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Are cognitive abilities the same thing as intelligence?

Here is the sec­ond install­ment of ques­tions from Brain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions. To down­load the com­plete ver­sion, please click here.

Ques­tion:
Are cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties the same thing as intel­li­gence?Human Brain

Key Points:

  • Cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties can be trained and improved.
  • Intel­li­gence is a score on a test that stays rel­a­tive­ly sta­t­ic in adult­hood.
  • Cog­ni­tive process­es deal­ing with nov­el­ty (flu­id intel­li­gence) are just as impor­tant as acquired knowl­edge (crys­tal­lized intel­li­gence). It takes both to keep your men­tal edge.

Answer:
Not exact­ly. They are relat­ed and inter­twined, but not the same thing.

Cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties are the brain-based skills and men­tal process­es need­ed to car­ry out any task and have more to do with the mech­a­nisms of how you learn, remem­ber, and pay atten­tion rather than any actu­al knowl­edge you have learned.

The term IQ, or Intel­li­gence Quo­tient, gen­er­al­ly describes a score on a test that rates your cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty as com­pared to the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. IQ tests are designed to mea­sure your gen­er­al abil­i­ty to solve prob­lems and under­stand con­cepts. There is a high pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion between IQ and suc­cess in school and the work place, but there are many, many cas­es where IQ and suc­cess do not coin­cide.

Because IQ tests attempt to mea­sure your abil­i­ty to under­stand ideas and not just the quan­ti­ty of your knowl­edge, learn­ing new infor­ma­tion does not auto­mat­i­cal­ly increase your IQ. Intel­lec­tu­al abil­i­ty seems to depend more on genet­ic fac­tors than on envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, but most experts agree that envi­ron­men­tal enrich­ment plays some sig­nif­i­cant role in its devel­op­ment.

For the most part, adult IQ scores don’t sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase over time. There is evi­dence that main­tain­ing an intel­lec­tu­al­ly stim­u­lat­ing atmos­phere (by learn­ing new skills or solv­ing puz­zles, for exam­ple) boosts cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty, sim­i­lar to the way main­tain­ing an exer­cise reg­i­men boosts phys­i­cal abil­i­ty, but these changes do not nec­es­sar­i­ly have much effect on IQ scores.

Fur­ther Read­ing
Stan­ford-Binet IQ test
Wech­sler Adult Intel­li­gence Scale
Gardner’s Mul­ti­ple Intel­li­gences
Intel­li­gent Insights on Intel­li­gence The­o­ries and Tests (aka IQ’s Cor­ner)
Edward De Bono
Men­sa Inter­na­tion­al

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7 Responses

  1. Elona says:

    I think that the point you made about IQ and suc­cess not coin­cid­ing is impor­tant to remem­ber. I teach my stu­dents about Gard­ners Mul­ti­ple intel­li­gences and help them real­ize that oth­er intel­li­gences , oth­er than the ones schools mea­sure are very impor­tant. I main­tain that Inter­per­son­al intel­li­gence is one of the most impor­tant ones. You need to be able to get along with peo­ple in your per­son­al life as well as at work to be suc­cess­ful. I wor­ry most about my stu­dents when they have poor peo­ple skills. INtrap­er­son­al intel­li­gence is also very impor­tant. I help my stu­dents to get to know their strengths, weak­ness­es, likes and dis­likes so that hey can use that infor­ma­tion when they have to make choic­es about the future careers, vaca­tions, friends- real­ly every­thing. At school every­thing is about read­ing, writ­ing and arith­metic. In life it about rela­tion­ships at home, work and play at least the way I seeit.

  2. Alvaro says:

    Elona, thanks for your com­ment. Have a great hol­i­day!

  3. Can a per­son have a high cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty and a low I.Q. score?

  4. Mar­i­lyn, please note that in the post we use “cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties” inn plur­al. While it is pos­si­ble that a per­son with low IQ may have some spe­cif­ic high cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty, it would be very unlike­ly that he or she is high in a wide range of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties.

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