WAIS, didn’t think people should put much stock in any WAIS score above 135 either (in his world, a 136 and a 150 were the same in most situations). Of course if you have taken the WAIS, you’ll know the official ceiling for the most recent one is 160 (they were shooting for 165 in the beginning), and the extrapolated score one can get on it can be as high as in the 180s. But this is nevertheless extrapolation.

I’ve been a member of Mensa (130), Intertel (135), Triple Nine Society (146), Prometheus (160), and was accepted into Olympiq Society (175), all using legitimate IQ tests. I’ve seen enough people in all groups to draw a conclusion that it greatly depends on the individual just how perceptive and penetrating their mind is, both across the board and within certain domains. There are some people in Mensa who have thoroughly impressed me with their ability to think things through, but they can’t qualify for TNS. There are people in TNS that seemingly devote a lot of their time and energy to defending stances they have to know are wrong but want them to be right nonetheless. They are sometimes very good at defending those wrong stances, in that most people would not be able to logically go through their defenses. But it’s still ultimately an unwise use of their smarts.

Similarly, there are people I’ve met in Prometheus who simply can’t figure out how to get out of their own way, and other people in the group who would likely be a success in anything they chose to do. You get the idea.

Wisdom is evidently something separate from intelligence.

But that is not to say that percentage of adept thinkers I’ve personally seen is the same across all groups. I do admit that something interesting happens once you hit the 3 sigma level (145 on modern IQ tests). Sure, there are some unimpressive thinkers in that range who rely far too much on truthiness, but I have to say that the ones in it who actually are willing to think matters through, and think critically do a phenomenal job at it. Even when someone in the lower tier groups catches my attention with their adeptness of thought, about 70% of the time, I discover they either are 3 sigma or near it. And 100% of the time, I discover they are in the 99th percentile (135 or higher).

It’s less popular, but there are other cognitive constructs recognized by psychology. I’m not talking about the Gardner multiple intelligences theory (I would say those are more like aptitudes than intelligences). I am talking about creativity index (e.g., Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking), critical thinking quotient (e.g., Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal), intuition capacity (e.g., Cappon IQ2), and even the much maligned emotional intelligence quotient (e.g., MSCEIT). Although with the last one, I need to emphasize the difference between self-assessment emotional intelligence tests and ability-based emotional intelligence tests. I’m only talking about ability-based testing.

In any event, all of these tests do an exceptional job at predicting success in different aspects of life that the other constructs don’t do nearly as well. IQ, for instance, is not particularly good at predicting how far someone will go in art or even something like social work. All the constructs capture talent that otherwise might be overlooked by the others.

It was the rationale behind my co-creating the Elysian Trust. There were simply too many gifted people out there without the support mechanisms that gifted programs that rely only on IQ have. We do scrutinize for behavior too, and that has possibly made the biggest difference in our level of success stories in comparison to other groups out there we often get compared to.

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