I’ve always been intrigued by the subject of intelligence. As a child my mother would refer to me as “smart,” but I quickly noticed that all parents refer to their children as smart. In time I would discover that all children are not smart, just as all babies are not cute. If that were the case, we’d have a world full of beautiful, smart people – which we don’t.
Some of us are smart; but not as smart as we think, and others are smarter than they seem, which makes me wonder, how do we define smart? What makes one person smarter than another? When do “street smarts” matter more than “book smarts”? Can you be both smart and stupid? Is being smart more of a direct influence of genetics, or one’s environment?
Then there are the issues of education, intelligence and wisdom.
What does it mean to be highly educated? What’s the difference between being highly educated and highly intelligent? Does being highly educated automatically make you highly intelligent? Can one be highly intelligent without being highly educated? Do IQs really mean anything? What makes a person wise? Why is wisdom typically associated with old age?
My desire to seek answers to these questions inspired many hours of intense research which included the reading of 6 books, hundreds of research documents, and countless hours on the Internet; which pales in comparison to the lifetime of studies and research that pioneers in the fields of intelligence and education like Howard Gardner, Richard Sternberg, Linda S. Gottfredson, Thomas Sowell, Alfie Kohn, and Diane F. Halpern whose work is cited in this article.
My goal was simple: Amass, synthesize, and present data on what it means to be smart, educated and intelligent so that it can be understood and used by anyone for their benefit.
With this in mind, there was not a better (or more appropriate) place to start than at the very beginning of our existence: as a fetus in the womb.
There is mounting evidence that the consumption of food that’s high in iron both before and during pregnancy is critical to building the prenatal brain. Researchers have found a strong association between low iron levels during pregnancy and diminished IQ. Foods rich in iron include lima beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, seafoods, nuts, dried fruits, oatmeal, and fortified cereals.
Children with low iron status in utero (in the uterus) scored lower on every test and had significantly lower language ability, fine-motor skills, and tractability than children with higher prenatal iron levels. In essence, proper prenatal care is critical to the development of cognitive skills.
Cognitive skills are the basic mental abilities we use to think, study, and learn. They include a wide variety of mental processes used to analyze sounds and images, recall information from memory, make associations between different pieces of information, and maintain concentration on particular tasks. They can be individually identified and measured. Cognitive skill strength and efficiency correlates directly with students’ ease of learning.
DRINKING, PREGNANCY, AND ITS INTELLECTUAL IMPACT
Drinking while pregnant is not smart. In fact, it’s downright stupid.
A study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that even light to moderate drinking – especially during the second trimester – is associated with lower IQs in offspring at 10 years of age. This result was especially pronounced among African-American rather than Caucasian offspring.
“IQ is a measure of the child’s ability to learn and to survive in his or her environment. It predicts the potential for success in school and in everyday life. Although a small but significant percentage of children are diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) each year, many more children are exposed to alcohol during pregnancy who do not meet criteria for FAS yet experience deficits in growth and cognitive function,” said Jennifer A. Willford, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Paul D. Connor, clinical director of the Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington has this to say about the subject:
“There are a number of domains of cognitive functioning that can be impaired even in the face of a relatively normal IQ, including academic achievement (especially arithmetic), adaptive functioning, and executive functions (the ability to problem solve and learn from experiences). Deficits in intellectual, achievement, adaptive, and executive functioning could make it difficult to appropriately manage finances, function independently without assistance, and understand the consequences of – or react appropriately to – mistakes.”
This is a key finding which speaks directly to the (psychological) definition of intelligence which is addressed later in this article.
Studies have shown that the frequent exposure of the human fetus to ultrasound waves is associated with a decrease in newborn body weight, an increase in the frequency of left-handedness, and delayed speech.
Because ultrasound energy is a high-frequency mechanical vibration, researchers hypothesized that it might influence the migration of neurons in a developing fetus. Neurons in mammals multiply early in fetal development and then migrate to their final destinations. Any interference or disruption in the process could result in abnormal brain function.
Commercial companies (which do ultrasounds for “keepsake” purposes) are now creating more powerful ultrasound machines capable of providing popular 3D and 4D images. The procedure, however, lasts longer as they try to make 30-minute videos of the fetus in the uterus.
The main stream magazine New Scientist reported the following: Ultrasound scans can stop cells from dividing and make them commit suicide. Routine scans, which have let doctors peek at fetuses and internal organs for the past 40 years, affect the normal cell cycle.
On the FDA website this information is posted about ultrasounds:
While ultrasound has been around for many years, expectant women and their families need to know that the long-term effects of repeated ultrasound exposures on the fetus are not fully known. In light of all that remains unknown, having a prenatal ultrasound for non-medical reasons is not a good idea.
