Intelligence is a commonly discussed characteristic, and many may consider it a straight forward concept. It has been described as “problem-solving skills. . . logical reasoning, and/or adaptation to the environment” (Seigel 1989), in other words, an innate ability to find solutions. When it comes to biology, the intricate details of intelligence are still rather misty. Research suggests that intelligence is related to a combination of density and connectedness of the neurons of the brain. It is not a simple matter of size or number of synapses, but a complicated web of multiple variables (Higgens & George 2007).
Theoretically, intelligence is an intrinsic quality that does not change over time. There is evidence that suggests IQ is fairly constant throughout life. In fact, mental ability in old age has been shown to be strongly influenced by childhood intelligence (Deary et al. 2004). However, intelligence has also been shown to have a positive relationship with education (Lynn & Vanhanon 2002). Such evidence begs the question, if intelligence is intrinsic and constant over time, shouldn’t it remain constant regardless of education? If education truly does result in an increase in intelligence does our definition and understanding of intelligence need to change? Or is the problem related to the method used to measure intelligence?
Intelligence, has been correlated with numerous variables, from health to material wellbeing. It has been suggested that there is evidence indicating that intelligence is correlated to longevity. One study found that childhood psychometric intelligence was associated with improved survival past the age of 76. It is difficult to conclude this to be a direct relationship. Lower IQ is also associated with lower socioeconomic background (Hernstein & Murray 1994), lower socioeconomic background is similarly correlated with greater disease and health concerns. So it would make sense that such individuals with lower IQ and socioeconomic background have shorter life spans. To clearly understand the relationship between intelligence and longevity, one would need to control for socioeconomic status (Deary et al. 2004).
Numerous studies have been conducted investigating the relationship between intelligence and prosperity. One study found a positive relationship between a nation’s average IQ and GDP (Lynn & Vanhanon 2002). Some investigations have found a positive relationship between IQ and financial wellbeing (Wachtel 1976), or that there are few individuals with high IQ who live in poverty (Hernstein & Murray 1994). Other studies have found IQ to be a poor predictor of and individual’s monetary situation. One study found a strong relationship between IQ and annual income, but that relationship did not translate to wealth or net worth. In fact, high IQ also had a correlation with behaviors that could lead to financial distress (Zagorsky 2007).
Research has also investigated the relationship between intelligence to certain mental illnesses. High IQ is a risk factor for bipolar disorder. However, IQ has been shown to have a protective effect against schizophrenia (Matheson & Langdon 2008)
One difficulty encountered in the endeavor to understand intelligence is finding an accurate method for measuring intelligence. IQ tests, probably the most common measure used to quantify intelligence, provide a number that purportedly reflects intelligence. However, some argue that tests are not a truly objective measure. Some tests rely heavily on written language. As a result, a test may not accurately reflect the intelligence of say an individual with a learning disability or who did not have educational opportunities. A low score could reflect such an individual’s difficulty with written language, nor their innate ability to solve problems (Seigel 1989). IQ measure could even be impacted by external factors of the day of examination such as health or stress level (Zagorsky 2007).
Test outcomes can be skewed in other ways as well. Researchers Croizet and Dutrévis found that students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds performed poorer on standardized tests than other students, but only when they were told that such test would be used as a diagnostic for intellectual ability. When students from disadvantaged backgrounds did not know that the tests would be used as a diagnostic measure for intellectual ability, their scores were as good as the scores of their higher socioeconomic level counterparts. Evidently scores can be impacted by perceived intent (Croizet & Dutrévis 2004). This suggests that tests of intelligence may not accurately reflect the problem solving capacity of individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It seems that there are certainly some holes in our current understanding of intelligence, particularly with regards to its relationship to socioeconomic status and education. If intelligence is truly an intrinsic characteristic, one would think that it would not be related to such external factors. On the other hand, if intelligence truly does have a substantial relationship with things like education and socioeconomic status, one would conclude that it is not an intrinsic characteristic, but rather an acquirable trait. In reality, intelligence is most likely a combination of both intrinsic capacities for problem solving and education. With the recent increases in our understanding of the plasticity of the brain, it seems reasonable to conclude that intelligence is not a static quality. It also indicates that interventions can be taken to increase the IQ level of individuals from less advantaged backgrounds.
Croizet, J., & Dutrévis, M. (2004). Socioeconomic status and intelligence: Why test scores do not equal merit. Journal of Poverty, 8, 91-107. doi:10.1300/J134v08n03_05
Deary, I.J., Whiteman, M.C., Starr, J.M., Whalley, L.J., & Fox, H.C. (2004). The impact of childhood intelligence on later life: following up the Scottish mental surveys of 1932 and 1947. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 130–147. doi: 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.199
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Matheson, S., & Langdon, R. (2008). Schizotypal traits impact upon executive working memory and aspects of IQ. Psychiatry Research, 159, 207-214. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2007.04.006
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Zagorsky, J. L. (2007). Do you have to be smart to be rich? the impact of IQ on wealth, income and financial distress. Intelligence, 35, 489-501. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2007.02.003