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How Does IQ Relate to Personality?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Personality and IQ have traditionally been viewed as distinct domains of human functioning. However, research over the past three decades suggests that IQ is a personality trait. In an excellent book chapter in The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, personality neuroscientist Colin DeYoung points out that many personality traits involve cognitive processes and abilities. It’s just that IQ is primarily measured with ability tests, whereas personality tests are primarily measured with questionnaires. But this is more a reflection of a lack of ingenuity on the part of psychologists than a real difference in domain of human functioning.

It’s theoretically possible to measure personality traits through ability tests. For instance, agreeableness could be measured through tests of perspective taking, conscientiousness could be measured through tests of self-control, and neuroticism could be measured through measures of emotional self-regulation. Viewing IQ as a personality trait is helpful because it puts IQ in perspective. We can take a birds eye view of all the many fascinating ways we differ from one another in cognitive processing, emotion, and motivation, while seeing where IQ fits into that bigger picture.

To help us see that picture, I analyzed data from the Eugene-Springfield community sample, which consisted of 478 mostly White participants from Eugene and Springfield, Oregon. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 85 years, and spanned all levels of educational attainment. The sample consisted of 199 males and 279 females. While the sample isn’t ethnically diverse, it does have a pretty good range of IQ and personality, so we can get some sense of how IQ relates to personality in the general population. The IQ test that participants took consisted of 15 multiple-choice items that measured knowledge and abstract reasoning. The personality test measured 45 dimensions of human personality.

Consistent with prior research, IQ was most strongly related to openness to experience. Out of 9 dimensions of openness to experience, 8 out of 9 were positively related to IQ: intellectual engagement, intellectual creativity, mental quickness, intellectual competence, introspection, ingenuity, intellectual depth, and imagination. Interestingly, IQ was much more strongly related to intellectual engagement and mental quickness than imagination, ingenuity, or intellectual depth, and IQ was not related to sensitivity to beauty.

Out of 45 dimensions of personality, 23 dimensions were not related to IQ. This included gregariousness, friendliness, assertiveness, poise, talkativeness, social understanding, warmth, pleasantness, empathy, cooperation, sympathy, conscientiousness, efficiency, dutifulness, purposefulness, cautiousness, rationality, perfectionism, calmness, impulse control, imperturbability, cool-headedness, and tranquility. These qualities were not directly relevant to IQ.

8 dimensions of personality outside the openness to experience domain were positively related to IQ, including organization, toughness, provocativeness, leadership, self-disclosure, emotional stability, moderation, and happiness– although the correlations were much smaller than with intellectual engagement and mental quickness. IQ was negatively related to orderliness, morality, nurturance, tenderness, and sociability, but again, the negative correlations were much smaller than the relationships among IQ, intellectual engagement, and mental quickness.

Given this data, where does IQ fit into the personality puzzle? While this is just a single dataset, it is consistent with other studies suggesting that the most relevant personality domain is openness to experience, particularly the dimensions that reflect the ability and drive for conscious exploration of inner mental experience. This is certainly an important slice of personality, but at the same time these findings illustrate that there are many more ways we differ from each other in cognition, emotion, and motivation that are not well measured by IQ tests.

© 2014 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved.

image credit: istockphoto

Note: Thanks to Colin DeYoung for providing me with the Eugene-Springfield dataset. For more correlations between IQ and personality, see the supplementary data [1, 2] for the paper “From madness to genius: The openness/intellect trait domains as a paradoxical simplex“, authored by Colin DeYoung, Rachael Grazioplene, and Jordan Peterson.

If you’re interested in the finer details of my analysis, see below. Correlations with IQ in parentheses. * = p < .05; ** = p < .01. Note that I changed some of the IPIP AB5C facet names to better reflect the content of the items.


+ keyed Am the life of the party.
Talk to a lot of different people at parties.
Start conversations.
Love large parties.
– keyed Don’t talk a lot.
Keep in the background.
Am quiet around strangers.
Don’t like to draw attention to myself.
Bottle up my feelings.
Keep my thoughts to myself.

+ keyed Make friends easily.
Am open about my feelings.
Act comfortably with others.
Radiate joy.
Warm up quickly to others.
– keyed Am hard to get to know.
Am a very private person.
Avoid contacts with others.
Keep others at a distance.
Reveal little about myself.

