Have you ever wondered if intelligence is related to success? The more IQ, the more chances of success, this seems the most logical. Lewis Terman thought the same, he tried to prove it, although he ended up proving that the relationship between the two variables was not as he thought. 

Lewis Terman (1877, Indiana – 1956, California) was a professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Terman was specialized in intelligence tests that measure IQ.

“There is nothing as important about an individual as his IQ, except possibly his morality. Among those with a very high IQ is where we should look for leaders who advance science, art, politics, education and social assistance in general.” –Lewis Terman

With this belief, he decided to study the smartest students as the center of his career, to look for leaders of tomorrow. To do this, he selected the brightest students in California elementary schools. From a sample of 25.000 students, he ended up selecting 1.470, whose IQs were above 140. He was known by that group of geniuses as “The Termites”.

However, what he discovered was not what he expected: the relationship between success and the IQ works only to a certain range. We could see it in the story of Chris Langan, who despite having an IQ well above the average, even of big names, such as Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking, did not get to win any prize, nor be the father of any theory or discovery.

When the IQ reaches 120 points, all the additional points do not seem to translate into a significant advantage when it comes to deal with the real world, in our daily life. From that number, other elements become more important and more decisive when it comes to success such as certain personality and character traits, but also the environment.


And that was Terman’s mistake, he started from this:

“If I had magical powers and offered to raise your IQ by 30 points, would you accept it? I would suppose that would help him go further in life” –Lewis Terman

He fell in love with the fact that his Termites were on the absolute cusp of the intellectual scale, but he forgot that there are more factors involved in success. As he said, if with a magic wand he manager to add 30 points of IQ, that would not assure us anything connected with success.

When the Termites reached adulthood, Terman’s mistake was evident. Few of these geniuses were nationally known figures. Although his standard of living was high, neither was so high. In fact, most professional careers were normal and current; even those of a surprising number of them were unsuccessful, a fact that even Terman himself had to admit. There was also no Nobel Prize in his group of geniuses. 

Terman concluded, in his fourth volume of Genetic Studies of Genius, that “we have seen that intellect and success are far from being perfectly correlated” and erased the word genius from its vocabulary.

Terman’s lesson:

This experiment was not a failure; it was a success because he discovered something unknown until then. The expected results were simply not found. His hypothesis was invalidated, to discover the truth.

We have talked about being successful, not about being happy. They can coincide, however, be careful because there are not the same. 

There is no single factor that determines success. It would be good to stop overestimating young prospects, just because they stand out in a specific aspect, while we ignore the others. We do not do them any favor.