Get Smarts - The Importance of Intelligence
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something our culture particularly values, and it can certainly be counted
among the more desirable things to have in life.
Defined as the ability for complex thinking
and reasoning, and the processes, such as attention and memory, that support
it, its an asset in helping people stay motivated and meet long-term goals.
But its likely you have some mistaken
ideas about intelligence and how you get it. If theres one thing research
shows, reports Cornell University psychologist Stephen Ceci, Ph.D., its
that intelligence is alterable by a number of factors, including
diet and schooling. Consider
- IQ scores are correlated with the
speed of some simple mental processes.
According to Dr. Ceci, IQ is
correlated with the speed of doing some pretty simple things. Like accurately
figuring out which of two lines is longer when lots of other things are going
on in the visual field. It may be that such simple tasks require a series of
physiological processes and the nervous systems of high IQ people are more
efficient, better able to screen out background noise.
- School attendance counts.
course, intelligence influences the decision to stay in school, but staying in
school can by itself elevate IQ or, more accurately, prevent it from slipping.
Schooling affects IQ because one of the things that you learn in school is how
to organize information categorically. This may be surprising to anyone who
views IQ as a measure of innate intelligence, associated with brain size and
other neurobiological indicators.
Studies show that even intermittent
school attendance over the years can weaken IQ. The more that children miss
school -- and the mental stimulation it provides -- the lower their IQ becomes,
as the schooling deficit is cumulative. Perhaps you know it from summer
vacations. There is a systematic decline in IQ scores over the summer months.
With each passing month away from school, children lose ground from their
end-of-year scores on both intellectual and academic tests. The decline is
especially pronounced for those children whose summers are least academically
oriented. (Summer reading lists are good.)
Dropping out of high school can
diminish IQ by about 8 points. Educational attainment not only boosts IQ, it
also boosts earning power.
- IQ has nothing to do with birth
order. Its a myth that first-borns are smarter than later-born siblings.
The truth is that smart people tend to have small families, but it is not small
families per se that make people smart.
- IQ is related to
Breast-fed infants grow into children with higher IQs
than their non-breast-fed siblings -- 3 to 8 IQ points ahead by age three.
Immune factors in mother's milk may prevent children from getting diseases that
impede early learning. And specific factors in breast milk -- certain omega-3
fatty acids -- directly affect the functioning of the nervous system.
- Intelligence is plural, not
In addition to general intelligence, all researchers agree
that other, independent mental abilities exist -- spatial, verbal, analytic,
and practical intelligence. The skills of practical intelligence, such as
common sense, are important in predicting life outcomes but are distinct from
IQ-type analytic intelligence.
Consider emotional intelligence. The
abilities to delay gratification, get along with coworkers and manage your own
emotions are not measured on IQ tests. But children who are able to put off
getting an immediate reward such as a marshmallow, in favor of getting a bigger
reward by waiting, turn out to have higher SAT scores years later. Emotional
intelligence has a long reach and ultimately leads to more successful
- Intelligence scores are predictive of
Even among people with comparable levels of
schooling, the greater a person's intellectual ability, the higher that
person's weekly earnings. Workers with the lowest levels of intellectual
ability earn only two-thirds what workers at the highest level earn.
- Intelligence is highly
Most skills of intelligence are tied to a specific
domain. Dr. Ceci and his colleagues have shown that whizzes at handicapping
horses at the racetrack, calculating odds and predicting winners can be abysmal
at reasoning outside the track. A genius at the track can be a dolt in the
stock market, even though both pursuits require many comparable mental
activities. It turns out that the knowledge is organized differently in
different domains, and so what a person knows about the track can lie fallow on
- Intelligence is on the rise.
Theres been a steady increase in performance on IQ tests -- by approximately 20
points every 30-year generation born since 1889. The largest gains appear on
nonverbal IQ tests.
- IQ can be influenced by diet
Mother was right. Eat your fish; it is brain food.