+ keyed Automatically take charge.
Can easily push myself forward.
Try to lead others.
Turn plans into actions.
Stick up for myself.
Am always busy.
Come up with a solution right away.
Do a lot in my spare time.
Know what I want.
– keyed Let myself be pushed around.
Am not highly motivated to succeed.
Need a lot of time to do things.
POISE (.052) 

+ keyed Feel comfortable around people.
Am comfortable in unfamiliar situations.
Have a lot of fun.
Am not embarrassed easily.
Love life.
– keyed Often feel uncomfortable around others.
Find it difficult to approach others.
Retreat from others.
Give up easily.
Only feel comfortable with friends.

+ keyed Take charge.
Know how to captivate people.
Express myself easily.
Am the first to act.
Never at a loss for words.
– keyed Have little to say.
Have difficulty expressing my feelings.
Wait for others to lead the way.
Am afraid to draw attention to myself.
Let others make the decisions.

+ keyed Dare to say anything.
Am not afraid of providing criticism.
Boast about my virtues.
[Know no limits.]
[Know how to get around the rules.]
[Can take strong measures.]
[Don't mind being the center of attention.]
[Make demands on others.]
– keyed Can’t stand confrontations.
Wait for my turn.
[Hate to seem pushy.]

+ keyed Act wild and crazy.
Am open about myself to others.
Let myself go.
Disclose my intimate thoughts.
Laugh my way through life.
Express childlike joy.
Joke around a lot.
Like to amuse others.
– keyed Seldom joke around.
Prefer to deal with strangers in a formal manner.

+ keyed Do most of the talking.
Talk too much.
Speak loudly.
Make myself the center of attention.
Like to attract attention.
Never stop talking.
Make a lot of noise.
Demand to be the center of interest.
– keyed Speak softly.
Dislike talking about myself.

+ keyed Can’t do without the company of others.
[Enjoy being part of a loud crowd.]
[Enjoy being on the go.]
– keyed Like to be alone.
Seek quiet.
Enjoy silence.
[Don't like crowded events.]
[Dislike neighbors living too close.]
[Amuse myself easily.]
[Go my own way.]

+ keyed Sympathize with others’ feelings.
Respect others’ feelings.
Take others’ interests into account.
Like to be of service to others.
Appreciate the viewpoints of others.
– keyed Feel little concern for others.
Am not interested in other people’s problems.
Am indifferent to the feelings of others.
Take no time for others.
Can’t be bothered with other’s needs.
WARMTH (-.042) 

+ keyed Am interested in people.
Make people feel at ease.
Know how to comfort others.
Inquire about others’ well-being.
Take time out for others.
Make people feel welcome.
Show my gratitude.
Make others feel good.
Feel others’ emotions.
– keyed Am not really interested in others.
Rarely smile.
MORALITY (-.131**) 

+ keyed Would never cheat on my taxes.
Respect the privacy of others.
Like harmony in my life.
[Try to follow the rules.]
[Respect authority.]
– keyed Don’t care about rules.
Turn my back on others.
Only talk about my own interests.
Overestimate my achievements.
Scheme against others.
[Act at the expense of others.]
[Break rules.]

+ keyed Am easy to satisfy.
Have a good word for everyone.
Am on good terms with nearly everyone.
Trust others.
Respect others.
Trust what people say.
– keyed Am hard to satisfy.
Am quick to judge others.
Insult people.
Find it hard to forgive others.
Contradict others.
Criticize others’ shortcomings.
EMPATHY (.087) 

+ keyed Anticipate the needs of others.
Sense others’ wishes.
[Love to reflect on things.]
[Try to stay in touch with myself.]
[Work on improving myself.]
– keyed Pretend to be concerned for others.
[Don't have a soft side.]
[Treat people as inferiors.]
[Am not in touch with my feelings.]

