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Relationship between intelligence and achievement

( Paper02Version04, Qi Li )


Current research mainly focuses on the relationship between IQ test and school achievement. This article will expand it to a more general topic: the relationship between intelligence and achievement. I argue that there are three relationships between them as follows: (a) intelligence is the necessary condition for achievement; (b) the process of achievement fosters the development of intelligence and (c) intelligence is evidenced by past and present achievement and used for predicting future achievement.  

    Intelligence is the necessary condition for achievement

It is impossible to achieve without corresponding intelligence, which is comprised of mental abilities. Ability is about the quality of being able to do something, which serves as the foundation of achievement. The function of mental abilities to achievement likes the function of fuel to car. The car can not be started without fuel.

Intelligence can not produce achievement by itself. The occurrence of achievement requires not only ability but also motivation and environment. Motivation is about the interest degree of doing something. Environment is a complex concept, which is composed of many factors: social value, economic states, race, gender, ethics and health. The three components interact together to produce achievement. The degree of exertion of ability is influenced by motivation, which consists of positive motivation and negative motivation. Positive motivation can stimulate the potential of ability through keeping attention on the task. Negative motivation will break the exertion of ability by weakening one¡¯s interest. The component of environment has two functions. One is to provide the practical opportunity, which is indispensable for the occurrence of achievement. For example, one can not be a pianist without piano. Another is to influence the dynamic change between positive motivation and negative motivation. Appropriate environment spurs positive motivation. For example, good speaking skills make it possible for one to become a successful public speaker. But whether the possible is realized depends on both motivation and environment. A child may have no interest in speaking in public when he or she is very young. He has little interest to be a successful speaker. If the society the child lives in values public speaking, during the process of growing up, the child will be encouraged by the parents, teachers, friends and relatives to speak in public from time to time. The environment he lives in motivates him. On the contrary, improper environment may bring about negative motivation. The child has much interest in speaking in public when he is very young. He may spontaneously practices often. If the society he or she lives in does not value or respect public speaker during the process of his grow, his interest in public speaking will be weakened by the environment. The environment will not allow him to take full advantage of his speaking potential and motivation.

    The process of gaining achievement fosters the development of intelligence

Kornhaber, Krechevsky & Gardner (1990) conceived of intelligence as the product of a dynamic process involving individual abilities and the values and opportunities afforded by society. This statement emphasized that the development of individual abilities infers the development of intelligence in a given social environment. The development of intelligence is correlated with the development of individual abilities through individual experience in particular environment. The process of achievement is an important individual experience and display directly the development of individual competences. Successful experience gives individuals more confidence in their abilities and thus enables them to understand their abilities under particular environment. The acquired or refined abilities during the process of gaining achievement will be stored into long-term memory connected with the particular successful experience. There is a potential possibility for individual to transfer these competences into other related problem environment.

    Intelligence is evidenced by past and present achievement, and used for predicting future achievement

When we talk about how smart people are, we usually use achievements as evidence for our claims. In traditional psychometric theory of intelligence, test achievement is used as to infer of intelligence. In Gardner¡¯s Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1983) , achievements in particular domains (e.g.: music, language) are used to infer intelligence in specific domains. To some extent, intelligence is the product of what we value and how we assess achievement. Intelligence can not exist by itself without achievement.

One reason for the interest in measuring achievement is to predict achievement. We do not know whether we can predict achievement. I argue that it is possible, but there is no guarantee. It is possible because intelligence is the foundation for achievement. If environmental factors positively influence the individual, achievement is possible. There is no guarantee that predictions of achievement will be correct because no research shows intelligence to be predetermined. Even Plomin¡¯s research (1997) indicates that about half the variance of IQ scores have a non-genetic origin. That means, that environmental factors account for about 50% of IQ test scores and it may be greater for particular individual. Achievement is the result of intelligence and the appropriate environment which provides opportunities and enabling individuals to take full advantage of the intelligence.

In sum, intelligence sets up the foundation of achievement. The occurrence of achievement requires not only the corresponding intelligence but also motivation and the support from appropriate environment. If the development of intelligence is thought as a dynamic process, during which there are many different stages, achievements can be saw as the stages. So, the stages as evidences witness the progress of intelligence. The new reached stage, combined with motivation and environment will stimulate one to pursue a higher stage. As a result, the further development of intelligence is touched off.


Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of the mind. New York: Basic books, Inc.

Kornhaber, M., Krechevsky, M., & Gardner, H. (1990). Engaging intelligence. Educational Psychologist, 25, 177-199.

Plomin, R. (1997). Genetics and intelligence: What is new? Intelligence, 24, 53-77.

Scarr, S., & McCartney, K. (1983). How people make their environments: A theory of genotype environmental effects. Child Development, 54, 424-435.

Sternberg, R. J. (1990). Metaphors of mind: Conception of the nature of intelligence. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Updated on March,24 2006