Critical thinking ability is a better predictor of life decisions than intelligence

When it comes to making the most important decisions in our lives, IQ may not be the best tool at our disposal, according to a new study in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity. The research team led by Heather Butler of California State University claims that “critical thinking” – the ability to make judgements without jumping to false conclusions such as the difference between correlation and causation– is a much better guide to key outcomes than a straightforward measure of intelligence.

The study of 244 people contrasted the results of IQ tests covering memory, visual processing and quantitative reasoning with a critical thinking assessment which evaluated respondents choices in hypothetical scenarios while factoring in contextual information that could have a bearing on decisions. There was an expected correlation between critical thinking and IQ, but the tests were formulated to account for this moderate overlap.

The researchers were interested in how these measures correlated with scores on a range of real-world outcomes. The avoidance of poor outcomes gave an indirect measure of effective decision making, and the data showed higher IQ individuals did do better. However, high critical thinking was even more strongly associated with real-world outcomes (even after factoring out IQ). In practice this means that it’s possible to have a low or moderate IQ and navigate life more effectively than somebody with a high IQ but poor critical thinking skills.

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