High IQ = Life Success?
October 7, 2010 6:09 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for research / articles about highly intelligent people (high IQs) and their careers. Specifically, I want anything that documents whether a correlation exists between being a hyperintelligent child genius and having a successful career later on. Can you help me?

I'm totally happy with a negative correlation or none at all, I just want to read what's been written about this already! Magazine articles particularly welcome.
posted by Omnomnom to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You may want to look at Joan Freeman's recent book Gifted Lives which tells stories of 20 subjects from her work in one of the largest ever longitudinal studies of gifted/talented people. While the tone of the book is more popular than scholarly (and thus will lack the hard data you're looking for), but the bibliography should be useful to you.
posted by muhonnin at 6:18 AM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: Camilla Benbow at Vanderbilt has been working on this for a long time; in particular, she has a cohort of students who scored very high on the SAT at age 13 (not identical with IQ, but a reasonable proxy I guess?) who she's been studying longitudinally for a long time. Lots of papers in .pdf on her website.
posted by escabeche at 6:21 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think a chapter of Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell) may touch on this and discuss several studies tangentially to making his point.

There's also an older longitudinal study of children with high IQs (California?) who were followed over the course of their lives. I can't remember the name of it, but I do recall the researchers being surprised that there weren't any superduper famous/wildly successful study participants. They ended up being normal people with normal jobs.

If only I could find the (pop psych/science) book that talks about it...
posted by polexa at 6:25 AM on October 7, 2010

The Terman study is the one polexa mentions.

I knew a woman whose father was in that study. She told me that looking back from the vantage of old age the men in the study (it was all men) generally found that their relationships with family and friends meant more to them than their career accomplishments.
posted by mareli at 6:30 AM on October 7, 2010

By the way, if you don't feel like reading through all of Benbow's papers, the takeaway message (or one takeaway message) is that their population of kids who are highly advanced on math SATs at age 13 does end up containing a lot more research scientists than the general population of adults.
posted by escabeche at 6:41 AM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: Chris Langan, who has an IQ so high it is unchartable, worked as bouncer in a bar. He never finished college. In some ways, I think being really smart could make all the hoops you need to jump through to be successful (e.g. college, masters, Ph.d, entry level job) incredibly frustrating.

posted by xammerboy at 7:45 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is a master's thesis that argues that high IQ, academic ability, competitive selection into specialist schools, and rigorous academic education were largely irrelevant to the subsequent professional success (or lack thereof) of women born in the 1940s in my home town (Perth, Western Australia).

If you'd like a copy of the abstract or introduction, memail me and we can sort something out.
posted by Ahab at 8:06 AM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: Terman's Genetic Studies of Genius. [Wiki]. You'll want to find an overview of it.

To the best of my recollection, the people followed in the study general did fairly well in their careers, but not necessarily better than people from similar backgrounds.

There have also been also studies looking at the correlation between IQ and performance in jobs that require a high level of analytical skill. Differences in IQ scores seem to have little predictive value for people who score above the low normal range.

In general, differences between normal and high scores on intelligence tests does not seem to be very meaningful beyond predicting academic performance.

Stephen Ceci's On Intelligence is a good introduction to research in this area. (There's at least a chapter or two relevant to the question you're asking and a discussion of Terman's study.)
posted by nangar at 8:06 AM on October 7, 2010

I don't have scientific data, but I knew a bunch of kids who were in a special program where they started college at 14, based on an exceptionally high IQ. Most of them went through a severe depression/burnout phase around 18 when they no longer had the support structure of this special program, but in the long run many of them ended up doing OK. No Einsteins or anything, but a couple of PhDs and minor-league entrepreneurs. Also a professional nanny and a receptionist.
posted by miyabo at 8:38 AM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: Suggest you contact Mensa and ask them. There have been some articles on their members and what they do for a living. Seems to me you get a normal distribution of "success". Part of your problem is going to be defining what success is. Somebody who truly marches to his/her own drummer might be more inclined to do something off-beat.
posted by PickeringPete at 9:17 AM on October 7, 2010

Chris Langan, who has an IQ so high it is unchartable, worked as bouncer in a bar. He never finished college. In some ways, I think being really smart could make all the hoops you need to jump through to be successful (e.g. college, masters, Ph.d, entry level job) incredibly frustrating.

What's frustrating is the ego that may be developed in an incredibly gifted person. Say, there's a person who excels in Math, but not in English. Could you imagine this person, who everyone calls a genius, having trouble with a poetry unit in middle school? They'd throw a temper tantrum. I didn't know such people going to school, but "intelligent people" and cheating were rampant, at least in high school, because of the pressure they've put forth on themselves to excel.

I have nothing to back it up, but food for thought; some of the more successful people are one's that are pretty good at a lot of things. Have you heard the latest thing an Idiot Savant has discovered in the scientific realm? More likely, there's a team of people, that all have certain interesting traits, that, when working together, work better than just one highly intelligent person. Sadly, the guy who can figure out pi to the 10,000 digit, speak Icelandic, etc is himself, a science experiment for someone else.

I'm kind of wondering why you've correlated from the beginning success with a career though. If someone's happy, they're happy and most likely, a simple life is the easiest to be happy with. You do also understand the problem with measuring IQ - that you forget several different types of intelligences. Someone can be quite bright in math, but can they throw a 100mph fast ball? And paint a painting? AND is hyper-social? Of course not.
posted by alex_skazat at 6:11 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the help! That was amazing. I'm following the leads now.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:23 AM on October 8, 2010

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