+ keyed Value cooperation over competition.
Listen to my conscience.
– keyed Impose my will on others.
Love a good fight.
Seek conflict.
Think too highly of myself.
Tell tall stories about myself.
Play tricks on others.
Enjoy crude jokes.
[Comment loudly about others.]
[Enjoy being reckless.]
[Do dangerous things.]
SYMPATHY (-.071) 

+ keyed Am concerned about others.
Am deeply moved by others’ misfortunes.
Feel sympathy for those who are worse off than myself.
[Take an interest in other people's lives.]
[Like to do things for others.]
[Reassure others.]
– keyed Demand a lot from others.
Don’t fall for sob-stories.
Listen to my brain rather than my heart.
Tend to dislike soft-hearted people.
Try not to think about the needy.
Look down on any weakness.
Believe people should fend for themselves.
TENDERNESS (-.166**) 

+ keyed Suffer from others’ sorrows.
Listen to my heart rather than my brain.
Love children’s movies.
Want to please others.
Remember my friends’ birthdays.
Cherish mementos.
Want to mean something to others.
[Believe crying helps me feel better.]
[Show my feelings.]
– keyed Don’t understand people who get emotional.
[Don't get excited about things.]
[Don't call people just to talk.]
[Don't care about dressing nicely.]
NURTURANCE (-.193**) 

+ keyed Have a soft heart.
Go out of my way for others.
Think of others first.
Will do anything for others.
Like to please others.
Wouldn’t harm a fly.
– keyed Make enemies.
Oppose authority.
Believe that I am better than others.
Seek danger.
Put people under pressure.
Try to outdo others.
Believe only in myself.

+ keyed Accomplish my work on time.
Do things according to a plan.
Am careful to avoid making mistakes.
Keep my checkbook balanced.
Like to plan ahead.
Return borrowed items.
– keyed Often forget to put things back in their proper place.
Neglect my duties.
Take tasks too lightly.
Leave my work undone.
Do not plan ahead.
Put off unpleasant tasks.
Am often late to work.

+ keyed Am exacting in my work.
Make plans and stick to them.
Get chores done right away.
Follow through with my plans.
Finish what I start.
– keyed Waste my time.
Find it difficult to get down to work.
Postpone decisions.
Have difficulty starting tasks.
Need a push to get started.
Frequently forget to do things.

+ keyed Follow directions.
Keep myself well-groomed.
Check over my work.
Behave properly.
[Stick to the rules.]
[Appreciate good manners.]
– keyed Do improper things.
Disregard rules.
Do the opposite of what is asked.
Pay no attention to my appearance.
[Don't think laws apply to me.]
[Make rash decisions.]
[Say inappropriate things.]

+ keyed Am always prepared.
Carry out my plans.
Get to work at once.
Am not easily distracted.
Handle tasks smoothly.
– keyed Make a mess of things.
Am easily distracted.
Mess things up.
Shirk my duties.
Don’t see things through.
Do things at the last minute.
Can’t make up my mind.

+ keyed Pay attention to details.
Complete tasks successfully.
Have an eye for detail.
Demand quality.
Set high standards for myself and others.
Make well-considered decisions.
Follow through on my commitments.
Detect mistakes.
Think ahead.
– keyed Seldom notice details.
Put little time and effort into my work.
Don’t pay attention.

+ keyed Purchase only practical things.
Tend to dislike impulsive people.
Take precautions.
[Never splurge.]
[Never spend more than I can afford.]
– keyed Do crazy things.
Often make last-minute plans.
Am easily talked into doing silly things.
Laugh at the slightest provocation.
Like to laugh out loud.
[Like to act on a whim.]
[Jump into things without thinking.]

+ keyed Do things in a logical order.
Come straight to the point.
Believe in a logical answer for everything.
Get a head start on others.
Dislike imperfect work.
Believe in an eye for an eye.
[Have no sympathy for criminals.]
[Reason logically.]
– keyed Sympathize with the homeless.
Am not as strict as I should be.
Let people pull my leg.
[Do things in a half-way manner.]
[Let my attention wander off.]
[Believe that criminals should receive help rather than punishment.]

+ keyed Continue until everything is perfect.
Want every detail taken care of.
Want everything to be “just right.”
Want things to proceed according to plan.
Demand perfection in others.
Keep a sharp eye on others’ work.
Expect dedicated work from others.
– keyed Am not bothered by messy people.
Am not bothered by disorder.
ORDERLINESS (-.180**) 

+ keyed Like order.
Follow a schedule.
Work according to a routine.
Like to tidy up.
Do things by the book.
Take good care of my belongings.
See that rules are observed.
– keyed Leave my belongings around.
Leave a mess in my room.
Dislike routine.

