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What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought Hardcover – January 27, 2009
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About the Author
Keith E. Stanovich is professor of human development and applied psychology, University of Toronto. He lives in Portland, OR.
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However, he does not cite large, empirical ,replicated studies to support his claims. He presents an interesting hypothesis, however, the job of a scientist is to describe findings, not explain,or provide remedies. The author failed to outline further research needed to support his hypothesis.
There are possibly many complex factors that influence dispositional thinking. Any assault to the prefrontal cortex can cause impairment in goal setting, planning, judicious decisions, and self-correction. Factors that have been identified are: premature birth, trauma, repetitive mild concussions, prolonged stress and high cortisol, antidepressants and other medications, poor pre-natal nutrition, long term alcohol or drug abuse, toxins, and low serotonin levels in the brain. Until we have large, empirical studies including MRI scans of the prefrontal cortex, we cannot assess root causes of dispositional thinking. Suggesting remedies for unknown causes is an irrational approach.
Sadly, the author includes the ideas that: "people need help with self-control" and "our environment is making us sick." He cites examples of externally imposed "help" (government policies). He includes the idea that "benevolent controllers" can ""save" us from our irrational acts. Regrettably, this is a contradiction in his thesis that it is our own rational thinking that "saves" us.
Unfortunately, this is another example of a symptom best remedied by "those who know best" (the government and the anointed elite).
Psychologist Keith Stanovich has an interesting idea: maybe "intelligence tests" measure intelligence (as traditionally defined) but not a wholly different faculty of rationality. To Stanovich, the difference between intelligence and rationality is the difference between the "algorithmic mind" and the "reflective mind," or, the difference between the ability to employ algorithms and the ability to think about and CRITICALLY employ algorithms. (I might say that intelligence may be the ability to map or write a sentence and rationality is the ability to formulate arguments and write a persuasive essay.)
The first half of Stanovich's book is dedicated to showing that while IQ tests are a valid measure of a faculty of general intelligence (he does not deny that IQ tests measure a very real thing), it simply does not measure all that we understand to be good thinking.
Stanovich, though, is also a critic of those like Gardner and Sternberg who want to add to the number of "intelligences" (musical intelligence, naturalistic intelligence, creative intelligence). These things, he says, inadvertently beatify the term "intelligence" to be a be-all-end-all that it is not (by implying that any good mental work must be called an "intelligence" rather than a "talent," "skill" or "proclivity.") Instead, Stanovich makes the point that intelligence is simply one component of good thinking. The other, often overlooked, ingredient is rationality (and he alludes to several studies which show these two faculties are not very positively correlated. One can have high amounts of one and low amounts of the other.)
What I thought and hoped Stanovich would do next - what he did not do - is offer a sense of how we can test for RQ (rationality quotient). While the first half makes the case very well that rationality should be valued and tested every bit as much as intelligence, he does not follow it up by showing how such a thing might be done.
Instead, Stanovich devotes the second half of this book largely to cataloguing and demonstrating "thinking errors" that distinguish rational from irrational thought. For example, humans are "cognitive misers" by nature, who like to make decisions based often on first judgments and quick (rather than thorough) analysis (a likely evolutionary strategy, as ancestors that were quick and somewhat accurate probably did better than those who were slow and very accurate). Also, humans often put more emphasis on verification than falsification, and fail to consider alternative hypotheses in problems, preferring often to go with the most obvious answer.
All of these, while interesting, have been better and more thoroughly documented in other books by decision theorists and psychologists. All Stanovich needed to do was refer us to these, at most, devoting a chapter or two to examples. There is more important work for Stanovich to do then rehash what we can just as soon read elsewhere. Instead, I think he sh old have begun outlining ideas on how to test for rationality. What would such tests look like? How would such tests affect our educational system (focused, as it is, on IQ)? What would test questions even look like and how can they be adjusted for by age/grade level? Are there pitfalls?
None of these questions were answered, and Stanovich's argument is the worse for it. Stanovich himself notes that one big reason for IQ's predominance in the psychometric world is that it is measurable (which is a big strike against many of Gardner's "multiple intelligences"). Ironically, Stanovich's failure to suggest ways to measure RQ will likely have the same effect for his idea as it had for Gardner's.
It is a shame, though. As an educator concerned both with the undeserved predominance of IQ and also the failure of concepts such as Gardner's "multiple intelligence" to offer a serious challenge, I quite like Stanovich's germinal idea. As we all know that rationality is a key component to good thinking, and it is hard to think that it is positively correlated to IQ, it would be interesting to find a way to measure RQ as a valid supplement to IQ. It is simply too bad this book did not explore the practical questions involved with his tantalizing suggestion.