Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Follow up newsflash: another thing that matters is how rational you are!

In a recent post, I argued that our obsession with the shortcomings of IQ and other aptitude tests and our infatuation with "non-cognitive" skills ("grit", "emotional intelligence," "leadership") has us forgetting a number of cognitive skills: cognitive skills that aren’t measured by IQ and other aptitude tests, but that nonetheless factor into intelligence. These include:

--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.

All these factors feed into phenomena we clearly appreciate, in real life, as part of intelligence: the volume, organization, and connectedness of the facts someone knows, or how interesting, astute, and/or creative their questions, observations, and ideas are.

But I left out one big cognitive factor that also isn't measured by IQ: rationality. Discussed at length in the works of psychologist Keith Stanovich (I'm indebted to a fellow-linguist for alerting me to this research!), it includes the tendency to think a lot; to think, before acting, about the consequences of one’s actions; to be open-minded and objective; to eschew superstition and dogma; and to consider multiple perspectives, pros and cons, and nuance. It's also a function of certain types of knowledge: e.g.,  knowledge of statistics and scientific reasoning; awareness of the various common logical fallacies and self-serving biases to avoid.

As Stanovich notes in his chapter on Intelligence and Rationality (for the Cambridge handbook of intelligence):

Critics of intelligence tests are eager to point out that the tests ignore important parts of mental life—many largely noncognitive domains such as socioemotional abilities, empathy, and interpersonal skills, for example. However, a tacit assumption in such critiques is that although intelligence tests miss certain key noncognitive areas, they do encompass much of what is important in the cognitive domain.
But, though people often "define intelligence in ways that encompass rational action and belief," intelligence tests are “radically incomplete as measures of cognitive functioning” and completely neglect rationality.

Nor does rationality simply capture how much you resemble Mr. Spock. Rationality is a major determinant of whether people set reasonable goals and make reasonable decisions and judgments, and so is integrally connected with their happiness--and with that of those around them.

Stanovich makes a good case for the teachability of certain sub-skills of rationality--a much better case, indeed, that others have made for the teachability of non-cognitive skills. Stanovich also lays out a number of specific proposals about how one might go about teaching these skills.

But are schools likely to listen? Why should they? After all, it's so much easier to pretend to teach non-cognitive skills than it is to actually teach cognitive ones.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rationality is extremely important in sustaining an advanced society. I find the attributes you point out are increasingly discouraged today. Even though they are the foundations of our society. The less rational we have become as a society, the worse things have become. Everything starts and ends with schooling. As long as government is in control of educating our citizenry, we will see more individuals who are unable to reason.

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