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Have you ever heard or said the phrases “You are very smart” or “How smart is this child!”?
If so, maybe you should start rethinking if you’re right. Not for the qualifier towards the person you want to praise, but for the very concept of intelligence.
Believe that intelligence is unique and universal is a myth because there are many ways to understand and define it, say the specialists consulted by BBC for a special report.
They even claim that the phrase ‘a person is intelligent’ should be annulled.
But what is intelligence?
According to the first entry in the dictionary, intelligence is the “ability to understand or comprehend” and the second is the “ability to solve problems.”
For this reason, “when someone says that a child is intelligent in general, they think exclusively of a logical, rational, analytical intelligence and that it is just a kind of intelligence,” says Julián De Zubiría, consultant in Education of the Nations, to BBC.
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In fact, psychologists are not entirely in agreement with the meaning that appears in the dictionary.
“The concepts of ‘intelligence’ are attempts to clarify and organize a complex group of phenomena, although some degree of understanding has been achieved in certain areas, no conceptualization has answered all the important questions, and none has a universal character,” says the study “Intelligence: knowledge and unknowns” ( Intelligence: Knows and Unknows ) signed by several professionals of the American Psychological Association in 1996.
She adds: “In fact, when a dozen prominent theoreticians were asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen different definitions to each other .”
“Maybe in another century it could be understood but today it’s not like that, it’s not a simple concept,” he tells.
For Julián De Zubiría, when one qualifies that someone ‘is intelligent’ he is making several mistakes.
“The first is that he is talking about intelligence in the singular , so he is not knowing the diversity of intelligences,” says this Colombian educator, director of the Alberto Merani Institute in Bogotá, Colombia, which monitors thousands of children with high cognitive abilities. .
Indeed, there are different theories that argue that there are multiple types of intelligence.
One of the best known is that of the American psychologist and researcher Howard Gardner who considers that there is linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, corporal-kinesthetic, interpersonal and naturalistic intelligence .
According to other theories, there are also emotional, intrapersonal, creative and collaborative intelligence , among others.
“The idea that there was only one intelligence led to a school dedicated to the work only of reason and logic”, describes De Zubiría.
The second error that the teacher untyes in the phrase ‘to be intelligent’ is the verb that is used.
“In life there are no people who are or are not intelligent , but there are people who are becoming more or less intelligent as they have more or better parents, teachers and rich cultural media,” he tells BBC World.
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Therefore, “it would be more logical to say how ” is “than how” intelligent “a person is, because when you say ‘is’, it is assumed to be a stable capacity,” adds De Zubiría, author of the essay “Myths and realities about intelligence. and the talent. “
Similarly, for the psychologist Susana Urbina, specialist in psychological evaluation, “the phrase ‘is intelligent’ should be annulled.”
“A person is not born being intelligent, has genetic and physical condition and then acquires the intelligences, the environment has a lot to do with that,” he explains.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the French psychologist Alfred Binet invented the first intelligence test, a test of prediction of school performance, to differentiate able children from the least able.
This type of evaluation led to others that were used by different schools to determine the income of students.
“Unfortunately, psychologists have been guilty for having created these intelligence tests,” says Urbina, who is also a professor at the University of North Florida, United States.
“In reality, they are tests that assess and estimate the different types of skills that people have,” he describes and clarifies that they are not decisive.
For his part, De Zubiría details that “these intelligence tests emerged in 1905, therefore they were designed with the ideas of that time and today analytical intelligence is different from what we believed a century ago”.
“Today we know that knowledge would not be a good indicator of intelligence,because someone might not know much but process information very well.”
For the professor, this type of test should be prohibited because “they end up discriminating or overvaluing a child and a parent ends up believing that his son is very intelligent because he scored in a test more than a century ago”.
Is having intelligence synonymous with success?
According to the consulted specialists, intelligence and success do not go hand in hand .
“If analytical intelligence is not accompanied by effort, work, good counselors and good parents, it is synonymous with failure”, says De Zubiría.
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While the psychologist Urbina emphasizes that each person has a different concept of what success is.
“In this type of society is valued much wealth and intelligence in the sense of the accumulation of many university degrees and important jobs, then you are smart,” he analyzes.
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So is it important to be smart?
Both experts agree that “intelligence” rational and logical measured in the tests is not important in life.
“That measures very few things, but the intelligences that one uses in the concrete, everyday, practical world to solve problems that everyday life presents us with are decisive in life,” says De Zubiría.
For Urbina, intelligence has been overrated , because “it is not the only good, compassion, understanding, tenderness, honesty, are values that we can put ahead of intelligence.”
“I do not want to say that the intelligence or that the tests have no value, but we also do not have to overvalue them,” he concludes.