On Intelligence

July 6, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Posted in Psychology, Science | Leave a comment

Recently I ran into an interesting article on Intelligence. I’ve not had a chance to read the whole paper yet but even the summary is useful. They observe a number of changes to our understanding of intelligence in recent years. (see the article for the summary)

Intelligence or g, we could define as our ability to know. Merriam-Webster defines it:
1) the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations.
2) the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria.

While some might consider our world to be random chaos, the very fact that it is knowable and we can derive laws describing its underlying operation tells us it is fundamentally intelligent. As we are non-separate from the world, we derive our intelligence from it.

Over the years, there have been a lot of theories of human intelligence. In the ’80s Gardner proposed some 9 forms of intelligence, each having their own unique symbolic expression (language), like music and math. However, that model has largely been discounted as not reflecting intelligence itself. It does however suggest  some of the primary ways in which it is expressed. The primary ability paths, we could say.

One of the criticisms of traditional IQ tests was their cultural biases, causing non-whites, etc. to score more poorly. Culture-neutral tests were developed, leaning more on things like pattern recognition. This revealed what is now widely accepted as another form of intelligence. Traditional IQ tests reveal what is called Crystallized g, ” a person’s depth and breadth of general knowledge, vocabulary, and the ability to reason using words and numbers.” A smarter person tends to gather more data and tools. The second form is called Fluid g, a less linear or more lateral form. It is “the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge. …identify patterns and relationships that underpin these problems and the extrapolation of these using logic.” (quotes from) This is where one is able to make leaps in understanding and interconnect apparently unrelated information.

The Prometheus Society* has an excellent article on theories of multiple intelligence.

Some people point to Dolphins as having a larger brain than ourselves. However, dolphins have 2 redundant brains rather than one large one. But it’s still notable they can learn some of our language where we’ve been unable to learn theirs. Many apes are close to us in ability.

There is some research that indicates there are slightly more men at the higher IQ end. Some suggest this is related to a larger body and thus brain. However, that is not consistently true. Not all High-IQ people can’t buy stock hat sizes. Higher IQ appears more related to internal cross-brain connections. There is also some early research indicating high-performers in their field tend to have more coherent brain wave patterns, suggesting similar high functional integration.

But lest you men get uppity about it, women are vastly superior in most areas of brain function. These are biological differences and not learned behaviours.

Women have:
– larger and dual language centres, use 3x the vocabulary of men
– use both sides of the brain for listening
– larger hippocampus for memory and emotion (tend and befriend)
– larger corpus callosum
– greater sensory acuity
– more oxytocin and serotonin
– more gray matter so see more simultaneous alternatives
– and so on
– men lag women by 2-3 years in development, especially in frontal circuits. Boys are just starting to catch up to girls at high school grad. (car insurance rates for boys don’t drop until 25 though)

Men get:
– larger cerebellum for motor tasks, tend to be task focused
– more white matter for action
– larger amygdala for fear and anxiety (fight or flight)
– use both sides for spatial tasks, thus better spatially.

Related article: Scientific American, His Brain, Her Brain, May 2005

It’s worth noting here that our genes determine our sex but the chemistry during the second trimester of pregnancy determines just how male or female we are on a spectrum. Few of us are Rambo’s or “girly girls” but rather sit somewhere between the extremes. A percent even cross the line, having development more like their opposite sex, leading to gay or transgendered people. (eg: gay men’s brains respond chemically like hetro women’s)

And finally, if you think it would be great to be super-smart, its worth recognizing that while intelligence has it’s advantages, too much of a good thing isn’t. The Outsiders on Prometheus* is an excellent article that discusses how the smarter you are, the more likely you are to be maladjusted. The further you are from norms, the less likely you “fit in” and can adapt to normal society. The mad scientist indeed.

For further exploration:

Understanding IQ  (explore more on the left)

A table of equivalent IQ test scores (140+). This is useful where your score may be given vaguely as “over 95%ile” or you’d like to understand how one test compares to another. At the bottom is a link to 150+ scores.


*The Prometheus Society website is currently being revamped. If the above links break, just check the Articles section at prometheussociety.org.

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