In his new book “Does your family make you smarter” he proposes that intelligence, rather than plateauing at 18 years of age, can increase throughout adulthood, providing you have a stimulating lifestyle.
Households where people talk, challenge, joke and share cultural pastimes can boost the IQ of family members by several points.
And workplaces that impose intellectual challenges on staff can over time raise their individual intelligence.
The opposite is also true. People who share a home or workplace with dullards for any length of time risk seeing their IQ enter a sharp decline because of lack of stimulation.
Flynn says “Intelligence has always been thought to be static … the new evidence shows that this is wrong. The brain seems to be rather like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets. That means you can upgrade your intelligence during your lifetime“.
He suggests the best way to improve your IQ is to marry someone smarter than you, find an intellectually stimulating job, and hang out with bright friends.
Up to now we’ve believed that intelligence is controlled by genes influenced by our nutrition and environment up to age 18 when it stabilises.
Flynn’s research took 65 years of IQ tests from the US and correlating the results with the age of the people creating IQ age tables. From these he draws two conclusions. The cognitive quality of a family alters the IQ of all members but especially children i.e. it can lift them or hold them back.
For example a bright child of 10 with siblings of average intelligence will suffer on average a 5-10 point IQ disadvantage compared to a similar child with equally bright brothers and sisters. A child with a lower IQ can gain 6-8 points by having brighter siblings and educational support.
The effects are more clear in the early years with arithmetic skills strongly controlled by the home environment up to age 12 and verbal skills affected up to teenage years.
He also believes, based on this research, that although genetics and early life experience determine about 80% of intelligence the rest is strongly linked to our lifestyle as adults.
“As you leave childhood behind the legacy of your family diminishes but the game is not over. A large proportion of your cognitive quality is now in your own hands. You can change it yourself and your IQ can vary through life according to your own efforts” says Flynn
“Going through life feeling your childhood is holding you back is misunderstanding how much power you have to improve yourself”.
I don’t know if his book (out next month) makes any reference to the use of technology and social media and its impact of family interaction because that would have some impact.
This is certainly a game-changing idea and will undoubtedly be challenged although there has been other research which suggests there is something more to IQ than commonly believed.
In 2011 researchers at the University of Pennsylvania said that they 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 also said that students offered incentives improved their IQ scores and suggested that people with high IQs may be not only more intelligent but also more competitive
There is also research that shows you can improve the collective IQ of a group by adding more women.
Research in Scotland found that people with mentally stimulating jobs suffered less cognitive decline as they got older.
And recently researchers at the University of Texas found that busy over-50s had higher cognitive scores than younger people.
Experts in emotional intelligence have long held that EI, unlike IQ, continues to develop into adulthood. Now it seems we have the capacity to develop both our cognitive and socio-emotional skills.
Given the rewards that most corporate leaders receive these days (an average of over £3million plus bonuses) you might think this is a stupid question when the average wage is around £27,200 ($41,840).
However Roger Jones, a consultant, says ‘Leaders’ unconscious personal fears affect their performance, that of their team, and that of their company‘ according to Carly Chynoweth’s column in the Sunday Times business section.
The number 1 fear, according to the Academy of Chief Executives, is the fear of being found out – or imposter syndrome.
Other fears include worrying about being able to repeat past successes, not living up to past successes in a family business, and losing friends as they get promoted (did no-one tell them it can be lonely at the top?).
These fears can lead to bad decision-making and a loss of perspective. They may also result in poor inter-personal behaviours such as rudeness, problems with anger management, and lack of consistency with their teams.
Unfortunately for the business such behaviours can be emulated by junior staff who think its OK to do it because the CEO does it.
60% of the leaders questioned in Jones’ research (published in the HBR) said their executive teams were affected by fear, that there was an absence of honest conversations, excessive politicking, and a willingness to tolerate bad behaviour.
Executive search companies say they see these behaviours with newly promoted executives at second or third tier. A partner at one of them believes that the growth of psychometric testing might eventually identify those with problematic traits so they can be dealt with where possible (The Hogan series of psychometrics includes on which identifies elements of the dark side triad i.e. sociopathy, narcissism, and machiavellinism).
Jones is also optimistic. “Most leaders can manage their fears. Those who are self-aware are more understanding of what dysfunctional behaviours they may have and they can try to prevent them happening”.
One of the most effective approached is helping leaders develop their emotional intelligence – from improving self-awareness and self-control to managing relationships better.
Of course a lot depends on the culture of the organisation. If your company has an open and helping culture where feedback is freely and honestly exchanged some of these issues might never arise.
