What is Intelligence and does it matter?

What is Intelligence?I have often pondered over what intelligence means? Why are some people called intelligent and what is that can make someone intelligent? Is my IQ reflective of my genuine ability to succeed in this world? It is with these questions that I approached the 2nd week of my learning course titled “what is Intelligence and does it matter?”

When I Google the meaning of the word intelligence I get the following dictionary meaning (among the many others that come up)

“the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”.

Professor Gordon in the lecture narrates the very interesting struggle of how the society has tried to define intelligence over a period of time. He says and I quote “In 1930 they said intelligence is what intelligence tests measure”.

Do intelligence test measure intelligence? This makes me think back to the university admission test that I sat for. It also makes me think of the school entrance tests that my 3 children were made to sit for.

He goes on to say “your view of intelligence shapes how you develop intelligence tests” and “you prove what you want through asking the questions you want”. 

So one can see that intelligence tests carry a bias and as I read it between the lines, intelligence tests are like a code that can be cracked. If one can understand the mindset of the test developer one can predict the test questions. Here I share a personal experience. I have had an uncanny ability to reasonably guess (to quite good degree) the questions that came in my school and university tests. I assumed they were lucky guesses. But now I am forced to think were my guesses just my conscious or perhaps unconscious assessment of what the teacher did and did not and hence guessed the kind of questions they may ask. 

In the blog article “A guide to intelligence (and heritability) for beginners” Posted on 16/10/2013 by sandraleatongray

I quote from the article as it has some very interesting thoughts 

“It’s widely recognised that measuring intelligence can be regarded as controversial, as it can be culturally specific. In other words, how well you do on the test can relate to how similar you are in background to the people setting the test.” 

(In my case as I experienced my knack for being able to read the mind of the examiner).

She goes on to quote other factors which are worth mentioning and I quote from her blog 

“Another factor in test bias was that they risked discriminating according to the educational background of test taker. In other words, if you had attended school and could read well, and had learnt how to tackle abstract problems in a systematic manner, then you were likely to be at a distinct advantage to those who had not benefited from such experiences.”

(This reminded me of my experience in the university admission test I sat for. Many people struggled with English language as it was not the Mother tongue but a major portion of the test was designed for testing English vocabulary and comprehension skills.)

“The environment when people are taking the tests can also play a role. Tests are designed to be done under laboratory conditions, and if there is noise or interruptions, this can reduce the overall score. Similarly the mood and motivation of test takers plays a role…”

(I noticed this in particular for my Son when we took him for the test for his nursery class admission. He had been going to a play school for 2 years now and could could respond to all the activities that he was asked to do but that day he just wouldn’t do as he was told. He couldn’t even knock the pegs down or make a tower. I remember the child psychologist telling me that I may have developmental or behavioural issues with my Son. I thought that was harsh. My Son was just having one his “I’m not listening to you days”. As a parent I think it is ok for a kid to do that. We took him back for a reassessment on a later date and then he cleared the test.)

She continues to share 2 more interesting points that are worth mentioning and I quote 

“Another phenomenon in all kinds of psychological testing is the desire to please an authority figure and give expected answers, by second guessing what they might want. This may result in the person being tested giving an erroneous answer unnecessarily. Finally, we must bear in mind the effect of coaching.” 

(I admit that to clear the university admission exams I spent almost 4 months in active preparation with a tutor who specialised in such tests. It was with hours of practice that I was able to improve my scores on the test. So coaching really works but did it make me intelligent or just better at answering questions I still wonder)

I’ll finish this part of the discussion with the interesting quotation about the role of IQ in creating scientific success quoted by her at the end of blog:

“Even within science, IQ is only weakly related to achievement among people who are smart enough to become scientists. Research has shown, for example, that a scientist who has an IQ of 130 is just as likely to win a Nobel Prize as a scientist whose IQ is 180.”

Moving on from IQ tests the lectures talked about Intelligence at times being equated with ability. People are born with a capacity but how that capacity develops depends on a number of factors. I found the example of language as quoted by the professor very thought provoking.

If I was to look back into my personal experiences of education I find that as a child I was not considered intelligent as I didn’t do particularly well in school tests. Further I was talkative, my hand writing was a mess, I was not neat in my work and I asked too many questions. Hence the Teachers marginalised me in class. They would tell me not to ask questions and often told me to be quiet. This may be just my impression but I was often given a lower grade (for a similar answer) than my classmates who were rated as intelligent. This made me sad and often I thought even if I worked hard I could never get in good books with this teacher. I have to say that this was only done by some Teachers. 

However I can safely say that for Teachers who thought I was not intelligent they would not make an attempt to humour my curiosity and hence with unanswered questions I lost interest in the subject and more or less day dreamed through the class lectures. This then became a self fulfilling prophecy. What the teacher thought about me was what I turned out to be in that particular subject. 

I came from family with 4 other siblings my Mother didn’t have time to help me with my school work, I got limited or no help with my hand writing practice, reading practice, and preparing for school tests and exams. Hence my capacity was not build on by the school or by my parents. 

The only thing I did well in was Maths and I think it was because I liked Maths. I enjoyed solving problems. I could do Maths for hours at a stretch. I think it was this hours of practice that helped me score high grades in Maths. 

As I came to middle school I was fortunate to get more books to read and this improved my language skills which in turn made my grades better. Again I read and read for hours at a stretch. Once my grades improved Teachers treated me better. I was made to feel important which further motivated me to do better in tests.

The professor mentions the concept of “deliberate practice” something that we see in sports personalities and musicians. They understand clearly that to get better they need to put in hours of work to perfect the stroke or note and then it comes as second nature. 

With my deliberate practise in Maths and English reading I realised that many concepts then seemed to come to me as if I had always known them. I could make sense of lectures much faster than other kids. 

Before when I lacked the ability to adequately express myself using language I was assessed to be average child with limited interest in education or many Teachers told my parents “I was easily distracted and lost focus in class”.

I do recall that a good teacher would miraculously make me like a very boring topic. I think I had some very good Teachers. 

I consider myself a learner. I continuously evaluate my knowledge and add to it. I think this stems from my curiosity and my observation of my surroundings. As I now have 3 children to raise I’m evaluating my understanding of how I learned as a child and what can I do to make learning for my children a more pleasant experience. I do want them to be life long learners. 

Before I end this blog there are some key take aways on how parents can help. I am noting them down here.

What can we do as parents to help our kids? Following are my key take aways from this week of learning. 

  • Let your child express themselves – take time to listen to your child explain a concept. Be patient let the child say what is in his/her mind. Sometimes even the very simple concepts don’t seem so simple to kids.
  • Coach your child – when your child does something pat them on the back. Go one step further and gently explain to them how to do it better. Just like a coach who looks at your “kick” or “stroke” and tells you how to make it better. 
  • Help your child make sense of the bigger picture. Many times children cannot understand the linkage between what they are learning and how they can make use of their learning. Hence they may choose not to be interested in a topic. With Low interest the child’s capacity to learn is compromised. I think I can relate to it as I see this in my teenage Daughter at times. A recent example being she told me she is not interested in the computer education class because they teach them how to develop games and she doesn’t want to be a game developer. She was not being able to understand that the school curriculum is designed such that they teach programming through developing of simple game. It took me some time to make her understand that if she gets basics of programming she can later use the knowledge later to develop any kind of program not necessarily a game. 

Please share with me your experiences of how your intelligence has been evaluated overtime. I am also interested to hear your experiences of how you coped with your intelligence scores? 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s