HR PERSPECTIVE: IQ and national development

HR PERSPECTIVE: IQ and national development


IN this article, I (MN) interview Heiner Rindermann (HR), a top German Psychologist who has done a lot of research on IQ (intelligence quotient) and national development.

MN: In your studies what relationship did you find between average national IQ and national development, e.g. economic development? In the same answer can you define IQ for us?
HR: Cognitive ability has a positive impact on innovation, production, institutional efficiency and norm obeying behaviour. Therefore, economic growth, productivity, income, wealth and wellbeing are increased.
MN: How confident are you with these findings given the controversy surrounding the definition of IQ?

HR: My definitions: Cognitive ability comprises the ability to think (intelligence), knowledge (the store of true and relevant knowledge) and the intelligent use of this knowledge.
Intelligence is the ability to think. In more detail: To solve new problems by thinking, to infer (to conclude and reason), to think abstractly and to understand.
IQ is a scale usable to show intelligence and cognitive ability levels.
Cognitive ability can be measured by psychometric intelligence tests (frequently less relying on knowledge), by student assessment tests (frequently with a stronger knowledge aspect), by Piagetian tasks, by analysing behaviour in everyday life and by analysing products of such behavior.
MN: You talk of cognitive capitalism; what is it and how is it important?
HR: Cognitive capitalism means that in modernity (compared to traditional societies based on agriculture, stock farming, hunting and collecting) cognitive challenges become larger. Cognitive ability becomes more relevant for economic, social, institutional and cultural wellbeing and progress.
MN: Is there something that can be done for those countries showing low average IQs especially those in sub-Saharan Africa?
HR: Individual and national (average) cognitive ability levels can be enhanced by: Better nutrition (e.g. high quality free school lunch, including meat); health programmes (e.g. parasite control, clean water, toilets); family education (e.g. education for parents, reading to the child, more books); preschool education (crèche and kindergarten); school education (e.g. better educated teachers, discipline education, efficient direct instruction, central and objective tests and exams, tracking based on ability); linking advancement to ability (e.g. selection of university students based on ability tests); linking advancement in jobs to achievement; healthy lifestyle (e.g. no smoking, few alcohol); cognitive
training (e.g. Klauer’s inductive reasoning training).
MN: How important is IQ given that some people are now arguing that EQ (emotional intelligence) is more important than IQ? Is this assertion correct from your studies?
HR: Cognitive ability is more important for success in domains of achievement. Emotional competence is important for dealing with stress, to stay healthy, to deal with psychological and social challenges.
MN: IQ is partly determined by genetics and childhood experiences; does this mean that there is nothing we can do to improve IQ once people reach adulthood?
HR: Individual differences in cognitive ability are largely explained by genetic factors (which one we do not know). However, individual development can be improved by environmental means (as described above). Those interventions can by very successful, but they hardly alter differences between persons. One example, using glasses myopic and long-sighted persons can see much better than before; nevertheless, defective vision is largely (not totally) determined by genes and age.
MN: What lessons can we learn from your experience in Germany in terms of utilising findings from your research?
HR: It is difficult to implement research results into practice. Political decisions depend on more factors than scientific results. However, in the last decades central exams became common in nearly all German states.
MN: Robert J Sternberg, in one of his addresses to the APA (American Psychological Association) conference said there are “smart fools”. How can it be that someone is smart and a fool at the same time?
HR: Culture, zeitgeist, ideology, social environment, habits and wishful thinking are further important factors for thinking and behaviour. And, of course, everybody makes mistakes. We need to learn from our mistakes. Nevertheless, less smart persons make more mistakes and smarter persons more frequently come to the right, less biased decisions.
MN: Most African governments invest in post five year education especially higher education. If we are to get maximum value is it not important to invest in early childhood education?
HR: Yes, definitely. Research done in different paradigms (by economists, psychologists and educational researchers) has shown enduring effects of early education having an impact on cognitive development, on school achievement, on personality and success in adult age.
Also see, being published in February 2018: Rindermann, H (2018). Cognitive capitalism: Human capital and the wellbeing of nations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Heiner Rindermann. Professor for educational and developmental psychology. Department of Psychology, Chemnitz University of Technology, Wilhelm-Raabe-Str. 43, D-09107 Chemnitz, Germany
n Memory Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker, and managing consultant — Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 4 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number +263 77 2356 361 or email: or visit our website at

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