You may have completed a test, such as a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) which measures comprehension, vocabulary, arithmetic and comprehension, or a test of numerical, verbal, or critical reasoning ability when you applied for a job. Most of these tests are useful as they indicate how smart you are compared to other people and correlate with how well you do at school and in your job.
Now an article in New Scientist; “The 12 pillars of wisdom” explains how there are different views about whether or not there is a “generalised intelligence” – which is based on the fact that people who do well on one particular test tend to do well across the board – or whether intelligence is actually a combination of many different and independent cognitive abilities.
Howard Gardner, not mentioned in the article, proposed, almost 30 years ago, his multiple intelligence theory (MI Theory).
Although adopted by many educationalists and teachers, as it provides a broader framework than traditionally used in schools, it has been criticised as being more about ability than intelligence.
MI Theory includes: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential.
There have been additions over time from the original 7 and some of these ie inter- and intra-personal are also included in models of Emotional Intelligence (EI).
The authors, Adrian Owen and Roger Highfield, at the UK Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, describe how they are carrying out research to find the smallest number of tests to cover the broadest range of cognitive skills that they believe contribute to intelligence. They intend to couple this with exploration of the brain’s anatomy.
The twelve pillars they refer to in their “ultimate intelligence test” are:
- visuospatial working memory,
- spatial working memory,
- focused attention,
- mental rotation,
- visuospatial working memory and strategy,
- paired associate learning,
- deductive reasoning,
- visuospatial processing,
- visual attention,
- verbal reasoning,
- verbal working memory, and
Updated 23 November 2010: Scientists have now identified over 200 genes potentially associated with academic performance in children. Those with the right combination do significantly better in numeracy, literacy, and science.
The study of 4,000 children attempted to find the genetic combination that influences reasoning skills and general intelligence. Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London believe their work will help predict academic potential based on a genetic test.
They believe intelligence is controlled by a network of thousands of genes rather than a few powerful ones. They checked the million or so more common ones and looked for variations which occurred most often in the children who tested with either a low or high level of achievement.
Although some aspects of human physiology such as hair or eye colour, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, are controlled by only a few genes, more recent research suggests that for most aspects it is far more complex than that. Height for example is influenced by 300 genes but even that they only account for 15% of the variation in height.
Scientists attempts to develop profiling methods, so they can predict academic potential and devise methods of helping children who might otherwise be disadvantaged, is not as easy as originally thought despite massive computing power now being available to them for their analyses.
It is still difficult apparently to name even one gene that is clearly associated with normal intelligence in healthy adults although there are 300 known to be associated with mental retardation. So it seems that having your DNA profile available at birth is still not going to book you a place at Oxbridge just yet.
Updated 26 April 2011: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say that they have found that high IQ scores are a result of high intelligence plus motivation whereas low IQ scores could be because of the lack of either intelligence or motivation (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
They say that students offered incentives can improve their IQ scores and suggest that people with high IQs may be not only more intelligent but also more competitive.
IQ is often used as a predictor of success later in life but it may be that it is the competitive element that makes the difference rather than the actual level of intelligence.