Rocket scientists and brain surgeons 'no more intelligent than general public'

Study suggests we may be wrongly placing these professionals on a pedestal

DAN9M9 Surgeon operating a patient in operating room

Becoming a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist may be a daunting prospect but joining their ranks could be within reach for most people, research suggests.

A study has revealed that people working in these highly respected professions are no more intelligent than the general population, despite the commonly used phrases “it’s not rocket science” and “it’s not brain surgery”.

The research, which is published in the British Medical Journal, compared the intelligence of 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons with 18,257 members of the general population.

Those taking part completed a validated online test to measure six distinct aspects of cognition, including planning and reasoning, working memory, attention and emotion-processing abilities.

Other factors that could be infuential, such as gender, handedness and experience, were taken into account in the analysis.

Compared to the general population, aerospace engineers did not show significant differences in any domains, researchers said.

Participants watch a rocket launch during Rocstock, at Lucerne Dry Lake, California, on November 14. Reuters

Neurosurgeons were able to solve problems faster than the general population but showed slower memory recall.

Authors say the findings may dispel myths about aerospace engineers and neurosurgeons, who we may be unnecessarily putting on a pedestal.

Despite the stereotypes, all three groups showed a wide range of cognitive abilities, the researchers say.

They say phrases unrelated to careers, such as “it’s a walk in the park”, might be more appropriate from here on.

Updated: December 13th 2021, 11:30 PM