Intelligence is Not Static. It's a Set of Skills that We Acquire

David Shenk: I think the really dangerous and oppressive myth of IQ is that IQ tests are identifying some kind of quantity of intelligence that we are born with and that we have this static amount of intelligence that we’re going to carry with us throughout life.

I think we have good tests of intelligence.  The key is to not misinterpret what those tests are telling us.  I think the really dangerous and oppressive myth of IQ is that IQ tests are identifying some kind of quantity of intelligence that we are born with and that we have this static amount of intelligence that we’re going to carry with us throughout life.


So if you have a one hundred IQ you’re going to be average, you have an average intelligence and that is just the way you were born and that’s the way you’re going to be.  If you have less than a one hundred IQ you’re never going to be above average.  It’s just what you’ve got. 

That’s not what IQ is divining at all.  IQ tests and every other sort of intelligence or achievement tests are revealing skills that you have, capabilities.  This is what intelligence experts now say.  Robert Sternberg who is now at Tufts was at Yale for many years and is arguably the leading thinker in intelligence. He now articulates that intelligence is not a set of innate capabilities that is static.  It’s a set of skills that we acquire. 

Some of us acquire more of those skills, some of us acquire less.  Obviously genes do play a role.  We all have exactly the same potential to have exactly the same level of skills, but we don’t know what our limits are in terms of how smart we can be, what skills we can have until we expose ourselves to the right resources.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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