Academic Performance Explained Podcast

Exploring Intelligence: Hardware vs. Software

Posted by Morgan Bisset on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 @ 09:07 AM

In this episode of our podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz interviews Payman Saghafi, who has spent over a decade researching the nature of intelligence. Saghafi identifies the different types of intelligence and explains some of the latest neuroscience research.

Key Insight #1: When it comes to measuring intelligence, IQ is far from the whole story.

When most people think of intelligence, they think of psychometric intelligence, the type of intelligence measured by IQ tests. You can think of this as the "hardware" that you are born with - hardware that determines how quickly your brain processes information, for example. Research has proven that psychometric intelligence can be measured, and also that, surprisingly, it changes over time and can be improved.

Arguably more important than psychometric intelligence is functional intelligence, the real-world, applied intelligence that you demonstrate on a day to day basis. This type of intelligence is clearly built up over time, and it depends heavily on the choices you make: how often you study, how much you pay attention, what questions you ask, etc. You are displaying functional intelligence when you employ grammar rules, follow perceived social conventions, or draw connections between data from multiple sources. It can be helpful to think of functional intelligence as the "software" that runs on your psychometric "hardware."

Because IQ tests only measure one type of intelligence, they do not tell the whole story; it is the combination of hardware and software that really matters. In fact, your brain's "software" may actually be more important than its hardware. Consider two computers. One is highly powerful, but it has no software installed on it. It costs $5,000 because of its blazing processing speed and memory capacity. The other computer costs $1,000 and has only average hardware and processing speed. However, it is pre-loaded with extremely useful software and apps such as Word, Excel, Twitter, etc. Which computer seems more effective, useful, and "intelligent"?

Key Insight #2: It may even be possible to increase your natural intelligence.

Recent studies on working memory (the amount of information you can mentally juggle at one time while thinking and problem-solving) suggest that some people who train their working memories can improve their performance on certain tasks.

Other research has shown that over the course of a decade, simply attending school will generally lead to an increase in IQ. So, by studying hard and making the right choices, you can actually build both your functional intelligence and your psychometric intelligence.

Key Insight #3: Academic success is often the result of studious behavior - NOT superior intelligence.

Individuals do have varying levels of psychometric intelligence (better or worse "hardware"). For instance, the average person is probably not capable of becoming the world's greatest physicist, regardless of effort. With a highly quantitative and academic subject such as physics, a person's brain may need to be set up to think in extremely complex ways in order to succeed at a world-class level.

However, most people are not aiming for that level of mastery; most people have reasonably attainable goals. And, relative to becoming a world-class physicist, even a goal such as "earning straight A's and getting admitted to Harvard" could be considered reasonably attainable.

Differences in long-term behaviour can result in wide variations in the amount of knowledge students absorb and the levels of skill they can apply in specific areas. One important aspect of behavior is how closely students pay attention on a day to day basis, over a long period of time; in school, students tend to be rewarded above all for paying good attention.

On the other hand, poor performance can result for students who are frequently distracted or for students who fail to notice which lessons their teachers highlight as especially important.

If two students are getting significantly different results in terms of performance,this does not necessarily indicate any difference at all in raw, "hardware-based" psychometric intelligence. One student may simply have been paying more attention and working harder to build his or her skills over a very long period of time.


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Topics: academic performance, intelligence, podcast, psychometric, IQ, brain science