February 27, 2009

Intelligence is getable

Did you read the 1996 book Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book) and did it make you feel uneasy because you did not (want to) agree with its conclusions but did not exactly know how to refute them? Among its conclusions were (loosely formulated): 1) that intelligence is highly important in many areas of life, 2) that differences in intelligence are largely responsible for societal stratification, 3) that differences in intelligence are largely heritable, and 4) that intelligence gaps between (racial) groups are hard to close (if that is possible at all). If you felt (feel) uneasy about these conclusions read How to get on to the system;: A guide to the A.I. Lab timesharing system for new users (M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Artificial intelligence memo) by psychologist Dick Nisbett. You will probably like this book because it will provide answers to your questions. Not in a vague way but in a very specific, well reasoned and research based way. Here are some conclusions from the book:

  1. There is no fixed value for the heritability of intelligence. If the environment is very favorable to the growth of development of intelligence, the heritability of intelligence is fairly high (maybe up to 70%. If however the environment is highly variable -differing greatly between individual families- then the environment is going play the major role in differences in intelligences between individuals (as is the case with the poor).
  2. Aside from the degree to which heritability is important for one group or another in the population, heritable places no limits whatsoever on modifiability -for anybody,
  3. Intelligence is developable and schools can make children smarter, for instance by using computer-assisted teaching and certain types of cooperative learning.
  4. Genes play no role at all in race differences in IQ, environment differences do.
  5. Believing that intelligence is under your control is a great start of developing intelligence,
  6. Certain habits and values in cultures can be highly beneficial for learning and developing intelligence,
  7. Parents can do a lot to increase the intelligence and academic achievement of children (both biological and didactic factors matter.

This book is great. I think it is as interesting as books like Carol Dweck's Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, David Perkins' Outsmarting IQ: The Emerging Science of Learnable Intelligence, and Joshua Aronson's Improving Academic Achievement: Impact of Psychological Factors on Education (Educational Psychology). Let's hope the book will inspire many parents, educators, policymakers and scientists. It just might ...

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