Wednesday, May 25, 2016

News flash: how interesting and curious you are also matters!

It’s long been fashionable to downplay the significance of IQ—though, from the breathlessness of each new article about how unimportant IQ is, you’d never guess just how old this news is. Hand in hand with these constant revelations are revelations about the importance of “non-cognitive” skills--emotional intelligence, the ability to cooperative with others, grit. Promoters of these skills seem to feel that it’s news to the rest of us that how hard we work and how well we get along with others significantly affect our success in college, career, and life.

Buried in all of this codified common sense is another assumption: that all skills fall into one of two categories: those measured by IQ /SAT/ACT aptitude tests, on the one hand, and “non-cognitive” skills, on the other. But there are plenty of cognitive skills that aren’t measured by IQ and other aptitude tests.

What most IQ tests measure is how quickly you access basic, non-complex information—e.g., basic facts, single vocabulary words---and how quickly you perform non-complex operations—repeating digits, reversing digits, doing arithmetic, remembering and reproducing geometric configurations, copying and identifying patterns. IQ measures the how well your brain functions as a simple computer: its long term memory storage and access, its processing speed. With most IQ tests, the biggest determiners of your score are how much vocabulary you’ve memorized, how big your short-term memory buffer is, your basic spatial reasoning and pattern recognition skills, and how fast you process information.

While plenty of cognitive skills can be reduced to these factors, many cannot. IQ (and aptitude tests more generally) don’t measure the volume, organization, and connectedness of the facts you know, which vary widely from person to person. Nor do aptitude tests measure how interesting and creative your questions and your ideas are—which also varies widely from person to person. While these skills are partly a function of memory, processing speed, and pattern recognitions, they’re also a function of things like:

--attention and observation: how much of the world around you do you sponge up?

--curiosity: do you notice what you don’t know and care enough to seek answers—asking, listening, reading widely and in depth?

--your patterns of reflecting later on what you learned earlier (regular recall and reflection promotes long term memory)

--the breadth of topics your mind ranges over: does it brood on a narrow range of fixed topics or does it wander widely and to new places?

--the breadth of new connections—logical, analogical, relational—that your mind makes among the things it ranges over.

If we need to be reminded that how hard we work and how well we get along with others affect our success in life, perhaps we also need to be reminded that how knowledgeable, curious, and intellectually creative and interesting we are matter as well.

And perhaps our schools should be exploring not just whether they can promote grit and socio-emotional learning, but also whether they can promote, say, curiosity?

After all, most kids are born curious, and many famously go on to lose that curiosity during their school years—at least during the hours they spend in classrooms. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something our schools could do about that.

1 comment:

Rob Chametzky said...

Those interested in a "third-way": something that isn't either standard IQ-type intelligence (testing) or the 'non-cognitive skills' mentioned in your post should look at the work of Keith Stanovich and his collaborators on (evaluating) "rational thought". References (ones which I have electronic versions of) include

"Education for rational thought", M.Topiak, R.West, K.Stanovich, in Kirby, John R., and Lawson, Michael J., eds. Enhancing the Quality of Learning. West Nyack, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Rationality & the reflective mind,Stanovich, Oxford UP, 2011, especially Chapter 10, "The assessment of rational thought", Stanovich, West, Topiak.

"Intelligence and rationality," Stanovich, West, & Toplak, (2012).
In R. Sternberg and S. B. Kaufman (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of intelligence
(3rd Edition) (pp. 784-826). Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

"On the Distinction Between Rationality and Intelligence: Implications for Understanding Individual Differences in Reasoning," Stanovich, in The Oxford Handbook of Thinking & Reasoning, Holyoak & Morrison, eds., 2012.

What Intelligence Tests Miss: The psychology of rational thought, Stanovich, Yale UP, 2009.

--Rob Chametzky