• Question: Measures like IQ and 'g' claim to show some level of objective cognitive ability or intelligence in people. But to what extent will these measures always be based upon a societally constructed concept of what 'smart' should look like?

    Asked by Cameron Jones to Sean, Joni, Chris J, Anna R, Alice on 30 Apr 2015.
    • Photo: Sean Talamas

      Sean Talamas answered on 30 Apr 2015:


      Good question. I find ‘Theories of Intelligence’ quite an interesting phenomenon. Going back to mindset, what people consider ‘intelligent’ could influence actual academic performance. The Implicit Theories of Intelligence scale created by Dweck and colleagues measures how much one person believes intelligence is fixed or malleable, arguing that malleable intelligence is more beneficial to academic performance. That being said, a lot of literature supports the idea that intelligence or ‘g’ is inheritable and largely fixed. Being ‘smart’ is more of a societally constructed concept where IQ and ‘g’ refer to processes in the brain that are quite specific. The literature revolving around psychometric testing and measurement of IQ and ‘g’ is quite dense, but to put it briefly, I don’t think you can measure ‘smart’, as this is a societally constructed concept, as you put it, that can change dramatically depending on the context. Literature has defined IQ and there is a lot of research today that supports a definition of IQ as measured by IQ tests which measures Intelligence per that definition, but does not measure how ‘smart’ you are.

      For instance, conscientiousness is in many cases a stronger predictor of academic performance than IQ. There is also the Intelligence Competence Theory that suggests there is a significant negative correlation between intelligence and conscientiousness. This theory suggests you become more conscientious to reach goals, for your intelligence alone doesn’t suffice. Thus, if what shapes your idea of what is ‘smart’ is how well someone does in school, than conscientiousness is actually a better measurement of ‘smartness’ than IQ test scores.

      Upon re-reading this, I can see how this can be quite confusing, but I hope you see what I am getting at.

    • Photo: Alice Jones

      Alice Jones answered on 1 May 2015:


      Cameron, it’s an interesting question about heritability. IQ, or ‘g’ is usually around 50-70% heritable, which means that there’s still considerable scope for non-genetic factors to make a contribution to the variance of cognitive ability – itt could be that the ‘mindset’ that someone uses is part of that.

      However, some work has suggested that there is a heritable component to your self-perception of ability, and that those genes are shared with those that contribute towards school achievement. Therefore, I am willing to bet that an individual’s mindset is also, at least partly, heritable – which might muddy the waters a bit more…

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