Busting the IQ test myth

Have you ever wondered whether people with low scores in IQ tests are really less intelligent than people who score brilliantly?

If you have, you are not alone. Doubts such as these have plagued researchers and laymen for years. Howard Gardner, a Harvard educationist, was one of the first voices of authority who raised questions about the efficacy of intelligence testing. It was only after the publication of his book Frames of Mind some twenty years ago, that new fuel was added to the fire.

IQ tests test just one ‘type’ of intelligence
In the light of what we know today about ‘emotional’ and ‘social’ intelligence, it is significant that as far back as that, Gardner put forward his various theories of ‘intelligence.’

The ‘intelligence’ tested by IQ tests he said was just one ‘type’ of intelligence, what is called ‘academic intelligence.’ Gardner was hailed as a genius by several educators who said that he had ‘liberated them from the ‘one-size-fits-all pedagogy and given them a framework to help children develop individual strengths – as artists, scientists, or just good citizens.’

Different cultures, different standards
Long before Gardner, fallacies about intelligence testing had done the rounds. It was more or less accepted that cultural differences between test subjects distorted test results. For example, an intelligent Sudanese from the jungles of Africa, with superior survival skills and finely developed leadership qualities, was likely to perform worse in an IQ test than an average school-boy from a developed country. To counter this, tests to suit different cultures were devised, but unfortunately, they never became as popular as the standard ones.

It’s just practice
However, even those from similar cultural backgrounds can produce distorted results in IQ tests. That is because those familiar with the tests perform better than those doing them for the first time!

What are the barometers of Intelligence?
But the most disturbing fact about IQ tests is the limited number of skills that are taken to be the barometers of intelligence. Qualities like verbal ability and fluency, agility with numbers, memory, perceptual speed, spatial visualisation and reasoning are the usual barometers tested. These are not comprehensive, however. Of these, memory, speed, and skills like verbal ability are considered by educators to be simply tools which are used by people for certain tasks, and are not indicative of intelligence.

We just have to think of Einstein to know how true this is. Einstein, a creative genius once said: ‘My intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time.’ He was, of course, referring to his poor reading and writing skills.

Many legendary geniuses have lacked the so-called logical and calculative abilities tested in IQ tests. Yet these people achieved fantastic results in the fields in which they worked, often producing inventions which the world had never seen before. Often it was their acceptance and analysis of seemingly illogical modes of thinking which have played a part in their creative genius.

When Galileo said that the earth was round he was ridiculed. And when physicist Murray Gell Mann from the Santa Fe Institute said that protons and neuron of atoms are formed of subatomic ‘quarks’ with fractional electrical charges, he too was laughed at in the beginning. But these men had the courage to explore seemingly ridiculous ideas and proved them correct.

Highly intelligent people can fail IQ tests
Einstein and Galileo would have probably failed the standard IQ tests. What the IQ tests would not have been able to measure was their ability to form novel combinations of ideas, amazing combinations which average minds would not have the ability to create. Their brains are able to make brilliant neural connections, the likes of which can never be measured in IQ tests. IQ tests deal in possibilities and work with tried and tested problems, that is their very nature.

Intelligence is taking an idea through to its logical conclusion
Laymen might consider these novel conclusions by geniuses as some forms of ‘intuition’ but this is not so. The conclusions that these men reached were a result of logical and brilliant thinking. They were able to reach them not only because they thought of them, but because they were the kind of people who did not discount any possibilities, however ridiculous they sounded. A standard IQ test simply cannot measure the tenacity and persistence that these minds possess. Persistence which stands like a rock against society’s ridicule. Also, IQ tests are unable to measure the high mental concentration that these minds possess.

analysis blackboard board bubble

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Intelligence is imagination
There is also the imaginative faculty. Writers, musicians, and even scientists possess this to a high degree and it is quite impossible to quantify it in IQ tests. Picasso, for instance, saw numbers as patterns ever since he was a child, and in 1965 A Kekuli discovered the shape of a benzene molecule by dreaming of it as a snake biting its tail – round!

Intelligence is related to life
Besides the creative and imaginative genius, there are other qualities which are not measured in standard IQ tests. These set of qualities fall under the category of ‘practical intelligence’ and consist not only of ‘social intelligence’ and ‘emotional’ intelligence but also an ability to solve day to day problems. Many highly intelligent people possess this type of intelligence and they are usually very successful in life.

Social intelligence includes leadership qualities, good interpersonal relations, the ability to judge other people’s moods and behaviour and an ability to sell one’s ideas to others. A detailed analysis of socially intelligent people revealed characteristics like punctuality and an ability to compromise and see another’s point of view.

