There's More to Smarts Than IQ

Think you're smart? Not if you can't visualize and relate, says study

MONDAY, Dec. 17, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Don't think you're smart just because you aced the standard IQ test.

A new study supports the suspicion of those who never accepted these tests as a true mirror of intelligence. The researchers say the ability to visualize and solve problems is a very important indicator of intelligence -- probably more important than other, standard measures. The study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published by the American Psychological Association.

Lead study author Akira Miyake, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says, "Our main conclusion is that the ability to visualize information and manipulate those images in your mind is at least as important as verbal skills as a measure of intelligence."

Miyake likens these skills to "executive multi-tasking" -- the ability to think about and solve various problems at once and avoid impulsive tendencies and automatic, but incorrect responses. "It requires a good mental sketch pad where you temporarily maintain information that you can use when you need it," Miyake says.

He also says the importance of spatial intelligence is underestimated. That's the ability, for instance, to visualize how to rearrange furniture to make a room more functional or, on a more sophisticated plain, to look at a mechanical problem and envision a solution. He says his study suggests a close relationship between high intelligence and good spatial relationship skills.

The study tested 167 university undergraduates. Each took a series of pencil-and-paper and computer-based tests that measured their ability to look at problems visually and resolve them. The tests included determining ways to fold paper to make a desired shape and identifying mirror images. Students who were good at quickly solving complex visualization tasks also performed better on the decision-making tasks, supporting the contention that visualization and good decision-making are linked, Miyake says.

He says his study shows that traditional IQ tests that are heavily weighted toward verbal ability are not good predictors of a person's ability to function intelligently overall. Miyake concludes: "Intelligence is something general. You have to figure out how to tackle a problem and then monitor how your problem solving is going. The ability to do this well is common to all kinds of intelligence, including emotional intelligence."

Miyake is currently studying the question of whether people can be trained to multi-task. He says his initial findings indicate that practice makes perfect -- switching back and forth between various combinations of the same tasks improves those skills, but it doesn't seem to improve the overall ability to multi-task.

"There is probably some genetic component, some combination of nature and nurture," he says.

He says just as reading to a young child seems to improve verbal abilities, encouraging special skills by playing with blocks or with Legos or a simple game like Simon Says may reinforce a child's spatial abilities.

Not all experts in intelligence testing see the issue exactly the same way. William T. Dickens of the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C., says smart people test well no matter how you test them. "The most basic finding in mental testing is that people who are good at any one type of task tend to be good at all mental tasks, so it doesn't matter much for most people which talent you test," says Dickens.

Sandra Russ, professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, has been measuring children's coping skills, which she says are similar to what Miyake identifies as executive multi-tasking functions. Russ says coping skills are separate from IQ. "There are low positive relationships between IQ and tests that measure the ability to generate ideas and think broadly. That's a kind of intelligence that's not measured on [a] standard test."

What To Do

The theory of multiple intelligences is nothing new. Daniel B. Stockstill, assistant professor of psychology at Harding University, offers information and links on the subject.

Researchers at the University of Limerick, in Ireland, have developed a Web site on spatial intelligence, including tutorials that they say will help you get better at these skills.

To increase your child's abilities, check The Learning Network.

SOURCES: Interviews with Akira Miyake, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, University of Colorado at Boulder; William T. Dickens, Ph.D., The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.; Sandra Russ, Ph.D., professor of psychology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland; December 2001 Journal of Experimental Psychology-General
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