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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Are We Dumb to Worship Intelligence?

APA In his enthusiastic review of Elaine Castles's Inventing Intelligence: How America Came to Worship IQ, Robert Sternberg argues that Castles's main message will likely be rejected by those who most need it: specialists in intelligence. According to Sternberg:

The main message of the book is that human intelligence, as we know it, is in large part a cultural invention. This message is not new (see, e.g., Sarason & Doris, 1979; Sternberg, 2004), but it is one that the general public and most in the field of intelligence have failed to grasp. What is viewed as "intelligent" differs from one culture to the next, and behavior that is intelligent in one culture may be unintelligent, or irrelevant to intelligence, in another.
Do you agree that intelligence is a cultural invention? That what is considered intelligent varies across societies? And that we expect too much from our current tests of IQ?

Read the Review
ReviewIf You Read One Recent Book on Intelligence, Make It This One
By Robert J. Sternberg
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(6)



Organisms can be easily ranked according to intelligence: Virus, amoeba, ant, rat, dog, human. That is not a cultural invention any more than any other scientific construct such as gravity is a cultural invention. Children also plainly gain intelligence as they mature, that is also not up for debate.

Arguments about the meaning of the word intelligence are largely just debates about semantics and subtleties. Intelligence is what a 10 year old has in the way of cognitive faculties that a 5 year old does not.

The best arguments against the value of intelligence are put forth by people who themselves possess high intelligence, which does sort of undercut their position.

David Wall

Intelligence tests are accurate predictors of a person's ability to learn and function in a modern, technical society. Nearly 100 years of research are unequivocal on this point. Mental functioning and cognitive capacity are the critical functions for human survival. Assessments of these mental processes are valuable and meaningful. A separate agenda, perhaps egalitarianism, may be at work in denouncing IQ.

Michael F. Halasz

As James indicates intelligence is a biological not a cultural concept - referring to certain abilities of octopuses, crows, rats, cats, dogs, monkeys or humans. Said abilities all directly or indirectly promote survival, reproduction, etc. of species in their particular environments. Think Isaac Newton vs. Jane Austen. There are of course many kinds/forms to human intelligence which may or may not be useful in particular societies, cultures,places or times. If so,particular forms to intelligence may be treasured in certain cultures, derided in others. If we investigate why, we'll find out the practical reasons.

Christine Wai

Like Castles' message, I too believe that IQ is a cultural invention. This notion is even evident in several IQ tests that need to be modified based on culture and language. However, I notice that some aspect of IQ is more universal than others. For example, Castles listed that Kenyan children are knowledgeable in natural herbal medicine which may be of no use in New York or Paris. In other words, it is not the nature of the knowledge, but rather the amount of knowledge - and in turn, memory - that defines intelligence. And as many IQ tests show, having a good memory is a good indicator of intelligence.

Karen N. M. Lee

Intelligence is a topic which has discussed and researched by professionals and general public enormously. There are many different theories of intelligence in the past 100 years. In Castles' book, intelligence is a cultural invention that 'high' intelligence in one culture is considered differently in another culture. In addition, some intelligence theories are developed based on researchers’ ideologies initially, but not based on scientific results. It seems that intelligence is perceived in various perspectives depending on what 'lens' an individual is using to view the topic of intelligence. For example, Chinese culture is well known for its emphasis in children's academic performance that high GPA is nearly the most criteria in classifying whether a student is good or not. Although there are a lot of different opinions arguing about the disadvantages in placing too much focus on academic performance, parents and children would still experience high pressures in either trying to meet the societal expectation of high GPA or facing criticisms from others about not placing enough effort in getting high GPA. However, Chinese people also pay a price in placing too much emphasis on cognitive abilities, i.e. there are a lot of comments about Chinese students’ weaknesses in creativity. Therefore, various IQ tests may be able to show an individual's different abilities. It is more important to understand how a society or culture interprets an IQ test result, i.e. a high IQ test result would be interpreted differently in the US and in Kenya.

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Associate Dean for Management
and International Programs,
California School of Professional Psychology,
Alliant International University

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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