College and university entrance exams, IQ tests, grades, scholastic ranking: Educators make use of many tools and methods to categorize students according to intelligence.
From primary school well into college and even into the job market, young people are faced with a barrage of tests to determine their intelligence. The underlying assumption, common to both schools and homes and constantly drummed into the minds of children, is that only the most intelligent are most successful in life.
Is this true? Are those born with natural, hereditary intelligence destined to be successful while others are doomed to failure? In school, when every child is classified according to his intelligence, some come to the conclusion that life is unfair, and success is determined by the inherited quality of brain matter.
Quite a few children who eventually come to the conclusion that they will never amount to much because their grades are below average, drop out of school in despair at ever contributing something worthwhile to society. Some may even let the resentment lead them into delinquent, destructive life-styles. They think they cannot succeed, so they set out to prove it.
On the other hand, others who are intellectually gifted think life is theirs for the taking. They are the proud possessors, according to tests and grades, of a superior intellect and therefore incorrectly assume they are bound to succeed.
What determines success in life?
Is success in life largely determined by the intelligence you were born with? What is intelligence, anyway, and how important is it in life?
Researchers who study intelligence have come up with startling results. Some 4-year-old children were subjected to a simple test to see if their future success could be accurately determined. The psychologist in charge took each one into a room and told the child, "You can have this marshmallow right now if you want. But, if you wait until I come back, I will give you another marshmallow."
Then he left. Some children immediately ate their marshmallows. Others waited a few minutes until the delay became unbearable and then they devoured theirs. But some were determined to wait. Observing the children through a two-way mirror, researchers watched as some closed their eyes or tucked their heads to avoid the tempting morsel, some sang to themselves, others played, and some eventually fell asleep.
When the psychologist returned, the kids received their extra, hard-won marshmallow. The results were recorded, then the children's performance was traced through their later school years. By the time the children reached high school, some trends in their behavior had become obvious. The researchers found that the children who had waited for the extra marshmallow generally were the best adapted, most popular, confident and responsible among the group. Those who had yielded early to the temptation stood the best chance of becoming loners, or easily frustrated or set in their ways.
When the students took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a gauge used by many colleges to measure academic aptitude, those who had resisted the temptation to quickly eat the marshmallow scored, on average, 20 to 25 percent higher than the rest of the group.
Emotional intelligence vital
It is becoming popular for some researchers to use the phrase "emotional intelligence" to describe such attributes as understanding and controlling one's own emotions, showing empathy towards the feelings of others and controlling one's own behavior in a way that improves one's sense of well-being.
Recently Harvard psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman authored a book on this subject, titled Emotional Intelligence, after a decade of investigating how the mind produces emotions. He sees a need to redefine what "intelligence" means. His conclusion from his research: When we try to determine what produces success, it is character, or the ability to resist temptation by developing will power, self-control and empathy, which is more important than the intellectual power of the brain as measured by standard IQ tests and SAT exams.
Of course, it is wonderful if both abilities, the intellectual capacity and emotional strength and maturity, are held in abundance by a person. But, in general terms, researchers on the subject agree that the IQ, or the intelligence quotient of a person, contributes to only about 20 percent of success in life.
In light of such findings, the traditional idea of intelligence as the major predictor of success is being reconsidered. Rather than intelligence dictating one's success or failure in life, researchers are finding that intelligence may be, in reality, a relatively minor factor in one's success in later life.
Their findings should give hope to those who may have simply lost motivation because they thought their performance on intelligence tests indicated that much of their future was already determined. The research shows that many young people may be making misguided decisions about quitting based on wrong assumptions about their ability to succeed.
Five kinds of intelligence
Now, supported with findings from real-life experiences, psychologists are taking a closer look at assumptions re-garding intelligence. While some classify character traits as part of a person's intelligence, other psychologists divide intelligence into five basic categories:
Social intelligence: This is the ability to understand another's actions, feelings and motivations. This cannot be measured by a standard intelligence test, yet it may well be the most valuable characteristic for success in life. This type of intelligence leads to getting along amicably and working well with others. Often this skill appears early in life, as when children can sense others' feelings and react appropriately. For example, the child may ask, "Why is Mommy sad today?"
Normally, those with a high level of social intelligence grow up to be skillful in developing valuable personal relationships. A person with superior abstract intelligence but who is callous toward others will usually end up with many conflicts and disappointments through life because of an inability to build proper social relationships.
Athletic intelligence: Highly coordinated intelligence and communication between the brain and the rest of the body characterize those with high athletic intelligence. Until recently, this skill was not considered "mental," now, however, more scientists are accepting the idea that it is the brain's superior capacity in this area that permits, for example, athletes and ballerinas to calculate the time, length and strength of their movements.
Those who have this particular ability can easily coordinate even the smallest actions, which are helpful for delicate surgical procedures, rapid typing and playing musical instruments.
