INTELLIGENCE-what it actually means

  • “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”                                                                     Albert Einstein
  • “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”                                                         Albert Einstein
  • “Intelligence – the unique propensity of human beings to change or modify the structure of their cognitive functioning to adapt to the changing demands of a life situation.”
    Dr. Reuven Feuerstein (clinical, developmental, cognitive psychologist)When I was 11 years old, I discovered I was intelligent!
    What actually happened was some adults began saying I was intelligent and clever, because I had ‘passed’, an exam (called the 11 plus) that was supposed to measure intelligence.I was then sent to a school for ‘intelligent children’. Throughout the next few years, as a teenager, I cannot recall thinking about the term ‘intelligent’ or whether it should apply to me. However, when I began teaching in the early seventies, I do recall reflecting on the term ‘intelligence’ and wondering what it meant, since it was repeatedly being used by my teaching colleagues.
  • In fact, because I began as a teacher by teaching ‘sports’, or more accurately ‘physical education’, the term ‘woodentop’ was used to describe the staff in our department, since we were supposed to be ‘less intelligent’.
  • Perhaps when I began teaching maths and science I became ‘more intelligent’! In the 40 years that have passed since then, I would consider ‘intelligence’ (or clever) to one of the words most frequently used in the English language, yet most frequently misunderstood.
    Researching ‘intelligence’ for these decades has lead me to conclude that the extensive misunderstanding and abuse of the term has occurred largely because we have not been learning and measuring what really matters.The Big Bang Theory
    Intelligence derives from the Latin verb ‘intelligere’, meaning to comprehend, perceive, understand, although the definition can be varied and controversial, in essence it is –
    “The ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, understand complex ideas and concepts.”
    However, it is obvious that large numbers of people, perhaps the vast majority, will think ‘intelligent people’ are ones who
    1. Can recall lots of information, especially if it is obscure and wide-ranging, as shown in quizzes.
    2. Have down very well in exams, especially if in academic subjects.
    3. Have higher levels of qualifications, especially degrees or higher.
    4. Have attended specific education institutions, especially very traditional universities.The excellent American sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, uses (abuses?) these perceptions of ‘intelligence’ to comic effect, by illustrating how the key characters , ‘supposedly intelligent’, lack the skills to cope in many (most) everyday, ‘normal’ situations. If the sitcom is watched and analysed with an understanding of the 8 skills, it is clear that the 4 main ‘intelligent’ men have high level academic qualifications, possibly well developed in areas of cognitive skills but are poorly developed in most of the other 8 skills, especially empathy and relationship skills.Intelligence Tests
    The quotes from Albert Einstein and Reuven Feuerstein and the start of this blog attempts to reflect that intelligence should not be thought of as knowledge or exam success.
    Throughout the 20th century, ‘Intelligence tests and measuring IQ’ was very prominent in numerous societies, particularly the USA and Western Europe and these quotes are probably attempting to reject the acceptance of them. The belief that simple tests can measure intelligence basically began in France, in the early 1900s, when the French government asked psychologist Alfred Binet, to help decide which students were mostly likely to experience difficulty in schools. Binet, with his colleague Theodore Simon, began developing a number of questions that focused on things that had not been taught in school such as attention, memory and problem-solving skills which became the first intelligence test, the basis for the intelligence tests still in use today.                      Binet himself did not believe that his tests could be used to measure a single, permanent and inborn level of intelligence, he insisted that intelligence is influenced by a number of factors, changes over time and can only be compared among children with similar backgrounds.
    The test was soon brought to the United States where Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman adapted the test, which soon became the standard intelligence test used in the U.S. (the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale) and remains a popular assessment tool today. For much of the 20th century, governments, media and perhaps most people seemed to believe that they actually understood what intelligence was and that it could be measured by intelligence (I.Q.) tests. However the scientific evidence towards the end of the century meant that this perception was ‘fundamentally flawed’ as shown in the news article from the U.K. (the Telegraph) in 2012 :-
    IQ tests ‘do not reflect intelligence’
  • IQ tests are misleading because they do not accurately reflect intelligence, according to a study which found that a minimum of three different exams are needed to measure someone’s brainpower.
    For more than a century our intelligence quotient (IQ) has been used to measure how clever people are and Mensa, the society for the intellectual elite, has even used the test to weed out sub-par applicants.
    But now the scale has been dismissed as a “myth” by scientists who found that our intelligence can only be predicted by combining results from at least three tests of our mental agility.
    Different circuits within the brain are used for different thought processes, the researchers showed, meaning separate tests of short-term memory, reasoning and verbal skills are needed to measure someone’s overall intelligence.
    Their landmark study was based on the results of an online intelligence test which was launched by the Daily Telegraph and New Scientist two years ago, and attracted more than 110,000 responses.
    Dr Roger Highfield, the Telegraph columnist and one of the authors of the paper, said: “When you come to the most complex known object, the human brain, the idea that there is only one measure of intelligence had to be wrong.
    “We can all think of people that have poor reasoning and brilliant memories, or fantastic language skills but aren’t so hot at reasoning, and so on. Now once and for all we can say there is not a single measure such as IQ which captures all the intelligence that you see in people.”
    The online test, which took about 30 minutes to complete, featured 12 cognitive tests of volunteers’ memory, reasoning, attention and planning as well as recording details about their lifestyle and background.
    Taking into account the full range of cognitive abilities tested, they found that people’s varying success rates could only be explained by combining at least three types of intelligence, and not by any single measure such as IQ.