And there is some evidence that CEOs who are more guilt-prone can make better leaders.
Over the years there have been many approaches to leadership with trait theories, style theories, functional models, situational/contingency models, transactional/transformational theories, ideas about biological and personality characteristics, and more recently emotional intelligence competencies
So do leaders need to be more intelligent than their followers? Well probably a bit, because that inspires confidence, but not too much more intelligent.
Do they need to be empathetic? It’s probably better if they have tough empathy ie “grow or go” but they do need social skills.
Do they need to be liked? No, but they need to be respected. And since the last recession integrity has become important again.
Difficult times require people to perform better than normal and people need exceptional leaders to help them do that. By exceptional I don’t mean charismatic or heroic leaders – although some people respond to that style of leadership which “encourages the heart” – but leaders who do what they say they will do ie are conscientious, and also act as role models.
And to do that they need to be both self-confident and emotionally stable.
Research among elite performers found that they had a number of characteristics in common. As well as being intelligent, disciplined and bold, with strong practical and interpersonal skills, they bounced back from adversity.
Jim Collins describes in his book “How the mighty fall” people who are exasperatingly persistent and never give up. They are not necessarily the brightest, most talented, or best looking, but they are successful because they know that not giving up is the most important thing they do. He says; “success is falling down and getting up one more time, without end”.
This resilience (from the latin to leap back) is linked to personal attributes such as calmness in stressful situations, reflection on performance through feedback, and learning systematically from both success and failure.
Resilient people generally:
Recognise what they can control and influence and do something about it, rather than worry about what they can’t
Stay involved rather than becoming cynical or detached or simply walking away
Work with others to shape the environment and influence things that affect them most
Act as a source of inspiration to others to counter self-destructive behaviour
Aren’t these the sort of behaviours you would expect from good leaders? So it’s not just about “bouncing back” and carrying on where you left off before. It’s about reflecting and learning from what has happened and then getting back to business.
Resilience seems to be an innate ability for most people and is increasingly found in leadership competency frameworks where it is linked with confidence, authenticity and ethical leadership ideas.
Modern leaders need not just brains and emotional intelligence but also resilience.
Acting as a role model is an essential part of being an effective leader hence the need for them to be hardy and emotionally stable. Research shows that resilient leaders can have a positive effect on the well-being of organisations and their employees so it’s well worth organisations developing such capabilities.
First posted on SGANDA in 2011
The article was about the necessity for leaders to take tough decisions in tough times. One contributor said that you had to learn to thrive on pressure or go under, and it was your choice to make basically. He went on to say; “people at the top develop mental toughness… it’s about willpower and not seeing yourself as a victim“.
And a former Chief Executive said; “It’s about mindset and the employees in front of you. If you have a bad day you hide it, because you can be transmitting a virus“.
If self-awareness is the first building block in emotional intelligence, awareness of others’ feelings, or empathy, and self-control come next. And one of the most popular stories reflecting a cornerstone of emotional intelligence is the experiment carried out by Walter Mischel at Standford University in the 1960s using marshmallows to measure self-control.
In a recent post; “Practise makes perfect, probably“, I referred to David Schenk, a writer on genetics, who claims that the case for genetic predisposition is overstated and that if you practise hard enough you can even become a genius. In the same article he cites the marshmallow experiment as an example of how children can learn to develop self-discipline.
Another similar story that caught my eye appeared in the international edition of USA Today (one of the few “English” newspapers you can get on Eastern European airlines). The headline said “The secret of school success. Want your kids to master books? First they need to master themselves. Fortunately new research is finding that self-control can be taught.” The story was about programmes teaching self-regulation in American schools and at the heart of it was a description of the famous marshmallow experiment run by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. The story also criticises some modern parenting methods as undermining the development of self-regulation.
Back in November 2009 both the Observer and the Sunday Times picked up on the findings of a Demos think-tank report. The Sunday Times headline was “Bad parents kill prospects of working class”. It reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000. The report identified three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot.
- the ability to concentrate and stick with tasks,
- self-regulation – whether someone can control emotions and bounce back from disappointment, and
- empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people.
The report went on to say that the best form of parenting to inculcate these characteristics was “tough love” ie setting clear rules and boundaries, instilled by discussion and affection. And the marshmallow experiment was cited as a predictor of success in life. The report also described disengaged and emotionally callous children and also suggested expanding the role of Health Visitors to provide supportive parenting.
