Rocket scientists and brain surgeons are not necessarily smarter than the rest of us, study finds

Rocket scientists and brain surgeons are not necessarily smarter than the rest of us, study finds

December 14, 2021

Rocket scientists and brain surgeons aren't necessarily any smarter than the general population, a new U.K. study has found, challenging long-held assumptions about these professions.

The phrases "it's not rocket science" and "it's not brain surgery" are often used to describe tasks that are easily performed, in comparison to the high-level intelligence required to do those jobs.

However, a study published Monday in the BMJ sought to finally put to rest the argument as to whether rocket scientists or brain engineers are smarter.

It asked participants in the study to complete the "Great British Intelligence Test" by artificial intelligence platform Cognitron, seeing how both sets of professionals fared across aspects of cognition, which spanned planning and reasoning, working memory, attention, and emotion-processing abilities.

The study used the results from 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons internationally, comparing them against the scores of more than 18,000 Britons who had previously completed the test.

The authors of the study said there was "no significant difference" in how aerospace engineers scored across any of the areas versus the general U.K. population. Meanwhile, neurosurgeons only showed faster problem solving and slower memory recall, compared to the wider population.

In fact, 90% of Britons scored above average on at least one aspect of intelligence, which the authors of the study said illustrated the "importance of studying multiple domains that make up a concept of intelligence rather than a single measure."

The authors of the study said that it was possible that both neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers are "unnecessarily put on a pedestal," based on the findings. Instead, they suggested using phrases like "it's a walk in the park," or a phrase related to another job, arguing that it was "also possible that other professions might deserve to be on that pedestal."

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