Counting the Muses

In psychology, the study of creativity has been a poor stepchild in comparison with the study of intelligence. There are probably many reasons for this, ranging from historical accident (Binet and his followers were interested in success in a certain kind of Parisian school) to societal demand (many tests were chosen to filter out those who were unlikely to benefit from higher education). Only since 1950 has there been a small band of researchers who have focused primarily on creativity; and most of these individuals have insisted that creativity, roughly the capacity to come up with new questions and with unexpected answers, differs from intelligence, roughly the capacity to answer old questions quickly and accurately.

Among those who study creativity, there is a division among those who are looking to replicate the work in intelligence by developing a battery of creativity tests (J P Guilford, E Paul Torrance) and those, including me, who have preferred to study “Big C” creativity as it is recognized by the society (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Dean Keith Simonton, myself). A few investigators, led by Teresa Amabile, have sought to combine ‘judgment by knowledgeable experts’ with psychometric precision.

In work described here, James Kaufman breaks new ground. His instrument, the Kaufman Domains of Creativity Scale, suggests that there are five broad domains of creativity. And as he indicates (p. 303), these domains have a rough parallel to the multiple intelligences that I’ve delineated. As a bonus, Kaufman also relates his five domains to the so-called Big Five Personality factors. At a time when society is placing increasingly great value on the discovery and nurturing of creative talents, it is good to have available this new instrument and to examine its implications and applications.

To read the study in its entirety click here.

Collective Intelligence

Especially for those of us interested in collaboration (see Good Collaboration at www.thegoodproject.org), the idea of a collective intelligence is intriguing. It is important to know, empirically, at what tasks groups working together perform well, and why they do so. And in an era where connection is easy to initiate and virtually ubiquitous, it’s important to know which forms of collaboration are most effective.

In this article, my colleague Tom Malone takes a popular view that intelligence is singular, of a piece. And indeed, to the extent that he uses standard problem solving puzzles (e.g. cross puzzles or mental arithmetic), he is basically speaking about linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, the forms routinely measured on IQ tests.

However, Malone also notes that the groups need members who can understand one another and who do not dominate the conversation. In making these references, he is effectively ‘smuggling in’ interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences. Moreover, if he were to broaden the set of tasks posed for a group; for example, recognition of artistic styles, or discriminating among kinds of animals, or creating memorable tunes, he might well find that other human intelligences prove to be at a premium.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

The Brain Trainers

We are well advised to be skeptical of claims, particularly on the part of commercial enterprises, that they have accomplished educational miracles. Were this the case, we’d all be geniuses! In fact, genuine educational miracles take place over decades, even centuries; not through some kind of training that unfolds over a matter of weeks.

That said, there’s little question that we can benefit from some kinds of brief training, whether in physical fitness, diet, or some kind of self-control, as in the exercises described here. Of course, we have to keep up the training. And we know that the major purchasers of diet books are those who have failed on numerous previous regimens.

But even if so-called ‘brain training’ proves effective, we need to determine the limits of the training. Even the strongest advocate would not claim, for example, that such training makes you more ethical or more beautiful! As I read this study, I agreed with Douglas Detterman. Probably these trainings help you to do better at certain kinds of tests, maybe even including certain kinds of IQ tests. And if you have never had that kind of training, it is valuable and legitimate to obtain it. Indeed, that is the contribution of the Israeli psychologist, Reuven Feuerstein, whom I much admire. But whether the exercises equip you to be more effective at the workplace, or to make more sense of the world, is doubtful in the extreme.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

Intelligences and Genetics

By an interesting coincidence, the definition of genes, and the measurement of intelligence, both entered human civilization at about the same time. In the first decade of the 20th century, British scientist William Bateson first developed the science of genetics and the notion of a gene; and at the same time, the French psychologist and educator Alfred Binet devised the first psychological tests of intelligence.

Dating back almost to that time, scientists and other commentators have speculated about the genetics of intelligence. This speculation has taken two forms: 1) To what extent is our intelligence inherited from our parents/grandparents? 2) Can we specify the gene(s) that are responsible for/mediate our psychometric intelligence?

Experts differ greatly on the question of the heritability of intelligence. In my own work, I have always assumed that each intelligence has a heritable component but we are far from knowing the extent of heritability of each of the several intelligences.

As this article indicates, there have been many claims to have discovered the gene, or the small set of genes, that determine our psychometric intelligence. The study, emanating from several of the leading scholars in the field, sounds a skeptical note. Based on 10,000 subjects examined in three independent studies, the scholars document their failure to find a significantly positive connection between candidate genes and IQ.

Of course, many conclusions can be drawn from this negative result. I am sure that many scientists, including the authors of this report, will continue to look; and eventually, psychometric intelligence, like almost every other human trait, will turn out both to be heritable and to be linked to certain genes. My own view is that we are more likely to find the genetic bases for various components of the several intelligences; and that the extent to which, and the ways in which, those genetic potentials are expressed will depend heavily on the norms and models in the ambient culture.

To read the study in its entirety click here.