Tag Archives: intelligence

The Presence of Books and Children’s Intelligence

The number of books in your household has more of an effect on your child’s academic achievements than your education or income, a recently published study (pdf) has found.

Suggesting that the effects seem to be far from trivial, the conclusion indicates that simply the presence of books in their house can make children more intelligent.

Just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete. The study […] found that growing up in a household with 500 or more books is “as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father.” Children with as few as 25 books in the family household completed on average two more years of schooling than children raised in homes without any books.

[Another study] found that simply giving low-income children 12 books (of their own choosing) on the first day of summer vacation “may be as effective as summer school” in preventing “summer slide” — the degree to which lower-income students slip behind their more affluent peers academically every year.

Upon reading this I had the same thought as Jonah Lehrer: “But what to do in a world of Kindles and iPads?”

Improving Intelligence by Knowing About Intelligence

Lecturing students on the fact that general intelligence can be improved and that certain races and genders are not naturally more intelligent than others (in-line with current research) can improve test scores–especially for members of the groups typically thought of as having limited intelligence.

It’s not just theoretical: the findings were applied successfully to schools in New York City, showing that “realizing that one’s intelligence may be improved may actually improve one’s intelligence“.

Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, many people believe that intelligence is fixed, and, moreover, that some racial and social groups are inherently smarter than others. Merely evoking these stereotypes about the intellectual inferiority of these groups (such as women and Blacks) is enough to harm the academic perfomance of members of these groups. […]

Yet social psychologists [have] taught African American and European American college students to think of intelligence as changeable, rather than fixed – a lesson that many psychological studies suggests is true. Students in a control group did not receive this message. Those students who learned about IQ’s malleability improved their grades more than did students who did not receive this message, and also saw academics as more important than did students in the control group.

The New Nature-Nurture Argument

As it stands, the nature-nurture debate is wrong, proposes David Shenk in his book on the subject, The Genius in All of Us. Shenk submits the idea that we overestimate the effect genes have on many heritable traits, especially intelligence (or that ever-elusive ‘genius’).

According to Shenk, and he is persuasive, none of this stuff is genetically determined, if by “determined” you mean exclusively or largely dictated by genes. Instead, “one large group of scientists,” a “vanguard” that Shenk has labeled “the interactionists,” insists that the old genes-plus-environment model (G+E) must be jettisoned and replaced by a model they call GxE, emphasizing “the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment.” They don’t discount heredity, as the old blank-slate hypothesis of human nature once did. Instead, they assert that “genes powerfully influence the formation of all traits, from eye color to intelligence, but rarely dictate precisely what those traits will be.”

The Hacker News discussion on this article is as erudite as ever, and through it I discovered the story of László Polgár and his three daughters:

[Chess grandmaster Judit Polgár] and her two older sisters, Grandmaster Susan and International Master Sofia, were part of an educational experiment carried out by their father László Polgár, in an attempt to prove that children could make exceptional achievements if trained in a specialist subject from a very early age. “Geniuses are made, not born,” was László’s thesis. He and his wife Klara educated their three daughters at home, with chess as the specialist subject. However, chess was not taught to the exclusion of everything else. Each of them has several diplomas and speaks four to eight languages.

Shenk’s book sounds like a scientifically-rigourous version of Gladwell’s latest.

via Intelligent Life

The Downside of Scientific Progress

Scientific progress is making most ground-breaking academic achievements occur later on in researchers’ lives. This in itself is not a bad thing, of course, but could it be signalling the end of the polymath (or the intellectual polygamist, as Carl Djerassi would prefer it be called)?

Back in the early 19th century you could grasp a field with a little reading and a ready wit. But the distinction between the dabbling and doing is more demanding these days, because breaking new ground is so much harder. There is so much further to trek through other researchers’ territory before you can find a patch of unploughed earth of your own.

Slightly under half of [Nobel laureates] did their path-breaking work in their 30s, a smattering in their 20s—Einstein, at 26, was unusually precocious. Yet when the laureates of 1998 did their seminal research, they were typically six years older than the laureates of 1873 had been. It was the same with great inventors.

Once you have reached the vanguard, you have to work harder to stay there, especially in the sciences. So many scientists are publishing research in each specialism that merely to keep up with the reading is a full-time job. “The frontier of knowledge is getting longer,” says Professor Martin Rees, the president of the Royal Society […] “It is impossible now for anyone to focus on more than one part at a time.”

Deliberate Practice Breeds Genius

I initially thought that this was just going to be another superfluous variation on the 10,000 hours theme (from Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, Outliers).

OK, so while it actually is that, David Brooks’ look at how to forge modern creative genius is still fairly interesting.

Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)

By practicing in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.

I particularly liked this anecdote:

According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.

An interesting learning method… reverse engineering something you consider excellent or perfect, reconstructing it yourself and finally examining the two end products.