NATURE VERSUS NURTURE…THE DEBATE CONTINUES
Now that you are aware of some of the known factors which determine, improve, and impact the intellectual development of a fetus, it’s time for conception. Once that baby is born, which will be more crucial in the development of its intellect: nature (genetics) or nurture (the environment)?
Apparently for centuries, scientists and psychologists have gone back and forth on this. I read many comprehensive studies and reports on this subject during the research phase of this article, and I believe that it’s time to put this debate to rest. Both nature and nurture are equally as important and must be fully observed in the intellectual development of all children. This shouldn’t be an either/or proposition.
A recent study shows that early intervention in the home and in the classroom can make a big difference for a child born into extreme poverty, according to Eric Turkheimer, a psychologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The study concludes that while genetic makeup explains most of the differences in IQ for children in wealthier families, environment – and not genes – makes a bigger difference for minority children in low-income homes.
Specifically, what researchers call “heritability”- the degree to which genes influence IQ – was significantly lower for poor families. “Once you’re put into an adequate environment, your genes start to take over,” Mr. Turkheimer said, “but in poor environments genes don’t have that ability.”
But there are reports that contradict these findings…sort of.
Linda S. Gottfredson, a professor of educational studies at the University of Delaware, wrote in her article, The General Intelligence Factor that environments shared by siblings have little to do with IQ. Many people still mistakenly believe that social, psychological and economic differences among families create lasting and marked differences in IQ.
She found that behavioral geneticists refer to such environmental effects as “shared” because they are common to siblings who grow up together. Her reports states that the heritability of IQ rises with age; that is to say, the extent to which genetics accounts for differences in IQ among individuals increases as people get older.
In her article she also refers to studies comparing identical and fraternal twins, published in the past decade by a group led by Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr., of the University of Minnesota and other scholars, show that about 40 percent of IQ differences among preschoolers stems from genetic differences, but that heritability rises to 60 percent by adolescence and to 80 percent by late adulthood.
And this is perhaps the most interesting bit of information, and relevant to this section of my article:
With age, differences among individuals in their developed intelligence come to mirror more closely their genetic differences. It appears that the effects of environment on intelligence fade rather than grow with time.
Bouchard concludes that young children have the circumstances of their lives imposed on them by parents, schools and other agents of society, but as people get older they become more independent and tend to seek out the life niches that are most congenial to their genetic proclivities.
BREAST-FEEDING INCREASES INTELLIGENCE
Researchers from Christchurch School of Medicine in New Zealand studied over 1,000 children born between April and August 1977. During the period from birth to one year, they gathered information on how these children were fed.
The infants were then followed to age 18. Over the years, the researchers collected a range of cognitive and academic information on the children, including IQ, teacher ratings of school performance in reading and math, and results of standardized tests of reading comprehension, mathematics, and scholastic ability. The researchers also looked at the number of passing grades achieved in national School Certificate examinations taken at the end of the third year of high school.
The results indicated that the longer children had been breast-fed, the higher they scored on such tests.
TALKING TO YOUR CHILDREN MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Thomas Sowell, author of Race, IQ, Black Crime, and facts Liberals Ignore uncovered some fascinating information that every parent should take note of. He writes:
There is a strong case that black Americans suffer from a series of disadvantageous environments. Studies show time and again that before they go to school, black children are on average exposed to a smaller vocabulary than white children, in part due to socioeconomic factors.
While children from professional households typically exposed to a total of 2,150 different words each day, children from working class households are exposed to 1,250, and children from households on welfare a mere 620.
Yes, smart sounding children tend to come from educated, professional, two-parent environments where they pick-up valuable language skills and vocabulary from its smart sounding inhabitants.
Mr. Sowell continues: Black children are obviously not to blame for their poor socioeconomic status, but something beyond economic status is at work in black homes. Black people have not signed up for the “great mission” of the white middle class – the constant quest to stimulate intellectual growth and get their child into Harvard or Oxbridge.
Elsie Moore of Arizona State University, Phoenix, studied black children adopted by either black or white parents, all of whom were middle-class professionals. By the age of 7.5 years, those in black homes were 13 IQ points behind those being raised in the white homes.
At this juncture in my research it dawned on me, and should be fairly obvious to you, that many children are predisposed to being smart, educated, and intelligent, simply by their exposure to the influential factors which determine them long before they start school.
