# Why do physics majors have high IQs

1. Dec 13, 2015

### potato123

Did they start out with a high iq or did it increase because they were working with a lot of math and physics problems.

2. Dec 13, 2015

### PietKuip

As a physics teacher, I doubt that your premiss is true :(

3. Dec 13, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

Physics is hard and hard subjects attract smart people and weed-out less smart ones.

4. Dec 13, 2015

Staff Emeritus
Before we rush out and try and answer why something is true, shouldn't we find out if it is true? OP, do you have any evidence for this?

5. Dec 13, 2015

### micromass

Staff Emeritus
And why would anybody care about IQ anyway?

6. Dec 13, 2015

### zoobyshoe

So, what's your experience? You're saying you encounter a lot of physics majors who don't seem to have high I.Q.s?

7. Dec 13, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

Here is some data from GRE scores. It's not very fresh, with the scores obtained between 1983 and 1986, some time after I took the GRE, "GRE, Interpreting your GRE General and Subject Test Scores"

The material below is an excerpt from Table 3: General Test Average Scores for Seniors and Non-enrolled College Graduates, Classibied by Intended Graduate Major Field Group.

$\begin{bmatrix}\text{Major field group} & \text{No. of Examinees} &\text{Verbal} & \text{Quant ability} & \text{Analytical ability} \\ \text{Language and other humanities} & 29508 &540 & 531 & 553\\ \text{Education} &24042 &450 & 479 & 506 \\ \text{Behavioral sciences} &58352 &509 & 525 & 542 \\ \text{Bioscience} & 18838 & 507 & 581 & 569 \\ \text{Health sciences} &32043 &469 & 504 & 521 \\ \text{Engineering} & 33335 &478 & 674 & 580 \\ \text{Math} & 20729& 490 & 657 & 596 \\ \text{Physical sciences} & 18599& 518 & 635 & 587 \\ \end{bmatrix}$

8. Dec 13, 2015

### Krylov

Honestly speaking, I don't think I would have been eligible for a PhD program in the USA. From limited experience I know that I'm very bad at GRE type tests, and I even tried them just in the comfort of my own living room. Fortunately, here they are not a factor, at least for admission to mathematics and science programs.

I also wonder to what degree they really measure intelligence and / or academic ability. Should I at some point be in the position to decide upon admittance of a candidate, the test result would probably play a very small role. I just wouldn't find it fair to judge someone on the basis of something I myself would dread.

9. Dec 13, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

Well, I think the definition of IQ, which is ambiguous for there are more than one, plays a role. It's often mistakenly messed up with education or knowledge. I like to consider it as a measure for the length of free associative chains or the difficult to measure capability to abstract. The latter is certainly needed in Physics.

10. Dec 13, 2015

### micromass

Staff Emeritus
Dunno. I have a below average IQ (96) and I do fine in math and physics. So it's not necessary in my opinion. Just one data point though, but certainly one more than the OP provided :D

11. Dec 13, 2015

### zoobyshoe

I think your I.Q. is certainly higher than that. I would speculate you just don't respond well to the situation of an I.Q. test; the pressure.

12. Dec 13, 2015

### PietKuip

Of course it is above average (above 100). But I do not think the physics majors that I teach are smarter than other students.
Maybe this is different at other universities, because those are more selective and/or because smart students choose to pursue a physics major somewhere else.

13. Dec 13, 2015

### micromass

Staff Emeritus
Well, pressure is part of the IQ test. So yes, perhaps I am smarter than my IQ indicates. But then there are various confounding factors like pressure making IQ a meaningless number.

14. Dec 13, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

I'm sure as well, it is. There are some immanent problems in IQ test which make them difficult especially for mathematicians or people who think that way. Firstly mathematicians are trained to look out for contradictions, incompleteness and counterexamples. That takes time off the clock. Secondly the questions are usually ambiguous: "Continue the sequence: 1, 4, 9, 16 ... " which are appropriate to make mathematicians scream.

15. Dec 13, 2015

Staff Emeritus
Obviously it's 1,4,9,16,26,39,56...

16. Dec 13, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

I hope I didn't start a competition to post all solutions now ...

17. Dec 13, 2015

### mathwonk

this was my favorite way to motivate the lagrange (polynomial) interpolation formula to kids.

18. Dec 13, 2015

### jack476

Physics is inherently a very difficult and very deep subject. It's intellectually stimulating in many different ways, it has a considerable amount of philosophical weight, it connects the natural and "soft" sciences (chemistry, biology, geology, engineering, and according to some, economics) to the abstract sciences (math and logic), it's extremely socially and politically relevant (climate change, nuclear energy, and material science all being very relevant topics to the direction of society right now), and most importantly you get to play with lasers and computers and rockets. That all tends to attract smart people, and smart people tend to have high IQs.

It also engages deep thinking, challenging natural assumptions about the world (the "naive empiricism" that educational psychologists like Schoenfeld refer to), and builds problem-solving and reasoning skills. Because of that, it's just as likely that people with high IQs are a natural fit for physics as it is that studying physics leads to a higher IQ.

19. Dec 13, 2015

### collinsmark

I don't agree with statements that people "have" IQs. After researching the premise behind IQ test construction, I'm confident that the claim that somebody "has" some sort of inherent number that objectively measures the person's "smartness," is a flawed (but fortunately, that's not what IQ tests are necessarily intended to measure). You can take an IQ test and get a score. But you are not defined by that score. An IQ is not something that you inherently "have."

I would rephrase the title of the thread to be something more like,

"Why do physics majors, on average, score higher on IQ tests than other college majors?"​

And of course (as requested in Post 4 by @Vanadium 50) the implied claim that physics majors actually do score higher than other college majors would have to be verified. [Edit: Also, the particular IQ test version that all students took (and it really should be the same IQ test version for all students in the study) would need to be referenced. This is important because the answer to the question might be that the IQ test version itself was overly biased or even that the IQ test version itself was a load of hooey.]

I'm not just being nit-picky with the grammar here. The difference in meaning isn't trivial.

Last edited: Dec 13, 2015
20. Dec 13, 2015

### gleem

I don't think most physics majors have high IQ,s (what ever that is) only perhaps above average. Supposedly Feynman's IQ was 125 and is not considered high. Based on my experience I did't think most of my class mates where smarter than I.and I didn't consider myself overly smart. Success in physics for me was a keen interest in the subject.and hard work. It is observed that many measured with extremely high IQ I.e. geniuses do not end up contributing much to society. Keen interest drives people to use their talents to satisfy their needs to understand. With regards to physics facility with mathematical logic is important but how is that taken into account by typical IQ assessments?

I think physicists are special. I think poets are special. I think philosophers are special. I think engineers are special. It just takes the right combination of talents and abilities. I think you know in what you are special. I think at some point you say, "Yes I can do this."