1998 - Types of intelligence
are walking in Yellowstone Park when they come
across a grizzly bear. The first, an Ivy league
graduate from the top drawer of academic achievement,
calculates that the bear can reach them in 17
"We can't outpace him,"
he tells his companion, who is pulling on his
running shoes. The other boy, who struggled to
a get a degree in one of the minor colleges, says
to his friend: "I don't need to outpace the
grizzly, I just need to outpace you."
A version of the story is used
by Robert Sternberg, professor of psychology and
education at Yale University, to illustrate his
ideas on intelligence.
"Both boys were smart,"
he says. But while the Yale student was intelligent
in the conventional analytical way used to define
excellence in universities, the second was intelligent
"to the extent that you define intelligence
as the ability to adapt to the environment".
Speaking to the Oxford Forum
for Assessment and Development meeting in London,
Prof Sternberg outlined three definitions of intelligence
- analytical, practical and creative. The first
type, he says, seems to be understood and emphasised
by academic institutions. But the second two,
he fears, have been neglected and ignored. "You
need more than IQ skills to get through life,"
"In US society if you're
good at IQ-like skills - the type of things that
get you As in school - you are extremely highly
rewarded by the system. These systems promoted
you from an early age so there is no incentive
to acquire creative or practical skills."
People, he argues, need an understanding
of all three abilities. "Many people have
good ideas that never go anywhere because they
lack the practical persuasive skills to convince
anyone of their worth," he says.
He describes three students he
has encountered over the years. One is Barbara,
who had good grades but fared poorly in the ability
tests used by universities. Teachers' letters
told the university selectors that she was remarkably
creative but she was rejected and, as Prof Sternberg
pointed out, "if you didn't get into one
university, you didn't get into any". He
recruited her as a research assistant. She produced
extremely creative work and, after two years,
was accepted on to the programme. "But what
happens to other Barbaras who don't get hired?"
Another student, Celia, achieved
reasonable test scores. Her work was good but
not outstanding. However, she did possess very
good practical skills that can prove important
to those working at all levels.
It would have helped another
student, Paul, who was outstanding academically
but also arrogant; a feature he was unable to
hide, says Prof Sternberg. Although he had lined
up eight job interviews when he graduated, he
was offered only one, and this was the poorest
of all the opportunities.
So why does society reward some
attributes and not others? Prof Sternberg has
identified the existence of what he calls "closed
systems" - self-selecting societies that
shut out certain features.
The reason, he says, is that
"it doesn't matter what system you have,
it looks good once it's in place". Thus some
societies may select on the basis of religion.
If you belong to a certain sect you will succeed.
You can then look around you at all the others
in the same sect and conclude that their achievement
is down to their religion, having, in effect,
created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It can apply to people's height,
a noticeable feature of high achievers in the
US. Chief executives, for example are, on average
three inches taller than the people they supervise.
Army generals are on average four inches taller
than their troops.
The practice of exclusion has
created too great a focus on one type of intelligence,
says Prog Sternberg. Society should really be
concerned with "successful intelligence",
which combines the analytical, the practical and
the creative, enabling people to achieve success
in life "given one's personal standards within
your socio-cultural context".
This means, he says, it is important
that people recognise and capitalise on their
strengths, while correcting or compensating for
Prof Sternberg's ideas must draw
some recognition from employers who have complained
for years about the quality and sometimes naivety
of graduate trainees. This does not mean the graduates
lack potential. They may never have been exposed
to practical decision-making or creative thinking
by their teachers or their families.
On the other side of the coin
it also suggests that some young people who may
be "street wise" and brimming with ideas
never get beyond the job application stage. Part
of the blame for this inability to select people
with learning potential, says Steve Blinkhorn,
an occupational psychologist, must be shouldered
by the psychometric test producers who have become
too focused on their own products.
"We should bring in a rule
that people who run test training courses cannot
use material they publish and then see how interested
they are," he told the seminar.
Mr Blinkhorn, a leading critic
of conventional psychometric tests and a proponent
of a new type of testing that involves a "structured
learning" component, says that test psychologists
will be a "sad little group" if they
fail to recognise that aptitude testing can be
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