Job performance is supposedly one measure that validates the construct of IQ tests since they correlate so highly with IQ tests (Schmidt et al, 1986). However, there are problems with the methods used to get the high correlations (sometimes doubling correlations, there are also questions to the robusticity of the studies meta-analyzed); corrections used have to make a number of assumptions; uncertainty of the interpretation of what the supposed IQ and job performance correlations mean; other non-cognitive factors may also explain differences in job performance. Most surprisingly, intelligence test scores did not predict promotion to senior doctor and intelligence does not predict careers.
Job performance and IQ
Does IQ really correlate around .5 with job performance like is so commonly stated? There are a number of problems citing such the commonly used meta-analyses for evidence that IQ does indeed predict job performance.
Richardson and Norgate (2015) show that one should use caution when interpreting the results of IQ and job performance on the basis of numerous criteria. It is important to note that job performance is rated by supervisors, which is, of course, a problem since supervisors tend to be subjective in their ratings. Further, supervisor ratings have low correlations with work performance, while work knowledge has a correlation of around .3 (Richardson and Norgate 2015; Richardson, 2002). So, one of the main things that the correlation hinges upon is strongly subjective.
However, one of the most important things to note here is that the validation of IQ tests is relied on with correlations with other tests. For instance, blood alcohol and level of consumption are valid constructs. The higher your blood alcohol is, the more alcohol you consumed. There is no such validity for the construct of IQ—except correlations with other tests—which is a huge problem. This goes back to the fact that there is no individual theory of intelligence differences (Deary, 2001: 14) and no neurophysiological theory of g (Jensen, 1998: 257).
So IQ tests don’t have the same construct validity that other models that describe biologic/physiologic functions do; hundreds of studies before the 70s showed low correlations between IQ and job performance; corrections for error make a lot of assumptions; the common claim that the IQ/job performance correlation increases with more complex jobs is not observed in more recent studies; and there is great uncertainty in the interpretation of the IQ and job performance correlation, due to the fact that there is no construct validity to IQ tests. This goes back to the question: What is it that IQ tests test (Richardson, 2002)? Is it the ever-elusive general factor of intelligence? I’m skeptical there.
Richardson (2017) writes:
The committee described the differences as “puzzling and somewhat worrisome.” But they noted how the quality of the data might explain it. For example, the 264 newer studies have much greater numbers of participants, on average (146 versus 75). It was shown how the larger samples produced much lower sampling error and less range restriction, also requiring less correction (with much less possibility of a false boost to observed correlations). And there was no need to devise estimates to cover for missing data. So, even by 1989, these more recent results are indicative of the unreliability of those usually cited. But it is the earlier test results that are still being cited by IQ testers. (pg. 89)
IQ and job performance correlations are also substantially weaker in other parts of the world, such as the Middle East and China, where motivation and effort explain school and work performance and not cognitive ability (Byington and Felps, 2010). So, again, caution is to be taken when interpreting any IQ and job performance correlation, as well as—most importantly—asserting that higher IQ means better job performance.
In his 2015 book Intelligence in the Flesh, Guy Claxton wrote:
We saw earlier that Google is not impressed by people’s track records of success, but is equally sceptical of high IQs. Laszlo Bock, the senior vice-president in charge of ‘people operations’ – the head of HR – says: ‘For every job the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning agility. It’s the ability to process on the fly.‘ Behind the ability to learn quickly lies what Bock calls ‘intellectual humility.’ You have to be able to give up the knowledge and expertise you thought would see you through, and look with fresh eyes. People with a high IQ ofen have a hard time doing that. They are certainly no better than average at tolerating uncertainty or being able to adopt fresh perspectives.
Now that we know to take caution when speaking about the IQ and job performance correlation, what do IQ tests say about success as a doctor?
Doctors and IQ
Since becoming a doctor is so demanding and takes a lot of time and motivation to complete a doctoral degree, most rightly assume that it takes a higher than average intelligence to acquire these accolades and become a medical doctor. However, reality is more nuanced.
McManus et al (2003) put forth three hypotheses: 1) the achievement argument: A-levels ensure maximum competence on sciences which are basic to medicine (biology and chemistry); 2) the ability argument: Academic success depends mainly on cognitive ability; and 3) the motivation argument: Using A-levels is effective because it University education not only reflects intelligence but motivation and good, consistent study skills.
