Success Depends on Your Personality More Than IQ

Photo: Lambert/Getty Images

Despite a bestselling takedown or two, IQ has a way of persisting as the way popular culture talks about intelligence, and thereby, achievement. But raw intellectual horsepower isn’t enough to make your way in the world — the best driver, according to a handsome new analysis, is your personality.

This paper comes from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, recently highlighted by Faye Flam at Bloomberg. A top-shelf research team, including Nobel Laureate James Heckman, combined a bunch of international data sets to find that IQ alone didn’t do much to predict financial success or academic achievement. Rather, the best associations were found when personality tests were combined with test scores. That give a much better indication of “life outcomes” like body-mass index, income, and self-reported life satisfaction, as the below graph illustrates.

Photo: National Academy of Sciences

Tests scores say a lot about personality, the authors contend, and they translate into career outcomes. If you do well on a test, it’s not just smarts that got you there, but your capacity to plan. To land a new job, you need “non-cognitive skills” like an ability to collaborate, show up on time, and send thoughtful follow-up emails.

This is hopeful news, the authors say. “For example, personality or non-cognitive skills are more malleable at later ages than IQ, and there are effective adolescent interventions that promote personality but are much less successful in boosting IQ,” they write. Like, say, teaching kids to meditate rather than throwing them in detention.

Success Depends on Your Personality More Than IQ