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Smart or determined? Examining the role of motivation in IQ tests

27 February 2018

Intelligence tests are meant to tell you something about a person’s inherent abilities. But what if the results are distorted by the motivation to perform well?

That would undermine the tests’ validity and have important implications for their use in education and recruitment.

A simple way to find out whether motivation affects intelligence test performance is to offer people a financial incentive for doing well and see if this helps them get a higher score. A paper in the British Journal of Psychology has done this, finding that while a financial incentive boosted people’s self-declared effort levels, it failed to lift their performance.

This result is good news for the validity of intelligence testing. Or as the paper’s author, Gilles Gignac at the University of Western Australia, put it: “The position of a causal effect of test-taking motivation on intelligence test performance in adults does not, yet, appear to be clearly tenable”.

Read more about this paper in a Research Digest post by Christian Jarrett.

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