Intelligence viewed as an evolving attribute
Superior intelligence: maybe you’re born with it, or maybe the brain can be trained to operate at high levels if one applies oneself rigorously through years of study.
While there are those who believe intelligence is purely genetic, psychologists continue to debate fixed intelligence, suggesting that it’s possible for intelligence to increase.
In an article featured in the Huffington Post, behavioral psychologist Brian Roche argues that intelligence is not fixed and that IQ tests do not illustrate a person’s intellectual gains over time.
“Intelligence is one of the most malleable forms in the mind,” said stage management freshman Jason Quach. “We grow more intelligent with every new thing we learn, whether it’s big or small.”
However, Roche said many psychologists assert that we cannot increase our IQ by much because general intelligence is a fixed trait and can’t be swayed by education, brain-training or other interventions, leaving us “biologically limited in our intelligence levels.”
Although it’s possible that people are born with a certain level of general intelligence, it’s not necessarily impossible for our intelligence to grow. English senior Julia Bellomy said that she completely disagrees, as she believes intelligence can grow.
“As a student teacher and as a mother, I regard intelligence as malleable — without a doubt,” Bellomy said. “A child’s capacity to learn is not a set value of either high or low, but rather it is something constantly pushed and tested as children learn and explore new things.”
Roche said believing that IQ reveals a fixed intelligence leads us to blame students for poor results while we should really be evaluating teaching methods and refining them as needed to improve student performance. In order to do this, fluid intelligence — which is the ability to think and solve problems logically, independent of prior knowledge — is needed to help raise intelligence.
Moreover, if one were to believe in fixed intelligence, it could be detrimental to students, essentially making it possible to have an adverse effect on their school career. Students may become overconfident, thinking that their inherent intelligence will get them through any assignment. At the other extreme, some may feel that no matter what they do, they will not be smart enough for certain tasks.
Quach said that praising students for their intelligence will not bring about change in the student’s success.
“A student could gauge his intelligence by the grades he receives on assignments or tests, but that is only the product of the hard work the student put into the assignments and tests,” Quach said. “There is finality in a student’s intelligence once complimented upon. It would be better to praise a student’s work ethic rather than intelligence because it’s the process that’s encouraged.”
Some psychologists believe that by changing one’s outlook and considering intelligence to be something that can grow and increase rather than something that is fixed, students may discover that they are capable of doing more than they previously thought.
“Essentially, believing that intelligence is malleable is the first step to believing that you can overcome any problem,” Quach said. “If a person doesn’t have faith in himself and his abilities, a person might try less because the idea of failure is so appealing and tangible at that point.”
For Bellomy, who said she plans to become a teacher after graduating, making a student feel that they are not smart enough is one of the worst things you can do to them.
“Obviously, a teacher’s belief in a student’s ability to learn and grow intellectually would greatly impact (a student’s) success,” Bellomy said. “My belief in my students and their impermanent capacity to absorb and reflect on all the information this world has to offer may be the greatest encouragement they will ever receive.”
For UH students, now that we are a few weeks into the new semester, there may be some classes where we feel confident and some that are more worrisome. In either case, being successful is dependent on our mindset. Whether it’s overconfidence or apathy, neither route will lead us toward reaching our goals.
While research appears to be divided concerning the impact on student performance by having a malleable intelligence mindset, it would not hurt to believe that we are always capable of increasing our intelligence as we progress here at UH and later in our careers.
Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]