Higher Education

Intelligence – a Problem?

After 115 years, intelligence, as measured by an IQ test is still largely misunderstood by the vast majority of the population. Firstly, the concept of intelligence, as measured by an IQ test, is interpreted by most as being a measure of how intelligent (smart) a person is. The second and most damaging aspect of intelligence is the idea that a person has a certain IQ score that they carry with them for life. For the first 50 years of intelligence testing, this was the way it was. However, for over 50 years now, scientists, researchers, psychologists, even some educators have tried to convince the public that intelligence is not a fixed entity but can (and does) change over time.

Why is it important that people understand that this construct changes over time? Because of the problems associated with mindsets. A fixed mindset stifles growth and potential. If that is how intelligent I am then why try – that is simply how intelligent I am. We know this isn’t true, but because of the history of the word, at least half of the people think that intelligence is a fixed attribute. Even amongst those who believe that intelligence is not a fixed attribute, the belief is that it is a very difficult attribute to change.

Finally, in our society, at least amongst normal individuals, intelligence is a highly desirable attribute.

So there we have it, intelligence is a highly desirable, measurable attribute that is impossible or very difficult to change.

Semantic change suggests that a highly desirable word will change more slowly over time than a word with a neutral meaning. Intelligence is a highly desirable attribute, and so it is difficult to change the beliefs that have grown up around the word. In many cases, there is little desire for those who work and advocate for the word intelligence to change. Intelligence implies a highly desirable attribute that is either fixed or is very difficult to change over time to most people in the population.

So why do we suddenly have so many different attributes that are attached to the word intelligence:

  • Emotional intelligence
    Visual-spatial intelligence
    Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
    Musical intelligence
    Interpersonal intelligence
    Intrapersonal intelligence
    Linguistic intelligence
    Logical-mathematical intelligence
    Naturalistic intelligence
    Existential intelligence
    (not to mention learning styles)
    I’m certain that the list will expand rapidly in the future as people figure out ways to monetize the development of an aptitude. An aptitude is not an intelligence. An aptitude in is “a natural or acquired capacity or ability; especially: a tendency, capacity, or inclination to learn or understand”.

Here is a list of synonyms for aptitude:

  • affection
    The word intelligence does not appear in the list. How have aptitudes become intelligences? As I stated above, intelligence implies a highly desirable attribute that is either fixed or is difficult to change over time to most people in the population.

There are aptitudes that we would like to increase, like emotional stability, but how did this become an intelligence? I believe it is because, as an intelligence, it becomes a highly desirable attribute that is either fixed or is difficult to change over time. Because we all want to be (an allusion to a state of being) emotionally stable, if I can sell you a way to become emotionally stable you will pay me for it. Selling you emotional intelligence is easier than selling you the work you need to do to increase your emotional stability.

Even though they are essentially the same thing, semantically they are different. How can two terms or concepts that are essentially the same be semantically different? Because of how the population perceives the semantics used in referring to the two concepts. One sounds more desirable than the other.

I find the excitement over the multiple intelligence theory in education depressing. I saw an image of best practice in the classroom one time where different cut-outs of people shapes represented the different intelligences. Each of the cut-outs had written on it the names of the children in the classroom that demonstrated that intelligence. Talk about innate or fixed mindset labeling!

I’m not suggesting that these aptitudes are not worth developing. What I am saying is that the use of a word laden with the baggage that intelligence has is misleading and needs to change.

According to the definition of aptitude, an aptitude has more to do with desire and practice than with an attribute. I do not have a strong aptitude for fine motor control as measured by putting small shapes in the right holes. Neither do I have a desire to increase that aptitude. My aptitude for emotional stability is high, but that does not mean that I am an emotionally intelligent person. It means that I have an aptitude for emotional stability that has increased over the years.

The semantics of the two words, aptitude and intelligence, imply that aptitude can be readily increased over time if I want to increase it, whereas intelligence is a positive attribute that is difficult to change over time.

It might be semantics, but it is loaded semantics.

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