08 March 2011


SELF-IMPROVEMENT. In her article You Can Increase Your Intelligence: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Cognitive Potential, science writer and behavioral therapist Andrea Kuszewski takes eloquent issue with the perception that you have little control over your own intelligence. Citing her own work with autistic children, as well as studies into fluid intelligence, she presents clear and compelling evidence that we have more power over our lives than we ever imagined. Here are a few teaser quotes from her article, the first referring to the results of a particular recent study --

"First of all, let me explain what I mean when I say the word 'intelligence'. To be clear, I'm not talking about increasing the volume of facts or bits of knowledge you can accumulate, or what is referred to as crystallized intelligence -- this isn't fluency or memorization training -- it's almost the opposite, actually. I'm talking about increasing your fluid intelligence, or your capacity to learn new information, retain it, then use that knowledge as a foundation to solve the next problem, or learn the next new skill, and so on.

"Now, while working memory is not synonymous with intelligence, working memory correlates with intelligence to a large degree. In order to generate successfully intelligent output, a good working memory is pretty important. So to make the most of your intelligence, improving your working memory will help significantly -- like using the very best and latest parts to help a machine to perform at its peak.

"The take-home points from this research?
  • Fluid intelligence is trainable.

  • The training and subsequent gains are dose-dependent, meaning the more you train, the more you gain.

  • Anyone can increase their cognitive ability, no matter what your starting point is.

  • The effect can be gained by training on tasks that don't resemble the test questions.
" .... So taking all this into account, I have come up with five primary elements involved in increasing your fluid intelligence, or cognitive ability .... These can be implemented every day, to get you the benefits of entire-brain training, and should transfer to gains in overall cognitive functioning as well.

"These five primary principles are:

  1. Seek novelty.

  2. Challenge yourself.

  3. Think creatively.

  4. Do things the hard way.

  5. Network.
[Kuszewski goes on to expand on each principle, how it operates, and the gains to be expected. This is the meat of the article, and I invite you to click on this link to discover more fully just how each principle can be incorporated into your own life. She concludes with the following:]

"Intelligence isn't just about how many levels of math courses you've taken, how fast you can solve an algorithm, or how many vocabulary words you know that are over 6 characters. It's about being able to approach a new problem, recognize its important components, and solve it -- then take that knowledge gained and put it toward solving the next, more complex problem. It's about innovation and imagination, and about being able to put that to use to make the world a better place. This is the kind of intelligence that is valuable, and this is the type of intelligence we should be striving for and encouraging."

SELF-DECEPTION. Here's a fascinating concept -- I'm not yet certain whether I buy into it completely, but it is food for thought. Ed Yong in People Don't Know When They're Lying to Themselves notes that "You don't have to look far for instance of people lying to themselves. Whether it's a drug-addled actor or an almost-toppled dictator, some people seem to have an endless capacity for rationalizing what they do, no matter how questionable. We might imagine that these people really know that they're deceiving themselves, and that their words are mere bravado. But Zoe Chance from Harvard Business School thinks otherwise.

"Using experiments where people could cheat on a test, Chance found that cheaters not only deceive themselves, but are largely oblivious to their own lies. Their ruse is so potent that they'll continue to overestimate their abilities in the future, even if they suffer for it. Cheaters continue to prosper in their own heads, even if they fail in reality.

" .... This tells us a little about the mindset of people who fake their research, who build careers on plagiarized work, or who wave around spurious credentials. There's a tendency to think that these people know full well what they're doing and go through life with a sort of Machiavellian glee. But the outlook from Chance's study is subtler.

"She showed that even though people know that they occasionally behave dishonestly, they don't know that they can convincingly lie to themselves to gloss over these misdeeds. Their scam is so convincing that they don't know that they're doing it. As she writes, 'Our findings show that people not only fail to judge themselves harshly for unethical behavior, but can even use the positive results of such behavior to see themselves as better than ever.'"

Here's a subtle twist -- if those who con others (and receive social recognition based on a lie) are also conning themselves, then it sets up a feedback loop in which further deception leads to further self-deception, and around and around we go until we end up with the sociopathic or psychopathic behaviors of a Muammar Gaddafi or a Charlie Sheen (see image below) -- not to mention less publicized behaviors among people we may know. Including ourselves.

P.S. -- If you think you can tell Gaddafi and Sheen apart, based solely on their public statements, try taking this quiz -- the result may surprise you.

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