David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

Intelligence Tests Aren’t Dumb, We Are

Question: Are modern intelligence tests accurate?


David Shenk:  Yeah, I think we do have good tests of intelligence.  The key is to not misinterpret what those tests are telling us.  We are living under this… I think this really dangerous and oppressive myth of IQ, that 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 and that if you have a 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 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, who is arguably the leading thinker in intelligence 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.  I’m not going to say that we’re…  it’s a blank slate and we could… 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. 


That’s what is coming through in the science and there are all sorts of different types of intelligence, everyone knows that by now, but the type of intelligence we have and the amount of intelligence and the skills that we display at age 4 aren’t going to be the same at age 6 and age 8 and age 20.  Obviously we’re all going to get more intelligent.  What IQ… The mistake that’s been made in IQ tests is that because some tests are revealing a certain stability over a population, that is if you have… if you score a hundred, an average on a certain test when you’re 10 the chances are that the people who score at that level are going to score roughly at that level when they’re 15, 18, 20.  Because that stability is there we’re misinterpreting that as this idea that you have some sort of fixed level of abilities.  All it is, is just kind of showing where you are in the population and of course most people in any sort of race, in any sort of contest over time most people are going to be roughly in the same order.  That’s what a population sorting tool does, so it doesn’t really tell us anything about what your individual abilities are, and every measure that we have and every piece of science that we have that divines what individual potential is basically just tells us the same message over and over again, which is that we with the right resources, cultural, family, teaching, persistence, all these things, there is no telling what our individual potentials are.  We don’t know what they are until we apply that persistence and all those resources over many, many years’ time.

Recorded on January 19, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen


There’s nothing wrong with intelligence tests, says David Shenk. It’s our misinterpretations of their results that foster a dangerous "myth of IQ."

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

The biology of aliens: How much do we know?

Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.

  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.
Keep reading Show less

Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

Masturbation boosts your immune system, helping you fight off infection and illness

Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?

Image by Yurchanka Siarhei on Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
  • The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
  • Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
Keep reading Show less

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

Keep reading Show less