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The Average IQ: What It Is and How It’s Measured

13 January,2024  |  By Brainwonders

What Is the Average IQ?

The average intelligence quotient (IQ) is between 85 and 115. But this number can vary between countries, states, and even geographical regions.

"IQ" stands for "intelligence quotient," and it is a score that is derived from standardized tests designed to measure human intelligence and potential. These tests consist of questions that evaluate an individual's reasoning and problem-solving abilities.

IQ scores are commonly used to determine educational placement, diagnose mental disabilities, and assess job applicants. However, research has shown that average IQ scores differ worldwide, which has been a topic of great interest and controversy among scientists.

The debate surrounding these differences centers on whether genetics, environmental factors, or a combination of both factors influence IQ scores. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what an average IQ score indicates and what it does not to gain insight into this complex topic.

What is the average IQ globally and in the United States?

IQ tests are designed to have an average score of 100, with the majority of people falling between 85 and 115. Only a small percentage of individuals score very high (above 130) or very low (below 70) on the test. The average IQ in the United States is 98.

Various researchers have attempted to determine how countries rank in terms of IQ, with some controversial findings. For example, according to Lynn and Meisenberg’s research, the top 10 countries by average IQ include Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Iceland, Macau, Switzerland, and Austria. The bottom 10 countries by average IQ include Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Malawi.

However, some controversy exists regarding these studies, as they may have only considered specific population groups or a small sample size per country.

How is IQ measured?

The origins of modern IQ testing in the US can be traced back to Henry Herbert Goddard, a psychologist who translated an intelligence test originally created by French psychologist Alfred Binet from French to English. Binet's test was designed to evaluate basic intellectual functions in school children and to aid in mental health diagnoses.

Since then, IQ tests have undergone significant changes and development, and there are now over a dozen different tests used to measure intelligence. IQ tests are generally used to assess a person's reasoning and problem-solving skills. Some of the most commonly used tests include the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-V), Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Adults (WAIS), Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Differential Ability Scales (DAS), and Peabody Individual Achievement Test.

IQ tests are administered by licensed psychologists and typically consist of multiple parts. For example, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale contains 15 subtests, each measuring a different aspect of IQ such as math, language, reasoning, memory, and processing speed. The scores from each subtest are then combined to produce a single IQ score, which is also adjusted based on the individual's age.

Rising IQs

Since the early 1900s, IQ scores have increased in most parts of the world, which is known as the "Flynn effect" after the researcher who first discovered it. James Flynn noticed in the 1980s that U.S. military personnel who took IQ tests did much better than those who took the same test in the 1950s. Further research revealed that IQ scores had been rising all over the world by about three points or more per decade.

However, this increase in IQ scores does not necessarily mean that we are smarter or more evolved than our ancestors. Rather, scientists believe it's due to improvements in our abilities to think logically, solve problems, and consider hypothetical situations. Factors such as increased access to formal education, vaccinations, and better nutrition may also have contributed to this trend.

Why the test is controversial

The topic of average IQ has been a controversial one ever since the inception of intelligence testing. Unfortunately, some people have used this information to support racist agendas and eugenics movements by erroneously asserting that people of certain races, sexes, or backgrounds have lower IQs due to their genes, making them inferior. However, despite individual genes being linked to IQ, none have demonstrated a strong effect, and the American Psychological Association has found no evidence to support genetic explanations for IQ score differences between races. Studies have also not been able to find differences in average IQ scores between men and women.

It's important to remember that IQ and IQ tests were developed by western Europeans according to their cultural standards, which raises the question of whether IQ accurately measures intelligence in people with vastly different social structures, cultures, beliefs, and ways of thinking. Environmental factors also play a significant role in average IQ. Good nutrition, high-quality education, laws requiring food fortification, laws establishing safe pollutant levels, musical training in childhood, higher socioeconomic status, and lower incidence of infectious diseases have all been associated with higher IQ.

A recent study found that infectious diseases may be the most critical predictor of average IQ. This is because when a child becomes ill, their body uses energy to fight off the infection rather than allocating it to brain development. A study conducted in the United States discovered a strong correlation between states with a higher incidence of infectious diseases and lower IQ, while another study found that people with malaria had impaired cognitive abilities and school performance compared to healthy individuals.

IQ isn’t the only way to measure intelligence

Although the average IQ is widely used as a tool to measure human intelligence, it should be used with caution. The average IQ varies by country, and some have used this information to justify racist motives. However, studies have shown that environmental factors such as access to education, proper nutrition, and the incidence of infectious diseases play a larger role in explaining the differences in average IQ between countries.

IQ scores may not provide a complete picture of intelligence since they may not measure other aspects of intellect, such as creativity, curiosity, and social intelligence. Therefore, if your IQ test results are not exceptional, there is no need to worry as there are many other factors that determine success.

Why ‘Being Smart’ Doesn’t Erase ADHD

While some people with ADHD may have higher IQ scores, it is not accurate to assume that there is a correlation between the two. Such an assumption can be harmful because it can prevent children with ADHD from getting the help they need. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can manifest in different ways, and it can present challenges in everyday activities. Some children with ADHD may excel in certain areas while struggling in others, leading to confusion for parents and teachers. It is also not fair to assume that a child with ADHD is less intelligent simply because their symptoms affect their academic performance. In reality, intelligence and ADHD are not necessarily related.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is typically diagnosed in children around the age of 7, although symptoms can be observed before the age of 12. The disorder is characterized by hyperactive behavior and difficulty with attention. It affects about 9% of children and 4% of adults in the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

While symptoms may decrease as individuals reach adulthood, some continue to experience them throughout their lives. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. Common symptoms of ADHD include impatience, restlessness, inability to concentrate, excessive talking, failure to complete tasks, and difficulty following instructions. The disorder is divided into three subtypes: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive.

To receive a diagnosis of ADHD, a child must exhibit at least six symptoms, while adults may only need to exhibit five or more.


ADHD does not necessarily mean a low IQ, and neither is it always associated with a high IQ, which is a common misconception. However, the severity of ADHD symptoms can affect a person's ability to function at school and work, which can give the impression of a lower IQ. According to a 2010 study, adults with both high IQ and ADHD had lower executive functioning compared to high-IQ individuals without ADHD. However, this study lacked control groups for comparison. Another study in 2016 found that higher IQ scores may help to increase executive functioning in individuals with ADHD. A 2015 study suggested that ADHD symptoms may put adolescents at risk for lower IQ scores, but ADHD itself may not cause lower IQ scores. It is possible that difficulties with learning at school due to ADHD symptoms may lead to lower IQ scores in some people with ADHD. Additionally, individuals with ADHD may only focus their attention on things they enjoy, making it difficult to focus on less interesting tasks.

Possible issues

Determining whether a child with ADHD is "smart" can be a challenging process due to the nature of the diagnostic process. There is no single test that can accurately diagnose ADHD, and the process is typically based on long-term observations of possible symptoms. Moreover, some other conditions such as autism or bipolar disorder might be confused with ADHD, while ADHD is also present in some children with learning disabilities due to the processing difficulties associated with it.

Stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are commonly prescribed medications for treating ADHD and are highly effective. These medications work by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, which can help to enhance focus and reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity in some people. For children who have difficulties with school, stimulants can make a significant difference, improving their ability to focus on tasks and potentially increasing their IQ scores as a result.

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