Linguistic intelligence: People with this ability are highly capable in verbal and written expression. This talent enables people to read and quickly grasp concepts. They express themselves easily and many become able writers, newspaper reporters, teachers or lawyers.
Logical intelligence: This is the skill involved in reasoning and solving complex abstract problems. A high level of logical intelligence can lead to success in such careers as mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, engineering, physics and biology.
Spatial intelligence: Those with high levels of spatial intelligence can easily see relationships between colors, dimensions and perspectives, and they are usually sensitive toward music and art. They generally are most successful as painters, sculptors, musicians, architects or designers.
Most people have each of these capabilities to varying degrees. However, it takes time and effort to discover and develop your particular strengths. Many have needlessly lost hope because they didn't have good grades, so they throw in the towel, not knowing they may have had hidden skills just waiting to be developed.
According to French geneticist Albert Jacquard, "Human beings are born with only 30 percent of the brain fully connected. This means the rest is developed by learning and the environment." He also states that one can surpass the potential intelligence inherited if there exists a favorable climate for learning and the person truly desires to improve the capacity for learning.
Famous "failures" from history
It is surprising how many notable people did not let their initial failures in school and intelligence tests dampen their spirits, but through patient and constant use were able to develop their intelligence enormously. Here are a few examples.
Sir Winston Churchill: While Churchill was still young, his father thought he was so dim-witted that he would never be able to earn a living in England. A hyperactive child, Churchill enjoyed history and literature (he had great linguistic intelligence) but refused to study math and entered school at the bottom of the class. Twice he failed the entrance exam to Sandhurst, the famous British military college. Finally, on the third try, he passed. Churchill went on to become a legendary statesman, including leading his country as prime minister through World War II. He later won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Albert Einstein: Because he spoke haltingly for the first nine years of his life and would only answer after a prolonged period of reflection, Einstein's parents thought he was mentally retarded. His grades in school were so poor (except for math; he had logical intelligence) that a teacher asked him to quit, saying, "Einstein, you will never amount to anything." He failed his entrance exams to Zurich's Polytechnic Institute and had to reapply for the following year.
Even after finishing school, he had a hard time finding and holding down a job. Meanwhile, in his spare time, he was busy formulating his first concepts of the theory of relativity. Recently, in an opinion poll taken by The Washing-ton Post, Einstein was voted by historians and scientists as the most important scientist of the last 1,000 years.
Pablo Picasso: Young Pablo's father pulled him out of school at age 10 because as a child, all he wanted to do was paint. He had enormous spatial intelligence, which was undetected by standard tests. Barely able to read or write, to enable him to enter high school, his father hired a tutor, but the instructor gave up since Picasso refused to learn math. Later, although he passed his art-school examinations with flying colors, he soon quit out of boredom.
Then Picasso studied painting on his own and struggled for years before selling his first work. However, he later came to be considered a genius in his field by many art critics, and his paintings have sold for millions of dollars. Yet, by conventional wisdom and the grades he made, he should have quit trying to be a success.
Vital lesson to learn
What should we learn from these examples? We should learn never to give up. It is more important to develop character skills, which depend more on diligence, perseverance and discipline than those based on hereditary intelligence. These traits have proven time and time again to be far more important in achieving success than other factors.
Ross Perot, self-made American multimillionaire and presidential candidate, recently addressed the graduating class of a small university. He first directed his comments to those ranked academically in the top of the class and warned them that many would not succeed because they would rely on their intelligence and not fully apply themselves.
Then he addressed those who were ranked in the middle of the class. He said they actually held the biggest opportunity to succeed in life because they knew the rewards would not come easily and would not take their first achievements for granted. They understood they would have to work hard and persevere to succeed.
Who will win the race?
All of this brings to mind one of Aesop's fables: the race between the tortoise and the hare. At the start of the contest, the hare, naturally endowed with great speed, took off and leapt far ahead. Then he paused, realized the extent of his lead and took it easy. He even lay down for a nap.
When he woke up, however, the tortoise was nowhere in sight. The hare took off desperately, but, as he neared the finish line, he saw that the tortoise had already won.
The Bible, especially in the book of Proverbs, gives young people many principles about lasting success. These God-inspired proverbs focus more on character-building traits of diligence, effort, perseverance, honesty and the respect of God rather than on those traits of raw, natural intelligence.
For instance, Proverbs 12:24, 27 says: "The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slothful will be put to forced labor ... The slothful man does not roast what he took in hunting, but diligence is man's precious possession." Dozens of other proverbs make similar points about the value of such traits.
According to some scientists, too much raw intelligence, and not enough character values, can lead to an undesirable imbalance. It seems that the steady and time-tested character traits such as humility, patience, discipline, punctuality, effort and friendliness have the biggest chance of helping one achieve a lasting and enjoyable success.
It appears the ancients had it right: The tortoise often does win the race.