Some Thoughts on Intelligence

In our society, it is good to be considered intelligent. A high IQ is supposed to be correlated with higher earnings, and who would not prefer to have an intelligent government representative (seemingly not very often the case). There would be nothing wrong about this if our understanding of what intelligence is would not be as narrow as it often is. What is measured by IQ tests and what we mostly mean when talking about “intelligence” is actually only a small part of the story – I would call this part the “logic-analytic intelligence”. There are, however, other kinds, and those are being unduly neglected.

At this stage I should perhaps stress that I am no psychologist and have no professional expertise in the area I am writing on here. The categories of intelligence presented here are my own idea, there may well exist more sophisticated classifications. For the purposes of my argument, however, my own classification and my knowledge on the topic should suffice.

The overly focus on logic-analytic intelligence I propose here is nicely reflected in economic theory. Human capital is what is supposed to result from a combination of IQ and education. In the traditional human capital theory, which interprets human capital in a rather narrow fashion, this special kind of capital is reflected mainly in earnings. Individuals of high human capital earn a lot, those who don’t are assumed to have low human capital. I do not intend to comment here on the accurateness of this assumption, even though I am quite sceptical about it. My point is, rather, that this kind of intelligence which is linked to human capital does not cover all important aspects of individuals’ contribution to society. This is important because in today’s world those who do not score high in IQ tests are often considered “dumb” or, even worse, consider themselves dumb. In many cases, this is a mistake having its source in our society’s IQ fetishism, which neglects other kinds of intelligence.

Now the time is ripe to turn to the “alternative” kinds of intelligence I have mentioned above. There are at least two of them: I call them “social intelligence” and “artistic/craftsman’s intelligence”. In what follows I shall sketch briefly what I understand by these terms and then explain why I think they should not be neglected.

While logic-analytical intelligence can be associated with human capital, social intelligence can be linked to social capital. This notion, developed and used extensively by political scientists, while having an economic “touch”, has not been very popular among economists. Social capital is about being embedded in social networks (by which I do not mean Facebook or Twitter, although they might contribute to social capital). Two broad categories of social capital can be differentiated: “good” social capital is reflected in being active in civil society, trusting people, volunteering, helping neighbours etc., (potentially) “bad” social capital is linked to certain groups only – be it family, a religious community or nation. Too much of the “bad” social capital can lead to widespread nepotism and xenophobia. What I am calling social intelligence here is clearly linked to “good” social capital. When one is part of a certain hermetic group, one does not need as much social skills. Either one belongs or one doesn’t. To create a social network “from scratch”, however, involves the ability to talk to people, to trust them, to help each other, to cooperate… Some people are better at that, i.e. they exhibit a higher degree of social intelligence, some are worse. There is no obvious link between social and logic-analytic intelligence.

A special sub-case of social intelligence is “pedagogic intelligence”, the ability to deal with children. Without having any hard data on this, just based on casual evidence from my own life, I would claim that while there are many people exposing high social intelligence, there are not as many pedagogically intelligent people out there. Dealing with adolescents is very hard a task and I always have very much admired people who are good at that. Alas, in our society this ability is not very high recognized, which can be seen when you look at what the social status of kindergarten teachers is.

The second large category of intelligence that is being largely missed in our society is “artistic/craftsman’s intelligence”, which also may be called “creative intelligence” (although it is not all about creativity). Some people do not score highly in IQ tests, but they have the ability to create beautiful or high-quality products – be it paintings, furniture, cloths etc. Part of it can be learned (human capital in its narrow sense), but in most cases, those people just can create things. Not necessarily novel things, they can be quite ordinary, but they are made good. These abilities, which could be interpreted as part of what constitutes human capital, mostly are not considered so, since they are not measured by IQ tests and do not reflect successful education.

So, there are different kinds of intelligence not revealed by IQ tests and not as high in esteem as logic-analytic intelligence, but at least as important for society as the latter. They cannot be measured as easily – I frankly don’t know whether they can be measured at all, which may be part of the explanation why economists stick to IQs and human capital in its narrow interpretation. And, as in sadly many cases, the broad society seems to follow the economists in this. Which is bad for two reasons (at least). The first reason is that some people suffer from a sense of inferiority because they are not good at solving logical and analytical problems. Often they are good at other things, for example those covered by the notions of social and creative intelligence, but these notions are not as highly recognized in our society. Those people may in many cases feel dumb. Of course, I do not claim that, taking account of different kinds of intelligence, all people are equally “gifted”. I am afraid that this is not the case. But I firmly believe that by focusing on IQ only we underestimate many people. The other reason why the IQ-parochialism is bad is that we run the risk of losing a lot of potential. Social intelligence and creative intelligence are at least as important for both society and individuals as IQ is. But just as IQ, they have to be nurtured and stimulated. Since we do not sufficiently recognize them, the explicit support for them is sub-optimal, as an economist would say. This may in the end hurt society as a whole, in addition to hurting the self-esteem of individual people.

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