The Observer took a similar tack with “Tough love breeds smart children“. This article contained a number of statistics and found that among the 9,000 families it tracked for the survey only 13% used a tough love approach combining discipline and warmth. Although the research found that it was the style of parenting, rather than income or social background that developed the 3 character traits referred to above, this approach was more common in wealthy families and where parents were married. The parents’ level of education was also an important factor , as was breastfeeding until 6 months.
The report also claimed that these soft skills, or character capabilities, had become increasingly important in life and were now 33 times more important in determining income for those who turned 30 in 2000 than for those 12 years older.
And in advance of a report from the think tank Demos the Times published a piece about the importance of self-control and empathy in children and included a description of Mischel’s now famous marshmallow test.
Mischel had been monitoring the lives of dozens of his subjects since he started the marshmallow experiments at a nursery on the campus of Stanford University, California, in the 1960s. His findings have proved so compelling that 40 of his original subjects, then in their forties, were preparing to undergo scans in the hope of answering a perplexing human question: “why are some of us better than others at resisting temptation?”
“Brain imaging provides a very exciting and important new tool,” said Mischel, who now works at Columbia University in New York. By examining the differences between the brains of subjects who turned out to be good at controlling their impulses and those who wolfed down the marshmallow the moment it was offered, researchers hope to come up with new ways of teaching the benefits of delayed gratification.
According to the MacIntyre charity, cited by Camilla Cavendish, the Times journalist who has just published a review of healthcare support workers.
The charity, which provides services for 1,000 adults and children, has created detailed psychological profiles of care workers.
The best ones, the “naturals”, are:
- empathetic introverts,
- good listeners,
- reflective, and
- wanting to work within clear rules
- in structured environments.
Click here for more information and a quiz for you to check out if that kind of work is right for you.
Recruiting people with emotional intelligence and the right values would be a good start. Companies like Nokia have been recruiting for values and attitudes for decades taking the view that they can train people in the technical stuff quite easily.
The Chief Nursing Officer’s vision Compassion in Practice (the 6 Cs) highlights the importance of care and compassion.
One of the 6 Cs is courage and it’s interesting that McIntyre found that the best carers, being introverts, were not very gregarious but would stand up for the people they cared for.
There is also some good research which shows that people with introvert preferences can be more effective leaders than extraverted types.
And you may have heard of Susan Cain, best-selling author of “Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” (2012).
I wrote a measly 17 posts last year – falling far short of my own expectations of one a week! That brings the total to 72 since I started it in 2010.
This is partly because I was enamoured with tweeting and because I also write a leadership & management blog amongst others. As with all my blogs most of the pictures I use are ones I have taken on my travels so I hope you liked them as well.
My readers come from 75 different countries; mostly the UK but with the USA and Canada not far behind.
In reverse order:
My 5th most read post was: “Can you recognise emotions?” from November 2011
My 4th most read post was: “No country for grey-haired men” from January 2011, which was in second place last year.
My 3rd most read post was: “Moral judgements & decision-making under the influence” from October 2010, which was also in third place last year
My 2nd most read post was: “Emotional Intelligence, self-control and those marshmallows” from May 2010, which was in fourth place last year
And my most read post was: “The four agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence” from August 2010. This has been in first place for 3 years running.
So 4 out of 5 posts were also in my list last year. Must do better with new material next year!
Thank you for reading, liking, and following. All my posts are tweeted at @bizpsycho which you can follow or you can subscribe on this site
Another year of blogging, trying to find the most interesting stuff that brings together work and psychology.
As I said last year it’s a competitive market place with many excellent writers and I think business psychologists can make a great contribution to the workplace in these difficult economic times.
WordPress tell me most of my readers come for the UK, the USA, and India with some from Africa and Brazil.
And my top 5 ie most read, posts:
My 5th most read was: Emotional Intelligence and empathy
My 4th most read was: Emotional Intelligence and self-control and those marsh-mallows
So still a lot of interest in EI out there
My 3rd most read was: Moral Judgements and decision-making which had the most comments and was also in last year’s top 5
My 2nd most read was: No country for grey-haired men about ageism in recruitment affecting men as well as women.
And the most read, as many as the rest of the top five together, was: The 4 agreements – shamanic Emotional Intelligence for the second year running.
This year I created a new blog about health and lifestyle issues and transferred the more general posts, about half of them, from here to uLearn2BU .
I decided that this blog needed to be more focussed on the psychology of work to supplement my Leadership and Management blog.
So many thanks for reading and for your comments and looking forward to more in 2012.