Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Math, IQ and Culture

This article, via Bee on Facebook: The Myth of 'I'm Bad at Math' in the Atlantic:

A body of research on conceptions of ability has shown two orientations toward ability. Students with an Incremental orientation believe ability (intelligence) to be malleable, a quality that increases with effort. Students with an Entity orientation believe ability to be nonmalleable, a fixed quality of self that does not increase with effort.

The “entity orientation” that says “You are smart or not, end of story,” leads to bad outcomes—a result that has been confirmed by many other studies.
The outcome of an experiment:
The results? Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic. (A control group, who were taught how memory works, showed no such gains.)
But improving grades was not the most dramatic effect, “Dweck reported that some of her tough junior high school boys were reduced to tears by the news that their intelligence was substantially under their control.” It is no picnic going through life believing you were born dumb—and are doomed to stay that way.
In my opinion:
  1. IQ may or may not mean intelligence.  But IQ is irrelevant.  The obsession with intelligence is dangerous.  Achievement is what matters.  What is the point of high intelligence, low achieving people?
  2. Far too many pieces, including the above cited, confuse intelligence and achievement.  Achievement is what may be quantified, is tangible, etc. 
  3. The truth is:  one can improve their achievement through effort.   Not indefinitely, and only rarely to a world-class level, maybe not even to the upper half of the local market competition; but usually enough to make a practical difference in their life.  Who cares whether one's IQ went up or down in the process?   IQ is the realm of quacks like Murray and Herrnstein.
  4. The obsession with intelligence keeps a lot of people from achieving what they could; and keeps a lot of high achieving people nevertheless unhappy and insecure.
  5. The elusive thing called culture lies in these approaches to life - e.g., the attitudes of a group towards intelligence and achievement - and not in whether one wears jeans and drinks Coke. (The only case where culture is sort of legitimately wholly confused with material artifacts is in archaeology, where sometimes potsherds are the only trace of the identity of a people - e.g., "the painted greyware culture".  But this is only because of lack of information.)