09 September 2007

Adversity Quotient (AQ): An Emerging Determinant of Success and Superior Performance

The information you are about to read is a clip of the introductory concepts and principles of Adversity Quotient (AQ) developed by Dr. Paul Stoltz. Complete information on this subject can be further accessed through his website at www.peaklearning.com.

Definition & Concept

Dr. Paul Stoltz defines Adversity Quotient as “the capacity of the person to deal with the adversities of his life. As such, it is the science of human resilience.”

For many years, researchers have devoted a great deal of their studies to Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ), which are considered to be determinants of success and superior accomplishment. A decade ago (1997), Paul Stoltz introduced a new yet interesting & intriguing concept – Adversity Quotient (AQ), which tells how well one withstands adversity and his ability to triumph over it. In fact, more researches recently have shown that measurement of AQ is a better index in achieving success than IQ, education or even social skills.

By understanding the concept of AQ we can better understand how we and others react to challenge and adversity in all aspects of our lives. In fact, how people respond to adversity is a strong indicator of ability to succeed in many endeavors.

Scientific Backbone of AQ

AQ is rooted in three sciences: psychoneuroimmunology, neurophysiology, and cognitive psychology. They are its building blocks. Hundreds of research studies lend support to the role AQ plays in determining one’s ability to triumph over obstacles.

Psychoneuroimmunology is a field in science that examines the mind-body relationship. In essence, it studies the relationship between what one thinks and feels and what goes on in the body. How do thoughts and feelings affect the body and its overall health?

Bottom Line Your thoughts and emotions determine the strength of your body chemistry down to the cellular level.

Neurophysiology is a field in science that focuses on the brain. It studies how the brain learns and functions. How are habits formed and what must occur to change habits once they are established?

Bottom Line The brain is ideally equipped to hardwire habits of thought and behavior.

Cognitive Psychology is the most popular aspect of psychology focusing on the relationships between thoughts and feelings associated with one’s mental health. While there are many aspects to cognitive psychology, of particular importance to AQ is the research examining the human need for control or mastery over one’s life.

Bottom Line Learned Helplessness, considered to be the “Landmark Theory of the Century,” explains why many people give up or stop short when faced with life’s challenges.

Measurement Tool

To measure AQ, Stoltz developed an assessment instrument called Adversity Response Profile (ARP).

The Adversity Response Profile is the only scientifically-grounded tool in existence for measuring how effectively one deals with adversity, or one’s AQ. AQ, according to him, is a valid predictor of one’s success, stress-threshold, performance, risk-taking, capacity for change, productivity, perseverance, improvement, energy, and health.

The ARP is a highly valid assessment instrument based on 25 years of research and 1000+ studies at more than 150 universities and organizations worldwide. Unlike IQ, AQ can be improved!

AQ scores fall into 3 broad bands, with an expected normal distribution.

Low (0-59) AQ characteristics:
• Low levels of motivation, energy, performance, and persistence.
• Tendency to ‘catastrophize’ events.

Moderate (95-134) AQ characteristics:
• Under utilization of potential.
• Problems take a significant and unnecessary toll, making climbing difficult.
• A sense of helplessness and despair arises from time to time.

High AQ (166-200) characteristics:
• Able to withstand significant adversity and continue forward and upward progress.
• Maintains appropriate perspective on events and responses to them.

AQ response is comprised of four CORE dimensions. Understanding them is the first step toward improving your response to adversity, expanding your capacity, and, ultimately, increasing your overall AQ.

Now, look at your CORE breakdown and determine which aspects of the AQ you need to improve.

C = Control
To what extent can you influence the situation?
How much control do you perceive you have?
Those with higher AQs perceive they have significantly more control and influence in adverse situations than do those with lower AQs. Even in situations that appear overwhelming or out of their hands, those with higher AQs find some facet of the situation they can influence. Those with lower AQs respond as if they have little or no control and often give up.

O = Ownership
To what extent do you hold yourself responsible for improving this situation?
To what extent are you accountable to play some role in making it better?
Accountability is the backbone of action. Those with higher AQs hold themselves accountable for dealing with situations regardless of their cause. Those with lower AQs deflect accountability and most often feel victimized and helpless.

R = Reach
How far does the fallout of this situation reach into other areas of your work or life?
To what extent does the adversity extend beyond the situation at hand?
Keeping the fallout under control and limiting the reach of adversity is essential for efficient and effective problem solving. Those with higher AQs keep setbacks and challenges in their place, not letting them infest the healthy areas of their work and lives. Those with lower AQs tend to catastrophize, allowing a setback in one area to bleed into other, unrelated areas and become destructive.

E = Endurance
How long will the adversity endure?
Seeing beyond even enormous difficulties is an essential skill for maintaining hope. Those with higher AQs have the uncanny ability to see past the most interminable difficulties and maintain hope and optimism. Those with lower AQs see adversity as dragging on indefinitely, if not permanently.

Note: The average ARP score is 147.5.

Responding to Adversity

At the highest level people fall into two groups:

A. Pessimists
• Consider any adversity to be permanent, all pervading, and deeply personal.
• They believe that any crisis will never end, and that it will destroy everything.
• They also believe it is their fault.

B. Optimists
• See adversity and problems as challenges
• See problems as temporary, limited, and external to themselves.
• Do not internalize issues, and have a ‘This too shall pass’ philosophy.

How to Improve AQ?

Listen to your response to adversity.
Explore all origins and your ownership responses.
Analyze the evidence.
Do something.

Additional Information

At the time (8 September 2007) I was collecting information for this blog, I found the following helpful figures online. I used these data to describe how dynamic the subject matter is today. I searched for "Adversity Quotient" and the results are shown in Table 1 below.

The results suggest that AQ is a relatively new topic with no entries from major online references. The exact definition and scientific basis are almost always redirected or referenced to Dr. Paul G. Stoltz’s website. This is interesting to note since it implies that Stoltz is not only an advocate of AQ but can also be considered the father of AQ and the man who coined the term. The major search engines, on the other hand, provided global search results figure ranging from nearly 7000 to 38000 & 3-16 on the local engine counterpart but, again, mostly linked to www.peaklearning.com, which is Stoltz’s main site.

Google Trend, which is currently used as a tool when searching relatively popular topics, also raveled no record.

Amazon has three (3) books & one (1) audio CD available in its list and are enumerated below, for your reference.

1. Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities by Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D. (Wiley, 1997)
2. Adversity Quotient @ Work: Make Everyday Challenges the Key to Your Success--Putting the Principles of AQ Into Action by Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D. (Morrow, 2000)
3. Adversity Quotient at Work: Finding Your Hidden Capacity for Getting Things Done by Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D. (Collins, 2001)
4. The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness (Audio CD) by Paul G Stoltz & Erik Weihenmayer (Tantor Media, 2007)

Photo Credits: Adversity

All of this knowledgebase indicates that AQ is fundamentally a new and an emerging concept.



  1. Very useful information. Many thanks for sharing.

  2. I absolutely love this article. Whoever published this and composed it , the adversity quotient...thank you, there is so much in life to be grateful for and adversity only strengthens ones spirit!