Natalie Haynes: It doesn't take a genius to state the obvious

The thing is...

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The thing is, that altogether too much scientific research is done in the category which we might loosely term "stuff anyone who has ever spent three consecutive seconds thinking about anything already knows". And that includes the University of Pennsylvania, which has just released research proving that IQ tests measure motivation, and not just intelligence.

To whom can it possibly come as news that tests measure – among other things – the amount you want to do well in a test? Every test, every exam I have ever sat – from my driving test to my Grade 1 flute to my finals – has been essentially the same: they all measure how good you are at jumping through that particular hoop. Obviously, if you can't drive, you might struggle to pass a driving test. But even if you can drive, it doesn't guarantee you a pass, because a driving test doesn't measure your ability to drive, it measures your ability to pass the test.

I have performed an emergency stop at the sight of a balding man thumping a clipboard on the dashboard precisely nought times in the past 18 years. As a skill, it has proved markedly less useful than my frankly superior ability to holler: "That's fine, I use a crystal ball at weekends" out of the window at people who fear that using an indicator is somehow the same as being a quitter.

The same is clearly true of IQ tests: if you lack the motivation to care which shape comes next in the sequence, or to find the word that will fit in front of three other words to give three new meanings, you're unlikely to ace the test. The bizarre thing is that anyone would think that it was remotely useful to try to divorce pure intelligence from the desire to show everyone how clever you are. If you don't have the latter quality, what difference does it make if you have the former? No one would ever know.

So before any more researchers waste their time investigating the obvious, I would like to point out that IQ tests measure, along with intelligence and motivation, literacy (to read the questions), spatial awareness (to find the building where the test is being carried out), punctuality (so you don't miss the start), diary management (so you don't have to leave before the end), and that these are all just as vital as intelligence. And that having a genius IQ and no motivation is, to all practical purposes, exactly the same as not being a genius at all.

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