intelligence

The physical organism, your body, has its own intelligence, as does the organism of every other life-form. And that intelligence reacts to what your mind is saying, reacts to your thoughts. So emotion is the body’s reaction to your mind. The body’s intelligence is, of course, an inseparable part of universal intelligence, one of its countless manifestations. It gives temporary cohesion to the atoms and molecules that make up your physical organism. It is the organizing principle behind the workings of all the organs of the body, the conversion of oxygen and food into energy, the heartbeat and circulation of the blood, the immune system that protects the body from invaders, the translation of sensory input into nerve impulses that are sent to the brain, decoded there, and reassembled into a coherent inner picture of outer reality. All of these, as well as thousands of other simultaneously occurring functions, are coordinated perfectly by that intelligence. You don’t run your body. The intelligence does.
—  Eckhart Tolle

This. Is. So. Important. In modern society, if you don’t make “good” grades or a “high” score on a standardized test, you don’t get seen as intelligent. And in a lot of cases, you get the added label of being unmotivated or just plain lazy because “you would do better if you just worked harder at it”.

But the type of intelligence tested at school isn’t the only type of intelligence. In the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, there are three: analytical (what is tested at school), creative, and practical. You can be low in one intelligence but be extraordinarily high in another type of intelligence. This means, that you can make “bad” grades in school but be the next Mozart in music composing. You can get a “low” score on the ACT but you know how to fix every single thing in your house. 

So it’s okay if you can’t wrap your head around geometry or a 3000 word essay–you are still smart. All that’s happening is that you think differently than how the school system says you should think. 

Seeing the Benefits of Failure Shapes Kids’ Beliefs About Intelligence

Parents’ beliefs about whether failure is a good or a bad thing guide how their children think about their own intelligence, according to new research from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research indicates that it’s parents’ responses to failure, and not their beliefs about intelligence, that are ultimately absorbed by their kids.

“Mindsets—children’s belief about whether their intelligence is just fixed or can grow—can have a large impact on their achievement and motivation,” explains psychological scientist Kyla Haimovitz of Stanford University, first author on the study. “Our findings show that parents can endorse a growth mindset, but they might not pass it on to their children unless they have a positive and constructive reaction to their children’s struggles.”

Despite considerable research on mindsets, scientists have found little evidence to suggest that intelligence mindsets are handed down to children from their parents and teachers. Haimovitz and psychology researcher Carol Dweck, a pioneer in mindset research, hypothesized that parents’ intelligence mindsets might not transfer to their kids because they aren’t readily observable. What kids might see and be sensitive to, the researchers speculated, is their how parents feel about failure.

Haimovitz and Dweck surmised that parents convey their views about whether failure is positive or negative through their responses to their children’s setbacks. For example, parents who typically show anxiety and concern when their kids come home with a poor quiz grade may convey the belief that intelligence is mostly fixed. Parents who focus instead on learning from the poor grade signal to their kids that intelligence can be built through learning and improvement.

In one study, the researchers asked 73 parent-child pairs to answer a series of questions designed to tap into their individual mindsets. The parents rated their agreement with six statements related to failure (e.g., “Experiencing failure facilitates learning and growth”) and four statements related to intelligence (e.g., “You can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent you are”). The children, all 4th- and 5th-grade students, responded to similar statements about intelligence.

As expected, there was no association between parents’ beliefs about intelligence and their children’s beliefs about intelligence.

However, parents’ attitudes toward failure were linked with how their kids thought about intelligence. Parents who tended to view failure as a negative, harmful event had children who were more likely to believe that intelligence is fixed. And the more negative parents’ attitudes were, the more likely their children were to see them as being concerned with performance as opposed to learning.

And the researchers found that parents’ beliefs about failure seemed to translate into their reactions to failure. Results from two online studies with a total of almost 300 participants showed that parents who adopted a more negative stance toward failure were more likely to react to their child’s hypothetical failing grade with concerns about their child’s lack of ability. At the same time, these parents were less likely to show support for the child’s learning and improvement. Their reactions to the failing grade were not linked, however, with their beliefs about intelligence.

Most importantly, additional data indicated that children were very much attuned to their parents’ feelings about failure.

“It is important for parents, educators, and coaches to know that the growth mindset that sits in their heads may not get through to children unless they use learning-focused practices, like discussing what their children could learn from a failure and how they might improve in the future,” says Haimovitz.

According to Haimovitz and Dweck, these findings could be harnessed to develop interventions that teach parents about the potential upsides of failure, showing parents how they can respond to their children’s setbacks in ways that are motivating rather than discouraging.

Did human-like intelligence evolve to care for helpless babies?

A new study suggests that human intelligence may have evolved in response to the demands of caring for infants.

Steven Piantadosi and Celeste Kidd, assistant professors in brain and cognitive sciences, developed a novel evolutionary model in which the progression of high levels of intelligence may be driven by the demands of raising offspring. Their meta-analysis study is available online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ Early Edition.

“Human infants are born far more immature than the infants of other species. For example, giraffe calves are able to stand-up, walk around, and even flee from predators within hours of their births. By comparison, human infants cannot even support their own heads,” said Kidd.

“Our theory is that there is a kind of self-reinforcing cycle where big brains lead to very premature offspring and premature offspring lead to parents having to have big brains. What our formal modeling work shows is that those dynamics can result in runaway pressure for extremely intelligent parents and extremely premature offspring,” said Piantadosi.

In other words, because humans have relatively big brains, their infants must be born early in development while their heads are still small enough to ensure a safe delivery. Early birth, though, means that human infants are helpless for much longer than other primates, and such vulnerable infants require intelligent parents. As a result, selective pressures for large brains and early birth can become self-reinforcing—potentially creating species like humans with qualitatively different cognitive abilities than other animals.

Piantadosi and Kidd tested a novel prediction of the model that the immaturity of newborns should be strongly related to general intelligence. “What we found is that weaning time—which acts as a measure of the prematurity of the infants—was a much better predictor of primate’s intelligence than any of other measures we looked at, including brain size, which is commonly correlated with intelligence,” said Piantadosi.

The theory may also be able to explain the origin of the cognitive abilities that make humans special. “Humans have a unique kind of intelligence. We are good at social reasoning and something called ‘theory of mind’—the ability to anticipate the needs of others, and to recognize that those needs may not be the same as our own,” said Kidd, who is also the director of the Rochester Baby Lab. “This is an especially helpful when taking care of an infant who is not able talk for a couple of years.”

“There are alternative theories of why humans are so intelligent. A lot of these are based on factors like living in a harsh environment or hunting in groups,” said Piantadosi. “One of the motivating puzzles of our research was thinking about those theories and trying to see why they predict specifically that primates or mammals should become so intelligent, instead of other species that faced similar pressures.”

The key is live birth. According to the researchers, the runaway selection of intelligence requires both live birth of a single offspring and large brains—distinctive features of higher mammals.

“Our theory explains specifically why primates developed superintelligence but dinosaurs—who faced many of the same environmental pressures and had more time to do so—did not. Dinosaurs matured in eggs, so there was no linking between intelligence and infant immaturity at birth,” said Kidd.