The Mental Skill That Beats IQ for Making Good Decisions
We have a fascination with talent.
We love watching Michael Phelps in the pool, Lebron James on the court, or watching a child prodigy perfectly executing Mozart. But talent isn’t everything.
Take genius for example. While we may stand in awe of pure brain power, we all know smart people who don’t always make the best choices. Book smarts don’t necessarily translate into street smarts, and even geniuses make grave errors in judgment.
Recent research has even shown that critical thinking is more important than IQ when it comes to making good decisions.
What is IQ and Critical Thinking?
So what’s the difference between IQ and critical thinking?
In simple terms, IQ is basically a person’s ability to manipulate abstract ideas or information. To see patterns or connections. Many experts also believe that IQ is fairly stable in our adult lives and has a large genetic component. It’s something you’re born with to a large degree.
Critical thinking, on the other hand, is about forming accurate judgments using objective analysis. Unlike IQ, studies have shown it’s something that can be learned or acquired with effort.
IQ has an extensive research history of having favorable life outcomes. This includes things like health, longevity, better grades and higher income. While critical thinking hasn’t been studied quite as much, it also has been associated with improved life outcomes.
But if you look at the two side by side, which is best?
IQ vs. Critical Thinking
The two are rarely compared. But researchers from California State University decided to pit one against the other to find out which might produce better real life outcomes. The results, of which, have been published in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity.
They recruited a number of adults and college students and gave them separate tests to gauge both their IQ and critical thinking skills.
They also had these individuals take an inventory of life experiences. These would be events that had happened to them ranging from minor to pretty bad. For example, if they’ve ever been fined a late fee for missing a payment to getting a sexually transmitted disease.
Better Life Outcomes for Critical Thinkers
Not surprisingly, both IQ and critical thinking showed better life outcomes for individuals. The two concepts are moderately correlated with one another.
This means that if you’re blessed with high IQ or have gained critical thinking skills, you can expect to navigate life more successfully than your peers.
When compared against one another, though, critical thinking skills were a better predictor than IQ for making better decisions in life.
The study doesn’t say that critical thinking is necessarily better than IQ. They’re both important, although I would argue we over-attribute IQ’s role in people’s success.
And the study wouldn’t be without is shortcomings. Applying our own critical thinking, we have to recognize that using an inventory of life experiences is only an indirect measure of wise decisions. Furthermore, it doesn’t look at other positive life outcomes/experience that people may deem as “successful.”
There’s also other behavioral traits that may be the cause of poorer decision making. Having an impulsive personality, being less conscientious, or less organized may lead people to choose short term gains over longer term outcomes.
But here’s the underlying moral from the study.
Wile having a high IQ is nice, it doesn’t always equate to success. Sometimes it’s using what you got and knowing there are other factors in your control that can help you lead a more successful life.
More importantly, it can be learned and developed.