What Was Albert Einstein's IQ?
Scientist Albert Einstein poses for a portrait in 1947. (Photo courtesy Library of Congress/Getty Images)

There is a long list of news headlines concerning youngsters in different countries that are believed to have higher IQs than Albert Einstein. Einstein was a theoretical physicist whose ideas changed humanity’s understanding of reality and led to innumerable technologies, ranging from televisions to lasers.

There wasn’t a proper test to measure Einstein’s IQ

The issue is that no one truly knows Einstein’s intelligence level. There is no evidence to suggest that he was ever examined. IQ testing was still in its infancy in the early 1900s when Albert Einstein began his meteoric rise to prominence in the scientific community. Since then, there has been a considerable amount of change to the examinations. One of the most popular intelligence tests today is the WAIS-IV, which has a maximum score of 160 for IQ. A person is considered in the 99th percentile of the population if they have a score of 135 or above. Although it is not apparent what the basis for this estimation is, several news sources state that Albert Einstein had an IQ of 160.

“If you google ‘Einstein’s IQ,’ you get plenty of results, but nothing that I would consider credible,” says Dean Keith Simonton, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the author of The Genius Checklist: Nine Paradoxical Tips on How You Can Become a Creative Genius. “If you google ‘Einstein’s IQ,’ you get plenty of results, but nothing that I would consider credible,” says Dean Keith Simonton

Simonton, in 2006 published a study in the journal Political Psychology in which he estimated the IQs of 42 U.S. Presidents. He explains, “one fundamental problem with the estimates I’ve seen is that they tend to conflate intellectual ability with domain-specific achievement.” This is one of the problems with the estimates that he has seen. Because Einstein was the most accomplished theoretical physicist of the 20th century, it is reasonable to assume that his intelligence was unparalleled.

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Simonton continues, “If you closely investigated Einstein’s early intellectual development, it seems that his IQ was not quite as remarkable.”

Einstein’s thought experiment when he was a teenager helped scientists determine his IQ

Given his abilities in his work, Einstein may have had a high intelligence score, according to Jonathan Wai, an assistant professor of education policy and psychology at the University of Arkansas who writes about the study of intelligence for Psychology Today. Wai argues that Einstein may have scored high on intelligence tests.

Wai refers to the famous thought experiment that Albert Einstein conducted when he was a teenager. In this experiment, Einstein believed he was running after a light beam. Wai notes that this, together with the discovery made in the 1990s by scientists that the portion of Einstein’s brain that processes three-dimensional vision was substantially larger than average, “suggests that Einstein was exceptionally talented in spatial thinking.”

Wai further claims that the fact that Einstein chose to specialize in a certain area of science is evidence in and of itself that he would have received a high score. “People who achieve PhDs in physics tend to have extraordinarily high IQs,” adds Wai. “This is because they possess a combination of mathematical, verbal, and spatial thinking skills.”

This has been demonstrated using a stratified random sample of the population and within a sample of gifted individuals who were purposely selected to be in the top one percent of ability or IQ.

According to what can be deduced from this information, physicists are very likely to have an IQ significantly higher than the average for the general population.

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Steve Jobs’ IQ was on par with Einstein’s

It’s possible that this would have placed Einstein at least on par with the late Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple. Wai had calculated that Steve Jobs had a high IQ of 160, based on the fact that Jobs previously stated that when he was in the fourth grade, he tested at a level comparable to that of a sophomore in high school.

The concept of attempting to assess the IQs of intellectual giants who have long since passed away is not novel. In 1926, a scholar named Catharine M. Cox released estimations of the IQs of 301 historical people, including Charles Dickens, Galileo Galilei, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Her calculations were based on stories of the individuals’ characteristics and accomplishments when they were younger.

Some people debate whether it is necessary to determine Albert Einstein’s intelligence level. Robert B. McCall, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, says that he does not see the usefulness of this type of exercise. “I don’t see the value in this exercise,” he says.

“Renowned people were famous for the things they did, and those deeds are the ones we ought to commemorate the majority of the time. In addition, many of their contributions might only have a tangential connection to measured IQs at best. One’s IQ is only tangentially related to the myriad ways one can be considered “clever” or accomplished.

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