An informed mother, proper prenatal care, educated, communicative parents, and a nurturing environment in which to live, all add up to accumulated advantages that formulate intellectual abilities. As you can see, some children have unfair advantages from the very beginning.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of top-selling book Outliers, wrote that “accumulated advantages” are made possible by arbitrary rules…and such unfair advantages are everywhere. “It is those who are successful who are most likely to be given the kinds of social opportunities that lead to further success,” he writes. “It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention.”
With that in mind, we turn our attention to education and intelligence.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WELL EDUCATED?
Alfie Kohn, author of the book What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? poses the question, does the phrase well educated refer to a quality of schooling you received, or something about you? Does it denote what you were taught? Or what you remember?
I contend that to be well educated is all in the application; the application and use of information. Information has to be used in order to become knowledge, and as we all have heard, knowledge is power.
Most people are aware of the floundering state of education in this country on some level. We tell our children that nothing is more important than getting a “good” education, and every year, due to government budget shortfalls, teachers are laid off, classes are condensed, schools are closed, and many educational programs – especially those which help the underprivileged – are cut.
The reality is, we don’t really value education. We value it as a business, an industry, political ammunition, and as an accepted form of discrimination, but not for what it was intended: a means of enriching one’s character and life through learning.
What we value as a society, are athletes and the entertainment they offer. The fact that a professional athlete makes more money in one season, than most teachers in any region will make in their careers, is abominable. There’s always money to build new sports stadiums, but not enough to give teachers a decent (and well-deserved) raise.
Ironically, the best teachers don’t go into the profession for money. They teach because it’s a calling. Most of them were influenced by a really good teacher as a student. With the mass exodus of teachers, many students are not able to cultivate the mentoring relationships that they once were able to because so many are leaving the profession – voluntarily and involuntarily – within an average of three years.
At the high school level, where I got my start, the emphasis is not on how to educate the students to prepare them for life, or even college (all high schools should be college-prep schools, right?), it was about preparing them to excel on their standardized tests. Then the controversial “exit” exams were implemented and literally, many high schools were transformed into testing centers. Learning has almost become secondary.
This mentality carries over into college, which of course there’s a test one must take in order to enroll (the SAT or ACT). This explains why so many college students are more concerned with completing a course, than learning from it. They are focused on getting “A’s” and degrees, instead of becoming degreed thinkers. The latter of which are in greater demand by employers and comprise the bulk of the self-employed. The “get-the-good-grade” mindset is directly attributable to the relentless and often unnecessary testing that our students are subjected to in schools.
Alfie Kohn advocates the “exhibition” of learning, in which students reveal their understanding by means of in-depth projects, portfolios of assignments, and other demonstrations.
He cites a model pioneered by Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier. Meier has emphasized the importance of students having five “habits of mind,” which are: the value of raising questions about evidence (“How do we know what we know?”), point of view, (“Whose perspective does this represent?”), connections (“How is this related to that?”), supposition (“How might things have been otherwise?”), and relevance (“Why is this important?”).
Kohn writes: It’s only the ability to raise and answer those questions that matters, though, but also the disposition to do so. For that matter, any set of intellectual objectives, any description of what it means to think deeply and critically, should be accompanied by a reference to one’s interest or intrinsic motivation to do such thinking…to be well-educated then, is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends…
HISTORY AND PURPOSE OF IQ
We’ve always wanted to measure intelligence. Ironically, when you look at some the first methods used to evaluate it in the 1800s, they were not, well, very intelligent. Tactics such as subjecting people to various forms of torture to see what their threshold for pain was (the longer you could withstand wincing, the more intelligent you were believed to be), or testing your ability to detect a high pitch sound that others could not hear.
Things have changed…or have they?
No discussion of intelligence or IQ can be complete without mention of Alfred Binet, a French psychologist who was responsible for laying the groundwork for IQ testing in 1904. His original intention was to devise a test that would diagnose learning disabilities of students in France. The test results were then used to prepare special programs to help students overcome their educational difficulties.
It was never intended to be used as an absolute measure of one’s intellectual capabilities.
According to Binet, intelligence could not be described as a single score. He said that the use of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as a definite statement of a child’s intellectual capability would be a serious mistake. In addition, Binet feared that IQ measurement would be used to condemn a child to a permanent “condition” of stupidity, thereby negatively affecting his or her education and livelihood.
The original interest was in the assessment of ‘mental age’ — the average level of intelligence for a person of a given age. His creation, the Binet-Simon test (originally called a “scale”), formed the archetype for future tests of intelligence.
H. H. Goddard, director of research at Vineland Training School in New Jersey, translated Binet’s work into English and advocated a more general application of the Simon-Binet test. Unlike Binet, Goddard considered intelligence a solitary, fixed and inborn entity that could be measured. With help of Lewis Terman of Stanford University, his final product, published in 1916 as the Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale of Intelligence (also known as the Stanford-Binet), became the standard intelligence test in the United States.