A problem-solving ability can mean an ability to read maps to simply finding solutions to daily irritations. Good problem solvers are clear, positive thinkers who do not dismiss solutions because they sound unworkable or because they come from an unacceptable source. Good problem solvers think solutions through before abandoning them and geniuses as well as highly intelligent people possess this ability.

Academically brilliant people are often mentally lazy
On the other hand, many academically brilliant people, people who score extremely well in IQ tests, do not think problems and solutions through. They are used to pat solutions. Worse, their academic intelligence often makes them arrogant and impatient and they are eager to reach ‘correct’ answers. This can make them quick impulsive thinkers.

Academic intelligence is useful
This is not to undermine academic intelligence. This type of intelligence is a prerequisite in certain fields and in most other fields it is critical to have at least an average academic intelligence. A truly intelligent person uses academic intelligence as a tool.

Academic intelligence can be measured accurately
Unfortunately, as only academic intelligence can be measured accurately, it is given the most weight.

Is there a way to measure true intelligence?
True intelligence cannot be measured except in a general way, and by observation, but is there an explanation in the physical structure of the brain? Are the brains of highly intelligent people different from the brains of less intelligent people?

While it has been proved that ‘quantity’ of grey matter is not indicative of intelligence, there is evidence that the way neurons in our brains are wired can give a clue.

Smart, intelligent people have more complex and more efficient neural pathways for transmitting information. In 1985, Dr Marion Diamond of UC Berkley and Sceibel, found that Einstein’s brain had four times more of oligodendroglia helper cells that speed neural communications than the brains of eleven of the gifted people also studied. Other studies have also borne out that people with higher educational levels have a more complex neural web than the uneducated. However, one is not sure whether this is the cause or the effect of education.

Intelligence starts to develop early
Yet, there is also evidence that these ‘efficient neural connections’ start developing early in life, as a result of stimulation which a child receives and absorbs from the environment. Probably an explanation as to why children from deprived backgrounds find it so difficult to catch up with the level of intellectual attainment of those who have had the opportunity to absorb from a rich, interesting and challenging environment. An environment which is not necessarily full of ‘academic’ challenges, but an environment which is rich in the lessons of life.

(This article was written by me for Deccan Herald, Bangalore, and published in the nineties. Amazing that not much has changed and that these ideas are still quite relevant. Even today there is no accurate way to measure true intelligence.)

A Touch of Class

(The article transcribed here was written by me for The Economic Times, and published on 13th October 2004. However, the information given here on dressing is timeless. 


What should a man wear to get an elegant, stylish look?

Fashion for Men

We exist in a visual world. Our clothes, looks, expression, gestures and tone create an impression which can last a very long time. And we unconsciously associate certain clothes and mannerisms with certain personality traits.

This is hardly a question of right or wrong…it’s reality. When a man is better dressed he is noticed, receives more respect, and gets better service. Perhaps that is why corporate dress codes are flourishing and dressing well has become almost a job requirement. Picking the right clothes and accessories has evolved into a skill, an art if you will. And looking good is no longer the matter of picking up the right trouser and matching shirt and tie. It means selecting the right watch, belt, socks, shoes and even accessories like sunglasses, jewellery and perhaps the right brand of cell-phone and tablet. All of this is becoming an intrinsic part of a man’s lifestyle statement. A man is becoming what he wears. And what he carries.

‘If a man is wearing an Armani suit and Prada shoes you’ll know he’s not an ordinary man,’ believes Sanyogita Chadda, General Manager, Design, at Raymond Apparel. One automatically assumes that he is the kind of man who has a mansion tucked away in the heart of the city, several farmhouses in exotic locations, a fleet of cars, a yacht and an aeroplane, and holidays in Europe. Armani may not be Indian, but there are plenty of Indian brands that impart a touch of class. Whether it’s Allen Solly, Arrow, Raymonds, Van Heusen or a myriad of smaller brands, you’ll see them everywhere – in exclusive showrooms, in malls, in your next door store and yes, on pavements as well! The rip-offs. The masses out there are being drawn in hordes to the fakes.

If a man wants that coveted promotion he needs to dress well and the best thing he can do is to watch his seniors. ‘You should not dress for the job you are in but for the job you want,’ says Rajendra Grewal, CEO and Founder of The Wardrobe Engineer. So better think twice about sneering at that advertisement in which the well-dressed man wins the all-important contract or gets his boss’s job!

It’s a bitter pill for the nonchalant dresser to swallow but clothes can make you or break you. ‘Clothes tells you about a person…about how particular he is, how much attention he gives to detail. I would not hire a man who is sloppily dressed,’ says Rahul Bhajekar, businessman. Sanjay, Regional Manager in a multi-national firm agrees. ‘Though I would not judge a man’s ability by the clothes he wears, at the same time I would not hire someone who is not neatly or appropriately dressed. After all, the way a man dresses tell you something about him…at least about how well-organized he is.’

