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Perceptions of Intelligence
Intelligence is a concept that has numerous meanings across time, geography and culture. Typically, most of the definitions connect some sort of skill, plan or understanding of concepts, new things, etc. -- and the way that knowledge is combined with other ideas to form something new or adaptive. Numerous psychologists and neurologists continue to debate the differing types of intelligence and the ways individuals combine them to form a unique (and individual) basis for the way they view the world (Garlick, 2010). Creative intelligence, for instance, is the way individuals perceive their universe -- the world around them, and how that changes. Of course, because of the differences in the way people perceive their world, and the differences in the way and manner the external world is constructed, all individuals may be creative in one way or another. For instance, imagine how creative it was for our ancestors to discover that drying or smoking meat allowed them to store food for times when the hunt was unsuccessful; or the first combination of certain grains and water that fermented a beverage that could be stored for long periods of time? When people in Africa think about intelligence, for instance, they prefer not to separate the idea of cognitive speed (how quickly can a question be answered) with the social responsibility of the consequences of that answer (Benson, 2003). Contrast this with the leaps made by such geniuses as Albert Einstein in taking known knowledge and moving far beyond in scope and understanding. Clearly, these are very different types of intelligence, one not more or less important than the other, but all taking something and changing the manner in which it is explained and explored. The uniqueness of humans, then is that we all have the potential for creativity, and the expression of that creativity in a different combination of four basic styles: intuition, innovation, imagination and inspiration (Rowe, 2004).
The basic ideas of intelligence, though, can also be cultural. For instance, educational psychologist Yuri Bronfenbrenner believed that it was a combination of environmental needs and cultural awareness that drove learning -- which then is perceived as intelligence for that particular culture. Knowledge comes from the particular environmental stimuli that shapes a learner's structure, mindset and ability to understand the world. This plays an important role in what is learned, how it is learned, and the importance of learning. According to Bronfenbrenner, humans adapt to excel in environments that are less hostile and more supportive of certain kinds of learning. Children in the poor ghettos of Rio de Janerio help support their families by selling candy on the busy streets. Because of their particular environment, they are then able to make complex mathematical calculations in their heads (weights and measures, profit and loss) without any formal training -- just because it is necessary in their line of work. In contrast, the Yaqui children of northern Mexico have no need for mat skills, but are able to conceptualize complex weaving patterns that required multidimensional thought. Thus, for Bronfenbrenner, it is the relationship between the external and internal environments that shapes not only what is important (skill set) for human development, but the manner in which what is important becomes "ecologically" part of the dominant culture. (See, for example: Johnson-Larid, 2009; Yuri Bronfenbrenner, 2005).
In addition, recent research has shown that different cultures have different ideas about intelligence. This is particularly true between Western and Non-Western countries and is based on cognitive styles. People in Western cultures usually view intelligence as a means for a person to be able to robustly debate and issue and device categories (know many facts), while people in Eastern culstures see intelligence as a means for the communicty to recognize contradtion and complexity and engage in their own social roles. More specifically, Chinese conceptions of intelligence tend to emphasize the ability to understand and relate to others (empathy), which also includes the wisdom and tact of knowing when, and when not to, show intelligence. In America, intelligence is often factually based and people with that form of knowledge are rewarded if they express this (e.g. Jeopardy, professorships, publications, speaking engagements, etc.) (Sternberg, 2002).
The idea of intelligence in Chinese culture comes from a spiritual and legalistic tradition that is a combination of Buddist and Confucian tradition. This formed a template of knowledge; and focused on holism, harmony and the way all of the universe interacts with all things in a constant manner. The combination tends to focus on ssocial, moral, political, and philosophical through, and stresses the important of education and the actualization of the individual. . A basic sense of duty, honor, and bureaucratic hierarchy is part of the philosophy, as was a general view that people were generally good, wanted to exist within an orderly society, and only needed structure to remind them of the way of being good:
Lead the people with administrative injunctions and put them in their place with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously. (Analects II, 3)
Thus, the above explains a very essentially difference between legalism and ritualism, and accentuates a difference between Western and Eastern societies in how intelligence is measured. Particularly in relation to an individual's place within the law, moral accountability, and freedom of expression; Confucianism shows that they must guide, for the masses are unable to guide themselves (Creel, 2000).
Now, contrast this with the American way of even measuring intelligence, which then translates out to the American way of scoring and viewing intelligence. Standardized tests are administered in order to statistically measure achievement and aptitutde by using a distribution of scores. The theory behind this type of testing is that in mathematics, specifically the field of probability, in large sample observations the distribution of the observations collected will form a bell curve (e.g. most of the results will cluster around the mean with further results furthest away from the mean value). Again, based on statistics, the spread of the results, or the standard deviation, holds that 68% of the results will lie within +/- one standard deviation from the mean, 95% will lie within two, and 98% within three. This is also one way to determine if the standardized test is viable (Kohn, 2000, 1-14). There remains great debate, however, on the efficacy of standardized testing in predicting school success, or even in placing students within an appropriate environment. Still, we measure intelligence by IQ, the Intelligence Quotient, or how well the individual performs. This idea was based on an educational psychologist H.H. Goddard in the 19th century when he adopted the French "Binet" scale to American culture so that he could define and distinguish persons of good mental health from those who he believed would bring "down" society. Goddard believed that the American population was at because of a large influx of "feeble" immigrants who were bringing society down in terms of intelligence. Goddard's "scale" held that anyone with and IQ rating lower than 70 was moronic, and anyone with an IQ over 130 genius level. Goddard's belief was that intelligence was posited on one gene, thus inherited, doing some research on Ellis Island to prove his theory (Benjamin, 2009).
Really, then, intelligence is both multidimensional and dependent upon cultural definitions. If one is stranded in a strange climate without the benefits of technology, one would want a person who was familiar with survival techniques and knowledge and nature of the woods -- it would not matter if this person could write well or know the difference between a predicate and an adjective. Similarly, if one is hoping for a new medication for a specific illness, one would want someone working on that project that knew a large number of facts about physiology, biology, chemistry and physics. It is usually the winners of the war that write that war's history. In a similar vein, it is the cognitive elite, the testers, that establish what intelligence is for a particular society. It is that tradition that is then valued most and seen as benefitting society. Based on the Western Paradigm of learning, there are dozens of tests that measure what the West believes to be indicative of intelligence. To measure intelligence for the Chinese, then, requires more qualitative and subjective measurements because "it depends" on the particularly social or cultural venue how intelligence is expressed.
Tests, however, tend to be socially and economically biased, and are based more on what has been learned than the manner in which the cognitive brain has the capacity to learn (Sternberg, 1996). Thus, learning and intelligence is a part of the process of reasoning, and reasoning is based on what is important to that culture. The traditions of learning in China were holistic and group based (politeness, etc.) and thus…[continue]
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