It’s important to note that the fallacy about IQ is that it is fixed and can not be changed. The fact is that IQ scores are known to fluctuate – both up and down during the course of one’s lifetime. It does not mean that you become more, or less intelligent, it merely means that you tested better on one day than another.
One more thing to know about IQ tests: They have been used for racist purposes since their importation into the U.S. Many of those who were involved in the importation and refinement of these tests believed that IQ was hereditary and are responsible for feeding the fallacy that it is a “fixed” trait.
Many immigrants were tested in the 1920s and failed these IQ tests miserably. As a result, many of them were denied entry into the U.S., or were forced to undergo sterilization for fear of populating America with “dumb” and “inferior” babies. If you recall, the tests were designed for white, middle class Americans. Who do you think would have the most difficulty passing them?
Lewis Terman developed the original notion of IQ and proposed this scale for classifying IQ scores:
000 – 070: Definite feeble-mindedness
070 – 079: Borderline deficiency
080 – 089: Dullness
090 – 109: Normal or average intelligence
110 – 119: Superior intelligence
115 – 124: Above average (e.g., university students)
125 – 134: Gifted (e.g., post-graduate students)
135 – 144: Highly gifted (e.g., intellectuals)
145 – 154: Genius (e.g., professors)
155 – 164: Genius (e.g., Nobel Prize winners)
165 – 179: High genius
180 – 200: Highest genius
200 – higher ?: Immeasurable genius
*Genius IQ is generally considered to begin around 140 to 145, representing only 25% of the population (1 in 400).
*Einstein was considered to “only” have an IQ of about 160.
Diane F. Halpern, a psychologist and past-president of the American Psychological Association (APA), wrote in her essay contribution to Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid that in general, we recognize people as intelligent if they have some combination of these achievements (1) good grades in school; (2) a high level of education; (3) a responsible, complex job; (4) some other recognition of being intelligent, such as winning prestigious awards or earning a large salary; (5) the ability to read complex text with good comprehension; (6) solve difficult and novel problems.
Throughout my research and in the early phases of this article, I came across many definitions of the word intelligence. Some were long, some were short. Some I couldn’t even understand. The definition that is most prevalent is the one created by the APA which is: the ability to adapt to one’s environment, and learn from one’s mistakes.
How about that? There’s the word environment again. We just can’t seem to escape it. This adds deeper meaning to the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” It means recognizing what’s going on in your environment, and having the intelligence adapt to it – and the people who occupy it – in order to survive and succeed within it.
There are also many different forms of intelligence. Most notably those created by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University.
Dr. Gardner believes (and I agree) that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.
He felt that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on IQ testing, was far too limited and created the Theories Of Multiple Intelligences in 1983 to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults.
These intelligences are:
Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
Not associated with Dr. Gardner, but equally respected are:
FLUID & CRYSTALLIZED INTELLIGENCE
According to About.com, Psychologist Raymond Cattell first proposed the concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence and further developed the theory with John Horn. The Cattell-Horn theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence suggests that intelligence is composed of a number of different abilities that interact and work together to produce overall individual intelligence.
Cattell defined fluid intelligence as “…the ability to perceive relationships independent of previous specific practice or instruction concerning those relationships.” Fluid intelligence is the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems. This ability is considered independent of learning, experience, and education. Examples of the use of fluid intelligence include solving puzzles and coming up with problem solving strategies.
Crystallized intelligence is learning from past experiences and learning. Situations that require crystallized intelligence include reading comprehension and vocabulary exams. This type of intelligence is based upon facts and rooted in experiences. This type of intelligence becomes stronger as we age and accumulate new knowledge and understanding.
Both types of intelligence increase throughout childhood and adolescence. Fluid intelligence peaks in adolescence and begins to decline progressively beginning around age 30 or 40. Crystallized intelligence continues to grow throughout adulthood.
Then there’s Successful Intelligence, which is authored by intelligence psychologist and Yale professor, Robert J. Sternberg, who believes that the whole concept of relating IQ to life achievement is misguided, because he believes that IQ is a pretty miserable predictor of life achievement.
His Successful Intelligence theory focuses on 3 types of intelligence which are combined to contribute to one’s overall success: Analytical Intelligence; mental steps or components used to solve problems; Creative Intelligence: the use of experience in ways that foster insight (creativity/divergent thinking); and Practical Intelligence: the ability to read and adapt to the contexts of everyday life.
