'It's not rocket science': Brain surgeons and rocket scientists are not necessarily more intelligent

The sarcastic phrases "it's not rocket science" or "it's not brain surgery" are often used when a task is much more simple in reality than it may seem at first.

But a new study has found that rocket scientists and brain surgeons are not necessarily more intelligent than the general population.

Researchers went on to say that anyone can pursue a career in rocket science or brain surgery, if they are willing to apply themselves.

The study compared the intelligence of 329 rocket scientists and 72 brain surgeons with the intelligence of 18,257 members of the British public. Participants completed online tasks that measured cognition, working memory, attention, spanning planning and reasoning, and emotion processing.

They were also asked questions about their age, gender, where they live, and the level of experience in their specialty.

Brain surgeons had faster problem-solving skills compared to the general population, but showed slower memory recall speeds. Credit: AP

In their quest to solve the question of whether rocket scientists and brain surgeons really are in a league of their own when it comes to intelligence, researchers found that there was actually very little difference in brightness between people working in the two fields, and the general population.

The brain surgeons and rocket scientists came out as equally intelligent. But rocket scientists were deemed to have better attention and mental manipulation skills, compared to brain surgeons who were deemed better at semantic problem solving.

Rocket scientists didn't show significant differences in any areas compared to the general population.

Brain surgeons had faster problem-solving skills than the general population, but were slower when it comes to memory. Researchers said the findings suggest that despite the stereotypes, all three groups examined in the study have a wide range of cognitive abilities.

"It is possible that both neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers are unnecessarily placed on a pedestal and that 'It's a walk in the park' or another phrase unrelated to careers might be more appropriate", they said. The study, published in the BMJ, was approved by the University College London research ethics committee and supported by the Society of British Neurological Surgeons and the UK Space Agency.