+ keyed Seldom get mad.
Am not easily bothered by things.
Am not easily frustrated.
Seldom take offense.
Keep my cool.
– keyed Get stressed out easily.
Get upset easily.
Am easily disturbed.
Change my mood a lot.
Get caught up in my problems.
HAPPINESS (.116*) 

+ keyed Seldom feel blue.
Feel comfortable with myself.
Adapt easily to new situations.
Look at the bright side of life.
Am sure of my ground.
– keyed Often feel blue.
Worry about things.
Feel threatened easily.
Dislike myself.
Am filled with doubts about things.
CALMNESS (.034) 

+ keyed Rarely get irritated.
Am not easily annoyed.
Take things as they come.
Accept people as they are.
– keyed Get angry easily.
Am often in a bad mood.
Get furious.
Snap at people.
Lose my temper.
Have days when I’m mad at the world.

+ keyed Remain calm under pressure.
Easily resist temptations.
Rarely overindulge.
Am able to control my cravings.
– keyed Am guided by my moods.
Am not sure where my life is going.
Don’t know why I do some of the things I do.
Get out of control.
Can’t concentrate.
Do things I later regret.
TOUGHNESS (.200**) 

+ keyed Am calm even in tense situations.
Don’t lose my head.
Know how to cope.
Can stand criticism.
– keyed Take offense easily.
Panic easily.
Am easily hurt.
Am easily offended.
Feel crushed by setbacks.
Become overwhelmed by events.
Am easily frightened.
Am easily confused.

+ keyed Keep my emotions under control.
Let others finish what they are saying.
– keyed Demand attention.
React intensely.
Talk even when I know I shouldn’t.
Often make a fuss.
Shoot my mouth off.
Am easily excited.
Blurt out whatever comes into my mind.
Barge in on conversations.
Like to gossip.

+ keyed Seldom get emotional.
Am not easily affected by my emotions.
– keyed Get overwhelmed by emotions.
Cry easily.
Burst into tears.
Am easily moved to tears.
Cry during movies.
Wear my heart on my sleeve.
Have crying fits.

+ keyed (No positive items.)
– keyed Want everything to add up perfectly.
Demand obedience.
Keep up an appearance.
[Love order and regularity.]
[Am attached to conventional ways.]
[Want things done my way.]
[Am a creature of habit.]
[Try to impress others.]
[Can't stand being contradicted.]
[Want to be told I am right.]

+ keyed Experience very few emotional highs and lows.
Tend to feel the same every day.
Am always in the same mood.
Rarely notice my emotional reactions.
[Am relaxed most of the time.]
[Am not easily stirred.]
[Am not disturbed by events.]
– keyed Experience my emotions intensely.
[Have frequent mood swings.]
[Am swayed by my emotions.]
[Can be stirred up easily.]

+ keyed Have a rich vocabulary.
Use difficult words.
Make insightful remarks.
Show a mastery of language.
Enjoy thinking about things.
Try to understand myself.
– keyed Am not interested in abstract ideas.
Will not probe deeply into a subject.
Have a poor vocabulary.
Dislike learning.
Skip difficult words while reading.
INGENUITY (.200**) 

+ keyed Am full of ideas.
Have excellent ideas.
Carry the conversation to a higher level.
Come up with bold plans.
Quickly think up new ideas.
Am good at many things.
– keyed Do not have a good imagination.
Have difficulty imagining things.
Can’t come up with new ideas.

+ keyed See beauty in things that others might not notice.
Take time to reflect on things.
Make beautiful things.
Enjoy the beauty of nature.
Enjoy discussing movies and books with others.
[Like music.]
[Love flowers.]
[Love beautiful things.]
– keyed Do not like concerts.
[Do not enjoy watching dance performances.]

+ keyed Learn quickly.
Use my brain.
Excel in what I do.
Look at the facts.
Meet challenges.
Seek explanations of things.
Need things explained only once.
[Know how to apply my knowledge.]
– keyed (No negative items.)

