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Mindful : December 2017
to psychologists’ attention and challenged the prevailing notion that IQ is largely determined by genetics. The reason that can’t be right is that it takes thousands of years for the human gene pool to change substantially, and any such change would first appear in small, isolated populations. In contrast, the rise in IQ scores was sudden and global. Only “environment”— everything from how children are raised to the cultural and social influences they experience to even what they eat and breathe—can change so quickly. Many scientists have studied what aspects of the environment affect IQ, but psychologist Robert Sternberg of Cornell University has a different question: “ Why has the steep rise in IQ bought us, as a society, much less than” it should have? Surely with two generations of near geniuses populating the planet and coming into their own as leaders we should be doing better. The reason we are not—why we’re not solving more of the world’s major problems, from widespread poverty and outbreaks of infectious disease to soaring income disparities and unchecked cli- mate change—is that “we are creating a society of smart fools,” Sternberg says. He blames the tests that the education system, especially in the US, adopted as a way to channel the best of the best into the universities, gradu- ate schools, and professional schools that serve as escalators to positions of power and author- ity—positions where one’s ideas about how to raise productivity, build a societal consensus around climate change, eliminate abject poverty and hunger, or defuse or prevent ethnic and racial hatred would not only get a hearing but also a launchpad to implementation. Sternberg’s argument is straightforward. Even though according to the Flynn effect (whose existence is not in doubt) today’s adults are near geniuses, these geniuses, while clearly gifted at inventing dazzling new technol- ogy, have not made a dent in the world’s most challenging problems. Therefore, IQ tests must be testing something other than the wisdom, creativity, social and emotional intelligence, and other skills the world needs. That would not be so bad, except for one thing: The tests that serve as gatekeepers to higher education, such as the SATs and GREs, are very similar to IQ tests. They assess memory, analytical skills, reasoning, and fluid intelligence (questions that don’t rely on factual knowledge—such as looking at three abstract patterns and determining which of four pos- sibilities goes next in the sequence—tap fluid intelligence). Schools teach what the tests measure—the “teaching to the test” phenome- non that more and more parents are rebelling against. Therefore, the people these make-or- break tests anoint as worthy of elite education have been chosen based on mental abilities that seem to be insufficient. “It’s not that what the tests measure is irrel- evant,” Sternberg says. “ But it’s a sliver of what matters, and the mental qualities the world needs are not well measured by these tests. Yet society has given them disproportionate weight” in using them to determine which young adults become tomorrow’s leaders. The tests do not measure creativity, wisdom, and social and emotional intelligence. They don’t measure “whether you can move beyond old ways of doing things to solve problems, whether you can generate novel hypotheses and test them, or whether you have the ability to question dog- matic thinking,” he says. “The evidence is clear that these are the kinds of skills that matter” when it comes to addressing complex problems. By ignoring these mental abilities, intelligence tests keep people with those abilities from get- ting the education that serves as a ticket to suc- cess, including positions of influence, and offer a disincentive for schools to teach and nurture these abilities. As every kid who asks a teacher, “ Will this be on the test?” knows, if the answer is “no,” there’s no incentive to learn. In a recent study, Sternberg and his colleagues gave “expanded” SATs—measuring creativity → Effor ts to quantify intelli- gence began in the late 19th century, and the first test to determine “intellectual age,” primarily the work of French psychologist Alfred Binet, emerged in 1905. Given the multifaceted nature of intel- ligence, Binet emphasized the limitations of quantifying it, but the desire to measure BACKGROUND | The Birth of IQ and classify proved irresist- ible. In 1916, Lewis Terman, of Stanford, published the classic The Measurement of Intelligence, and his Stan- ford–Binet test created the blueprint for the field. Since Terman promoted eugenics, his broader ideas about intel- ligence, genetics, and race were discredited. 22 mindful December 2017 brain science