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December 7th, 2008


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04:46 pm - My eccentric theory
I was looking for this other piece of research when I wrote that last post on intelligence but I couldn't find it at the time.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists said that normal 9- and 10-year-olds, differing only in socioeconomic status, have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.


This study will I think be interpreted in three different ways. The right wing response will be that social class reflects innate ability, and that people are poor because their brains don't work properly. The liberal/left response will be that impoverished environments stunt brain development (nutrition, language complexity, mental stimulation).

I've got more sympathy with the second, which is probably right at least in part.

My perspective, which I don't think many people agree with, is that intelligence is a social role, which people adopt or reject according to their social circumstances (leaving aside people with developmental disability). I think we can choose to 'act brainy' - pay sharp attention, be sceptical, dig deep for creative responses. But, in some circumstances this is a very bad idea. It antagonises people. It can alienate people from their social support network. It can complicate tasks that should be simple.

I think people are taught as small children to find a comfortable point in the intelligence spectrum, and apply that much energy as they need to maintain that equilibrium. People in powerless circumstances are taught to protect themselves by being malleable, passive and non-assertive (intellectually). They are taught to have low expectations of themselves.

I think social roleplaying, and the way people find a niche by fitting into the social space available, accounts for a lot of supposed 'variance' in intelligence.

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:spacefall
Date:December 7th, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC)
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True. Plenty of intelligent people are willing to describe themselves as 'thick' as a way of coping with difficult situations. I can't comment on how much this shows up in scoring, but hiding intelligence seems to be a common defense mechanism, not to mention a way of getting what you want in certain social situations.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:December 7th, 2008 06:12 pm (UTC)
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Also stress can make it hard to think straight.
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From:spacefall
Date:December 7th, 2008 06:23 pm (UTC)
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Not half!
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From:watervole
Date:December 7th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
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I think we're each born with a different 'maximum potential for IQ', but how close we ever get to that potential is hugely dependant on environment.
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From:communicator
Date:December 7th, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC)
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That seems fair. It's hard to know what that maximum might be - I wonder if for everyone it is way, way higher than we ever get near to.
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From:vilakins
Date:December 7th, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC)
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I agree. I find myself using quite different vocabulary with different people. We like to fit in.

Of course you get people who stand out anyway, driven by a thirst for knowledge or intellectual exploration, like the Indian mathematician born to illiterate parents. I think that most people would be different if raised in another environment (stimulating home or not, decent school or not), but that there's a core to our personalities that doesn't change.

Of course, Vila's a fictional character who has obviously survived as a Delta criminal by concealing his intelligence, showing it only in his skills with locks, an acceptable way to shine.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)
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Yes, some people seem driven to resist that pigeon-holing, I don't know why. Awkward sods perhaps :-)

I like the way that Vila's character encompasses that depth you describe, because he could have so easily been a one-trick pony, there to get the team out of plot holes from time to time. I think MK had a lot to do with this because he took the role seriously.
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From:vilakins
Date:December 8th, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC)
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he could have a caricature or a sly little weasel played by someone else. MK gave him lovability as well as depth and sadness.
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From:iainjcoleman
Date:December 8th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)
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One of the most interesting things I've learned from reading that "Intelligence and Sperm Quality" paper and the references therein, is that environment is an important factor in childhood intelligence, but not in adult intelligence. Conversely, genetics accounts for about 50% of variability in intelligence of children, but about 80% of variability in intelligence of adults.

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