There is evidence that IQ is irrelevant to becoming a doctor and that it did not predict dropping out of the program, career outcome, amount of research publications published, or stress, burnout and satisfaction with taking a career in medicine (McManus et al, 2003). Diplomas, higher academic degrees, and research publications were significantly correlated with personality.
McManus et al (2003) write:
Intelligence did not independently predict dropping off the register, career outcome, or other measures.
Intelligence does not predict careers, thus rejecting the ability argument. A levels predict because they assess achievement, and the structural model shows how past achievements predict future achievement.
And on the causes for dropping out:
All 511 students registered with the General Medical Council, but only 464 were on the 2001 Medical Register. The 47 doctors who left the register (a mean of 11.1 years after qualifying; SD 5.9; range 2-23) had lower A level grades but not lower AH5 scores (table A, bmj.com); see http://www.bmj.com for ROC analysis. Two doctors subsequently returned to the register. Of the remainder, three had died, contact details were available for 35, and no information was available for seven.
So lower intelligence scores were not the cause for dropping out.
McManus et al (2003), however, could not distinguish between the motivation and achievement argument, but falsified the intelligence argument (Hypothesis 2 was falsified, but not 1 and 3).
This was also replicated by McManus et al (2013), where they should that IQ scores did not predict promotion to senior doctor. A-level scores, yet again, predicted success better when it came to doctoral success.
The relationship between IQ and job performance is not as clear-cut as most would like to believe. One of the most important factors there, in my opinion, is the subjectivity of supervisors on the performance of their workers. Numerous factors could influence a supervisors’ view of an individual, biasing the supervisor to a high rating. Furthermore, the corrected correlations are a problem. More recent analyses show a correlation of .25 (Richardson, 2017: 89).
Perhaps more importantly, two studies show that there is no predictive effect on job performance when it comes to IQ for doctors (McManus et al, 2003; McManus et al, 2013). They show that A-level scores predict success better, with personality variables mediating other relationships—not IQ scores.
The fact of the matter is, job performance and IQ is on shaky ground since IQ tests are not constructed valid, and the job performance ratings are based on supervisor ratings which are highly subjective. Analyses in other locations around the world show that IQ does not predict job performance, however, motivation and effort do. IQ does not predict a doctor’s job performance; job performance tests do not prove the validity of IQ tests.
IQ does not predict a doctor’s job performance; job performance tests do not prove the validity of IQ tests.
[Edit: I have come across more data on doctors IQ. Some studies show that complaints by patients on their doctors are related to infractions. Perry and Crean (2005) show that the average IQ for a doctor is 125. They also state that neurocognitive impairment may be responsible for 63% of all physician related adverse events. This same observation is also noted in other studies (Pitkanen, Hurn, and Kopelman, 2008; Lauri et al, 2009; Kataria et al, 2014). Also of note is that these papers—to the best of my knowledge—do not explore the role of stress in cognitive decline. Though Pitkanen, Hurn, and Kopelman (2008) note that depression, PTSD, amnesia, transient global amnesia, alcoholic brain damage, frontotemporal dimentia, dimentia, alzheimer’s disease, vascular dimentia, and post-traumatic amnesia (PTA) influence cognitive decline in doctors.
Veena et al, (2015) show that 88 percent of medical students had near average intelligence, putting in 6 hours a day of studying, while 10 percent of students had above average IQ, spent less time studying but were sincere in their classes.
Veena et al (2015) conclude:
Students with near average IQ work hard in their studies and their academic performance was similar to students with higher IQ. So IQ can`t be made the basis for medical entrance; instead giving weight-age to secondary school results and limiting the number of attempts may shorten the time duration for entry and completion of MBBS degree.
So students with average intelligence work just as hard (if not harder) than people with above average IQ and have similar educational achievement. This shows that IQ can’t be the basis for medical school entry.
This is a really interesting matter and I will cover it more in the future. I’ve been wondering for years if there is data on physician/doctoral malpractice and race I have yet to come across any papers on the matter. If anyone knows of any, please leave some citations.]