It’s not as if Rahul and Sanjay are natty dressers. Though Rahul is fond of wearing branded clothes he does not wear a tie to the office (because of the weather) and sometimes wears half sleeves. However, when meeting clients he is in long sleeves and dark trousers. ‘My clients are mostly foreigners who do not wear suits and ties because of the weather here and so there is no pressure on me to do so,’ he explains. Sanjay does not dress formally either, although he is working in an organization which lays some emphasis on appearance. ‘Friday dressing which was unheard of earlier is becoming common in our company now. The new breed is young and are less in awe of the company culture, and are less likely to be clones of their seniors,’ says Sanjay.

Some Infotech companies, however, maintain a strict dress code whether it’s a Friday or a Saturday, and executives who come to work in jeans are frowned upon. ‘They are trying to prevent people coming in jeans,’ says Grewal. Casual clothes worn to office are not supposed to be jeans, T-shirts and sandals or sneakers. ‘What is casual are crisp cotton shirts and trousers and that too in muted colours and patterns,’ adds Grewal.

Formals can be dark trousers with a sharp crease, a full-sleeved shirt and a tie. But again the pattern matters. ‘A bright printed shirt even if its full sleeves is casual,’ says Sanyogita. For a strict formal look, cotton trousers will not do, however well-cut. ‘Polywool trousers with a sharp crease are more suitable, but of course the fall and the look is very important.’

Unless they are meeting outsiders, Indian executives tend to avoid suits and jackets. Formal business wear means dark colours but black is rather stark and should be avoided.

Shirts should be long sleeved and preferably be in a light colour like white or pale blue, perhaps with pinstripes or just plain. White is a good, safe colour. Ties should not match with the jacket but should contrast with it, but beware of wearing too bright a tie. While navy blues or dark reds can be the background, the pattern should be subtle. A matching handkerchief is an absolute no-no. Shirts can be a hundred per cent cotton but it goes without saying that ties should be silk. Silk ties can last a lifetime if properly cared for.

Accessories like tie pins are not in vogue these days but cufflinks are. They should have a matte finish to be considered elegant. As for jewellery, too many rings do not give a good impression and can look ‘loud.’ The watch should preferably be steel or silver, although a gold watch can also look classy. A tan, burgundy or black belt is fine but a large bright buckle will be considered tacky. The belt colour should not contrast with the shoes (burgundy and tan is a good combination). Socks should match with the trousers. When it comes to the shirt, trousers and tie, it is best to go in for one solid colour and two patterns or two solid colours and one pattern instead of three patterns although this combination can look good if correctly done.

Finally its the man’s personal style which dictates what he wears and reveals his taste. While a select few get the right combination of clothes and accessories almost instinctively – most have to work hard at it. ‘Ninety per cent of urban Indian men don’t know how to dress,’ says Grewal. He feels that this is because they do not have references…the advantage of a public school background or a role model’. But Grewal believes that dressing is based on scientific principles and can be learnt. However, he warns against becoming a fashion victim. ‘In the IT industry employees have become victims of Chinos,’ he says. Then there are companies where the classical way of dressing is followed. Dark blue trousers, white shirt and black shoes and as a result, executives become clones of each other. He finds the combination of black pants and white shirt particularly irksome as only ‘waiters and undertakers wear such combinations.’ What one needs to do is to develop an individual style.

What about when style goes a little over the edge and becomes rather too individualistic? Unless they work in a work environment which welcomes it, they might have to pay a price. Erin Brockovich swore at work, wore colourful, revealing clothes and the result was that her colleagues and boss mistrusted her and doubted her ability. It can become important to blend in.

While blending in or standing out may be one of the reasons a corporate executive decides to dress in a particular way, many youngsters today dress to impress the opposite sex. Brands definitely matter more to the generation next, even if the goal may be more frivolous. ‘What a boy wears is more important than what he looks like. The right brand in clothes, shoes and watch can give him a cool look,’ says Madhuri, a first-year college student. Throw in a fancy cell-phone and snazzy bike and the teenager is telling the world that he has what it takes.

Though clothes and accessories are becoming an intrinsic part of our personalities, it’s important not to let them take over our lives. ‘Let’s not become victims of fashion,’ says Grewal. Our clothes are not who we are and they should be made to work for us, not the other way round. Following some ground rules helps. Before selecting clothes, one should keep in mind one’s body shape, the existing climate, corporate culture and the cost factor. A quote from Mark Twain is worth mulling over.

Our clothes…are on us to expose us…to advertise what we wear them to conceal. They are a sign; a sign of insincerity; a sign of suppressed vanity; a pretense…and we put them on to propagate that lie and back it up.