• Robb G. Best

How Smart are You?

How do we measure intelligence?

The ancient Chinese had some of the first tests designed to evaluate a person's smarts: a game called tangram and another game called jiulianhuan. You can still play them today, if you're a fan of puzzles or humility.

In 1905, Alfred Binet, Victor Henri and Theodore Simon needed a way to assess mental retardation in school children. They created their own system, the not-very-cleverly-named Binet-Simon test.

This eventually morphed into the Intelligence Quotient test, more commonly known as the I.Q. test. It analyzes your applied knowledge of math, as well as verbal and spatial recognition skills. At the end of the test, you get a number between 1 and 200. This number tells us how smart you are, or so conventional wisdom went.

Most of us hummed along happily with this notion until Howard Gardner showed up in 1983 with his ground-breaking book Frame of Mind.

In his book, Gardner argued that the standard I.Q. test doesn't give us nearly the whole picture. How can one number possibly give us any useful information about something as complex as a human mind? He suggested we were missing a whole boatload of emotionally-driven indicators, which had a profound effect on our intellectual process. Collectively, these additional factors became known as Emotional Intelligence, or E.I. (sometimes called E.Q.).

Many agreed with Gardner, but the question remained: what was E.I. exactly, and how could we ever measure it?

In The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, author and PhD Daniel Goleman believes that work done by brain researchers Antonio Damasio and Reuven Bar-on has begun to unravel the mystery. According to Goleman, “Damasio and Bar-on used the gold standard method in neuropsychology for identifying the brain areas associated with specific behaviors and mental functions: lesion studies. That is, they studied patients who have brain injuries in clearly defined areas, correlating the site of the injury with the resulting specific diminished or lost capacities in the patient.”

Goleman describes one particularly striking case. An exceedingly sharp lawyer had a brain tumor that was successfully operated on and removed. Subsequent testing after the surgery showed that the lawyer had no signs of I.Q. damage or attention deficit. Curiously though, the lawyer was suddenly unable to function in society.

The problem was decision-making. The lawyer could still easily list all the pros and cons of a situation. He was just unable to ever take the plunge. From choosing a legal course of action to picking out his tie, the lawyer was in a constant state of indecision. It didn't just screw with his ability to grocery shop; it ruined his life. Ultimately, he lost his job, house and his marriage.

What in the world had happened? Damasio explained that during the operation, the surgeon snipped connections between the pre-frontal cortex, the brain's executive control, and the amygdala, the brain's emotional processor.

This was the heart of the lawyer's problem. Emotion allows us to create a kind of stack ranking of what we care about and therefore what should come next. Without connecting our thoughts to our feelings, we can't prioritize, and so we are paralyzed.

Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence model breaks the concept down into four elements:

1. Self-awareness

2. Self-management

3. Social awareness

4. Relationship management

By combining these factors with I.Q, Goleman suggests we get a much more complex, nuanced picture of a person's intelligence.

French philosopher Rene Descartes once postulated, “I think therefore I am.” Today he would probably be advised to amend his statement to, “I think and feel, therefore I am.”


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