+ keyed Can handle complex problems.
Am quick to understand things.
Catch on to things quickly.
Love to read challenging material.
Am able to find out things by myself.
Can handle a lot of information.
Quickly get the idea of things.
– keyed Avoid difficult reading material.
Try to avoid complex people.
Don’t understand things.

+ keyed Spend time reflecting on things.
Enjoy spending time by myself.
Live in a world of my own.
Enjoy my privacy.
Don’t mind eating alone.
Do things at my own pace.
[Enjoy contemplation.]
[Prefer to be alone.]
[Have a point of view all my own.]
[Want to be left alone.]
– keyed Can’t stand being alone.
Don’t like to ponder over things.

+ keyed Like to solve complex problems.
Ask questions that nobody else does.
Know the answers to many questions.
Challenge others’ points of view.
Can easily link facts together.
– keyed Have difficulty understanding abstract ideas.
Avoid philosophical discussions.
Am not interested in theoretical discussions.
Consider myself an average person.
Am not interested in speculating about things.

+ keyed Have a vivid imagination.
Prefer variety to routine.
Believe in the importance of art.
Enjoy wild flights of fantasy.
Need a creative outlet.
– keyed Do not like art.
Do not enjoy going to art museums.
Do not like poetry.
Seldom get lost in thought.
Seldom daydream.

+ keyed Look for hidden meanings in things.
Like to get lost in thought.
Think deeply about things.
Need to understand my motives.
[Tend to analyze things.]
[Tend to think about something for hours.]
[Enjoy examining myself and my life.]
– keyed [Rarely look for a deeper meaning in things.]
[Never challenge things.]
Scott Barry Kaufman About the Author: Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow on Twitter @sbkaufman.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. mahhadi 4:40 pm 04/21/2014

    Dear BSK,
    Your posts are fantastic.
    I wish you could come to our country and we could visit you in our psychological conferences as a head.
    May be in future this dream comes true.
    I am providing a research based on your book “mating intelligence” in my town.
    I’m sure the result would be great.Thanks a lot!

    Link to this
  2. 2. David Edenden 10:36 pm 04/21/2014

    Article Idea!

    Should “IQ” and “SAT” tests be re-branded as “KNOWLEDGE ACQUISITION” (KA) tests.

    Obviously IQ tests cannot measure intelligence.

    I know an elderly immigrant who speaks three language … but can barely read any of them.

    Macedonian is his mother tongue, he learned it at home, never learned to read or write, since in was prohibited in Greece, where he was born.

    Greek was taught to him until grade 6, after which he left school to work on the family farm. Now he rarely speaks Greek so he has lost some of that facility.

    English is heavily accented since he immigrated in his 30′s. He learned to read by looking at the TV guide and reading the hockey section of the newspaper.

    It is impossible for him to take any IQ or SAT test to accurately assess his intelligence. The test would define his as being “retarded”. To put it another way, he has not ACQUIRED, through schooling and life experience, the required KNOWLEDGE to complete the test.

    He is a successful businessman, leader of his community and most of his children and grandchildren are university educated.


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  3. 3. anumakonda.jagadeesh 4:07 am 04/22/2014

    Outstanding. I am sharing it with Friends.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

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  4. 4. Johnny Chimpo 11:15 am 04/22/2014

    Why are things like ‘know the answers to many questions,’ ‘show a mastery of language,’ ‘am quick to understand things’, and ‘can easily link facts together’ described as personality traits?

    Some of these answers described here as personality traits appear to be respondents’ self-reported measures of IQ / ability.

    These pair-wise correlations don’t tell us much about the true underlying relationships.

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  5. 5. garyonthenet 1:48 am 04/24/2014

    “IQ was negatively related to orderliness, morality, nurturance, tenderness, and sociability”
    OMG, what was the IQ and political persuasion of these psychometricians?

    When I first read that, without seeing what they consider to be order, morality, nurturing, tenderness and sociability, I said “like wow really?”

    Then when I saw the actual questions they used to evaluate and designate what they consider these traits, I can see why high IQ’d people would score that way.
    Most of those questions involve thinking through to more flexible approaches, and not acting reflexively.
    If the researchers felt that a person wouldn’t automatically react in some stereotypically “good” way, then they would cast that high IQ’d person as less moral, or less sensitive to others, when in fact their responses are simply more reflective and nuanced.
    The are making moral value judgements on approaches that are simply how a collectivist society viewpoint would look at those people.