With regard to environment, Mr. Sternberg writes in his book Successful Intelligence: Successfully intelligent people realize that the environment in which they find themselves may or may not be able to make the most of their talents. They actively seek an environment where they can not only do successful work, but make a difference. They create opportunities rather than let opportunities be limited by circumstances in which they happen to find themselves.
As an educator, I subscribe to Mr. Sternberg’s Successful Intelligence approach to teaching. It has proven to be a highly effective tool and mindset for my college students. Using Successful Intelligence as the backbone of my context-driven curriculum really inspires students to see how education makes their life goals more attainable, and motivates them to further develop their expertise. Mr. Sternberg believes that the major factor in achieving expertise is purposeful engagement.
In his best-selling 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reported that research shows that conventional measures of intelligence – IQ – only account for 20% of a person’s success in life. For example, research on IQ and education shows that high IQ predicts 10 to 25% of grades in college. The percentage will vary depending on how we define success. Nonetheless, Goleman’s assertion begs the question: What accounts for the other 80%?
You guessed it…Emotional Intelligence. What exactly is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence (also called EQ or EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. Many corporations now have mandatory EQ training for their managers in an effort to improve employee
relations and increase productivity.
TACIT KNOWLEDGE aka “STREET SMARTS”
You’ve heard the phrase, “Experience is the greatest teacher…”
In psychology circles knowledge gained from everyday experience is called tacit knowledge. The colloquial term is “street smarts,” which implies that formal, classroom instruction (aka “book smarts”) has nothing to do with it. The individual is not directly instructed as to what he or she should learn, but rather must extract the important lesson from the experience even when learning is not the primary objective.
Tacit knowledge is closely related to common sense, which is sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts. As you know, common sense is not all that common.
Tacit knowledge, or the lessons obtained from it, seems to “stick” both faster and better when the lessons have direct relevance to the individual’s goals. Knowledge that is based on one’s own practical experience will likely be more instrumental to achieving one’s goals than will be knowledge that is based on someone else’s experience, or that is overly generic and abstract.
BEING BOTH SMART AND STUPID
Yes, it’s possible to be both smart and stupid. I’m sure someone you know comes to mind at this precise moment. But the goal here is not to ridicule, but to understand how some seemingly highly intelligent, or highly educated individuals can be so smart in one way, and incredibly stupid in others.
The woman who is a respected, well paid, dynamic executive who consistently chooses men who don’t appear to be worthy of her, or the man who appears to be a pillar of the community, with a loving wife and happy kids, ends up being arrested on rape charges.
It happens, but why? I found the answer in Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid. Essentially, intellect is domain specific. In other words, being smart (knowledgeable) in one area of your life, and stupid (ignorant) in another is natural. Turning off one’s brain is quite common especially when it comes to what we desire. A shared characteristic among those who are smart and stupid, is the difficulty in delaying gratification.
Olem Ayduk & Walter Mischel who wrote the chapter summarized: Sometimes stupid behavior in smart people may arise from faulty expectations, erroneous beliefs, or merely a lack of motivation to enact control strategies even when one has them. But sometimes it is an inability to regulate one’s affective states and the behavioral tendencies associated with them that leads to stupid and self-defeating behavior.
The central character in this book who many of these lessons regarding being smart and stupid revolve around is Bill Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinksky.
WISDOM & CONCLUSION
My great grandmother, Leola Cecil, maybe had an 8th grade education at the most. By no stretch of the imagination was she highly educated, but she had what seemed like infinite wisdom. She was very observant and could “read” people with startling accuracy. Till the very end of her life she shared her “crystallized intelligence” with whomever was receptive to it.
She died at the age of 94. I often use many of her sayings as a public speaker, but most importantly, I use her philosophies to make sure that I’m being guided spiritually and not just intellectually. Many of us who are lucky enough to have a great grandparent can testify that there is something special about their knowledge. They seem to have life figured out, and a knack for helping those of us who are smart, educated and intelligent see things more clearly when we are too busy thinking.
What they have is what we should all aspire to end up with if we are lucky: wisdom.
Wisdom is the ability to look through a person, when others can only look at them. Wisdom slows down the thinking process and makes it more organic; synchronizing it with intuition. Wisdom helps you make better judgments regarding decisions, and makes you less judgmental. Wisdom is understanding without knowing, and accepting without understanding. Wisdom is recognizing what’s important to other people, and knowing that other people are of the utmost importance to you. Wisdom is both a starting point, and a final conclusion.
Gian Fiero is a seasoned educator, speaker and consultant with a focus on business development and music/entertainment industry operations. He is affiliated with San Francisco State University as an adjunct professor and the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) where he conducts monthly workshops on topics such as career planning, public relations, and personal growth.