    “When you look at cognitive ability you can’t boil it down to fewer than three components – short-term memory, reasoning and a verbal component,” Dr Highfield explained. “There isn’t one component that explains all the variations we saw in all the tests.”
    Following up their findings, the scientists scanned the brains of 16 volunteers while they completed the same tests and found that the three key types of intelligence relied on different circuits within the brain.
    Writing in the Neuron journal, the researchers also observed that regularly playing “brain training” games appeared to have no effect on people’s overall performance.
    But people who regularly played computer games scored significantly higher in reasoning and short-term memory tests, while smokers and anxiety sufferers had weaker short-term memory scores.
  • This news article probably reflects the almost incredulity in the 21st century that intelligence should still be considered to be ‘innate or genetic’. The belief that intelligence is inherited became very widespread in the 1920’s when the eugenics movement had its greatest popularity and was practiced around the world, promoted by governments, and influential individuals and institutions. Many countries enacted various eugenics policies and programme to provide selective breeding of the human race. In the many decades since then the scientific research has provided lots of evidence supporting the belief that intelligence is not largely genetic and developed throughout life (modifiable).Howard Gardner and Robert SternbergTwo very important theories on intelligence now widely accepted is Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and Robert Sternberg’s, ‘Triarchic Theory of Intelligence’.
    In his 1983 book ‘Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences’. Howard Gardner suggests that traditional psychometric views of intelligence are too limited, suggesting that all people have different kinds of “intelligences”. Initially he proposed seven intelligences (others have been added) based on skills and abilities that are valued within different cultures:
    • Visual-spatial;
    • Verbal-linguistic;
    • Bodily-kinesthetic;
    • Logical-mathematical;
    • Interpersonal;
    • Musical;
    • Intrapersonal
    • (Naturalistic added later)
    Robert Sternberg, a very prominent figure in the research of human intelligence, defined intelligence as “mental activity directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection and shaping of, real-world environments relevant to one’s life.”
    He categorises intelligence into three parts, ‘Triarchic Theory of Intelligence’.
    1. Analytical intelligence, the ability to complete academic, problem-solving tasks, such as those used in traditional intelligence tests. These types of tasks usually present well-defined problems that have only a single correct answer.
    2. Creative( or synthetic) intelligence, the ability to successfully deal with new and unusual situations by drawing on existing knowledge and skills. Individuals high in creative intelligence may give ‘wrong’ answers because they see things from a different perspective.
    3. Practical intelligence, the ability to adapt to everyday life by drawing on existing knowledge and skills. Practical intelligence enables an individual to understand what needs to be done in a specific setting and then do it.Measuring What Really MattersAn simplified overview of definitions or perceptions of intelligence provides the essence of what intelligence is probably thought to be –
    • Binet (1916) – to judge, reason and comprehend well
    • Terman (1916) to form concepts and grasp their significance
    • Pintner (1921) to adapt well to new situations in life
    • Thurstone (1921) to inhibit instinctive response, imagine a different response,
    • Spearman (1923) mainly the ability to see relations and correlations
    • Wechlser (1939) to act purposefully, think rationally, and deal effectively with the environment
    • Sternberg (1985) the mental capacity to automatize information processing and to emit contextually appropriate behavior in response to novelty
    Gardner (1986) the ability to solve problems or fashion products valued within some setting.
    Basically it can be seen that an intelligent individual is meant to be one who has the ability (or skills) to understand and deal with the difficulties of life.
  • Now consider the definition of mental health (see section on Health)
    “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”               World Health OrganisationIt would appear that the term ‘intelligence’ has been given a lot of importance because it is hoped that measuring it may provide an assessment of an individual’s potential to realise their potential, cope with life, work effectively and make a big contribution to society. In other words –
    How well do we –
    1. Learn and cope with new things? (Effective Learning)
    2. Concentrate and communicate? (Communication)
    3. Understand and solve problems? (Cognition)
    4. Know ourself and what to improve? (Self-awareness)
    5. Manage our feelings and behaviour? (Self-management)
    6. Cope with difficulties and setbacks? (Motivation)
    7. Show respect and empathise with others? (Empathy)
    8. Relate and cooperate with others? (Relationship/Social)Intelligence (I.Q.) tests’, only really measure cognition skills, yet it has been hoped (believed?) that it measures all 8 skills. There have been many books and articles published in recent decades illustrating the need to measure the other skills, the following being a (my) selection.
    Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and Robert Sternberg’s, ‘Triarchic Theory of Intelligence’, I have already mentioned.
    Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ” (1995) catalysed a world-wide movement to develop and assess the other skills.
    Carol Dweck’ s “Mindset: The new psychology of success” (2006) provides clear evidence of the importance of motivation skills, a growth mindset, to long term success.
    Angela Lee Duckworth and other’s “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals ”, a series of studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 92, No. 6, 2007), which conclude that motivation skills is as important as intelligence in determining a person’s success. Grit is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.
    Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success”(2008). repeatedly mentions Anders Ericsson research (1996) that the “10,000-Hour Rule”, is key to success in any field is, practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours an important part of our Self-management and Motivation skills.
    Daniel J. Siegel’s “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation”( 2010) The book focuses on the importance of developing Self-awareness and Self-management skills (mindsight) in achieving fuller, richer, happier life.Hopefully, it is now obvious that if societies developed an emphasis and focus on learning and measuring what really matters, ‘the 8 skills’ then the numerous problems created by the extensive misunderstanding and abuse of the term, intelligence’ could be overcome.
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