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  6. 6. Leonard459 12:30 pm 04/24/2014

    It is said that your personality isn’t completely predetermined by your genes, but is shaped by gene-environment interactions. The foundation of your personality is also said to be formed in your infancy and childhood. So is your IQ then directly related to your environment and experiences as a child? (14054923)

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  7. 7. hkraznodar 6:24 pm 04/24/2014

    Don’t forget that personality traits can change over time or due to addition or elimination of stress. I’m very different than I was at 20.

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  8. 8. stalder 6:28 pm 04/24/2014

    A wealth of interesting results here. Nice sample size. Thanks for providing some raw data and questionnaire items. I do wonder, though, if a 15-multiple-choice-item IQ test would have the best validity/reliability.

    An earlier comment by David Edenden raised the issue of accurately measuring IQ in someone who does not read or write well. Aren’t there IQ tests out there that can be administered and taken orally? But of course there are forms of intelligence other than “school smarts,” some of which the individual in Mr. Edenden’s comment seems to have.

    Many of the personality measures were self-report (as noted in an earlier comment by Johnny Chimpo). Self-report is often the best that we can do as researchers, and self-report makes sense for some constructs, such as happiness and introspection. But particularly for constructs purported to relate to the intellect, such as intellectual engagement, self-report biases might become very relevant.

    I noticed that there was no construct for something like social intelligence, though empathy might somewhat relate. To measure social intelligence, I might suggest the Attributional Complexity Scale (ACS), by Fletcher and colleagues (1986). AC refers to one’s ability and motivation to explain others’ behaviors in complex ways. It is a very interesting construct so far. It is uncorrelated with standardized test (i.e., ACT) scores, and it sometimes predicts less bias but other times predicts greater bias in interpersonal understanding. Complex thinking is not always the most clear-sighted…

    So yes, intelligence seems relevant in someone’s personality profile, as in whether someone is smart or quick-witted or business-savvy or socially astute… Thanks for the information and discussion here.

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  9. 9. IQspecialist 2:46 pm 04/26/2014

    The IQ of an individual can vary depending on the kind of conditions they are in. The temperature we are goes some way to determining out IQ, for example. Studies have found that the temperature of the water that we use in a shower or a bath can impact heavily on one’s intelligence quotient. It is said that warmer water (or warmer climates in general) makes us sweat, which in turn increases the heart rate, and therefore the flow of oxygen to the brain. Colder environments, on the other hand, stimulate the stress hormone Cortisol, and as a by product our levels of concentration are heavily reduced. Moreover, studies have shown that when our skin comes into contact with cold water, dopamine is released into the bloodstream which makes us tired.

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  10. 10. 14075319 3:14 pm 05/2/2014

    Great article!!
    I am a first year student currently studying towards a bachelor of science and I recently had to research and write an essay on the effects of genes on intelligence. By reading your post, I understand that one’s personality is part of ones IQ? I had read a journal article that stated that although ones intelligence cannot be improved or ‘increased’ during the course of ones life, one may increase their skill in a specific area such as mathematics by practice or reputation. With this information would it be wrong to conclude that one cannot change their personality but they may learn how to change their behaviour to suit different environments/ social setting for example, developing an “alter ego”?

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  11. 11. 14069629 4:14 pm 05/3/2014

    A person`s IQ may somehow be related to a person`s personality but it is not accurate to conclude that a person`s personality can determine his or her IQ.There are people who appear dull and occur to be these down to earth persons and yet they are very intelligent.As they
    say do not judge a book by its cover,it is certainly not the best idea to say a person is intelligent or the least intelligent just by acknowledging the person`s personality as being either wild,open or creative.There are aspect
    s to be considered before reaching concluding by saying a person is smart or a genius or intelligent.Things like the way a person thinks,the way a person responds answers questions…all these should be taken into consideration before declaring a person as a genius or intelligent.Sharp thinking does not necessarily make someone a genius but we are all born intelligent,it just depends on how we use our minds and thoughts.

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