Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Book review of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined

Ungifted_KaufmanJust a cou­ple weeks ago I had a dis­cus­sion with sev­er­al psy­chol­o­gists and neu­rol­o­gists who seemed to share the opin­ion that “brain fit­ness” is a mean­ing­less con­cept and pur­suit. On the one hand, they thought, intel­li­gence is a fixed trait and no inter­ven­tion has shown so far to reli­ably increase it. On the oth­er hand, noth­ing has been shown to pre­vent the pathol­o­gy of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. Accord­ing to this mindset…why both­er?

Well, what if such men­tal frame­work was wrong or, worse, mis­lead­ing?

Our own efforts at Sharp­Brains are geared towards bring­ing a new per­spec­tive based on neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy, cog­ni­tive and affec­tive neu­ro­science, and actu­al cur­rent evi­dence. What seems to mat­ter in our jobs and lives is not so much a gen­er­al trait called “intel­li­gence,” or the pres­ence or absence of AD pathol­o­gy, as the range of brain func­tions that serve as impor­tant “men­tal mus­cles” need­ed to be “fit” for mod­ern life: atten­tion, work­ing mem­o­ry, infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing, emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion…

No doubt, it is going to take a while for this new cul­ture to take hold.

The good news: here comes a new book that does an excel­lent job at debunk­ing old the­o­ries and prac­tices around intel­li­gence and devel­op­ment.

Ungift­ed: Intel­li­gence Rede­fined (424 pages; June 2013), writ­ten by cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gist Scott Bar­ry Kauf­man, pro­vides a com­pre­hen­sive, detailed and often sur­pris­ing view into how the con­cept of IQ was devel­oped in the 19th cen­tu­ry, and how it spread afterwards…well beyond the inten­tions of the orig­i­nal cre­ators. The book chal­lenges many com­mon assump­tions and prac­tices in the fields of intel­li­gence, learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and gift­ed­ness, reviews the emerg­ing lit­er­a­ture on delib­er­ate prac­tice, self-reg­u­la­tion, and cre­ativ­i­ty, and con­cludes with a new and more intelligent–in my mind–definition of Intel­li­gence.

What I found most inter­est­ing about the book is how it is well anchored around the first-hand life­long expe­ri­ences of the author. This is not a the­o­ret­i­cal, enter­tain­ing conversation…it is one full of prac­ti­cal, and often unin­tend­ed, con­se­quences. Let’s hear this child­hood mem­o­ry by Prof. Kauf­man: “I’ve been tak­en out of the nor­mal class­room and placed in spe­cial education…I feel bored. I feel like I am capa­ble of more, but because oth­ers don’t believe in me, it’s hard to believe in myself…my fate sealed by a sin­gle test.”

With that as start­ing point, let’s hear some of the authors reflec­tions and con­clu­sions along the thought-pro­vok­ing book jour­ney:

  • Michael Jor­dan did­n’t pop out dunk­ing a bas­ket­ball from the free-flow line. Full-blown abil­i­ties and traits aren’t prepack­aged at birth. That’s because our genes don’t code for traits; they code for the pro­duc­tion of proteins…This is why it’s cru­cial to inter­vene as ear­ly as pos­si­ble and set the tra­jec­to­ry of the child’s genes for the bet­ter.”
  • Dweck and col­leagues iden­ti­fied two dif­fer­ent mind­sets that stu­dents car­ry around with them: a fixed mind­set in which intel­li­gence is thought of as set in stone at birth, and a growth mind­set that views intel­li­gence as dynam­ic and capa­ble of improve­ment. She set out to inves­ti­gate how these dif­fer­ent mind­sets affect per­for­mance.”
  • Binet (one of the pio­neers of intel­li­gence test­ing) cau­tioned against the “bru­tal pes­simism” of view­ing intel­li­gence as a uni­fied and fixed trait. He cau­tioned that “With prac­tice, train­ing, an above all method, we man­age to increase our atten­tion, our mem­o­ry, our judg­ment and lit­er­al­ly to become more intel­li­gent than we were before.”
  • Indi­vid­u­als with low work­ing mem­o­ry, who have dif­fi­cul­ty keep­ing a few things in mind and inte­grat­ing, com­par­ing, or sequenc­ing them, are more like­ly to show mean­ing­ful improve­ment in train­ing, because for them work­ing mem­o­ry serves as a bot­tle­neck.”
  • Even though the prodi­gies showed quite a bit of scat­ter in their abil­i­ties, there were some strik­ing com­mon­al­i­ties. Every sin­gle prodi­gy scored off the charts in work­ing memory…This may explain their abil­i­ty to main­tain prac­tice for extend­ed peri­ods of time with­out dis­trac­tion.”
  • This pat­tern of brain acti­va­tion is con­sis­tent with a grow­ing num­ber of stud­ies sug­gest­ing that peo­ple who per­form well on tests of cre­ativ­i­ty have flex­i­ble atten­tion­al con­trol: they can flex­i­bly switch between con­ver­gent and diver­gent modes of thought depend­ing on the stage of the cre­ative process.”
  • Though teach­ers may find it frus­trat­ing to teach stu­dents who can’t sit in their seats…they should rec­og­nize that such “inat­ten­tive” chil­dren may just require a lit­tle exec­u­tive func­tion­ing train­ing to get on the path to cre­ative great­ness!”
  • …the Fly­nn Effect serves as a reminder that when we give peo­ple more oppor­tu­ni­ties to pros­per, more peo­ple do pros­per.”
  • An empha­sis on “mul­ti­ple intel­li­gences” and “learn­ing styles” can get in the way of us appre­ci­at­ing the stu­dent char­ac­ter­is­tics that tru­ly affect learn­ing.””


Now, where does all this lead us to?

Peo­ple with all kinds of minds are capa­ble of accom­plish­ing extra­or­di­nary things in their own way and in their own time…It’s time to pull back all the labels, expec­tac­tions, and pre­con­cep­tions that have been in place over the past 100 years and final­ly rede­fine intelligence…One major theme is adap­ta­tion to the envi­ron­ment.

It is my belief that it’s time for a new def­i­n­i­tion of human intel­li­gence that takes all of these aspects of the human mind into account. One that empha­sizes the val­ue of an individual’s per­son­al journey…That arms stu­dents with the mind­sets and strate­gies they need to real­ize their per­son­al goals, with­out lim­it­ing or pre-judg­ing their chances of suc­cess at any stage in the process…From prod­uct to process. (more in this great book except)

Intel­li­gence is the dynam­ic inter­play of engage­ment and abil­i­ties in pur­suit of per­son­al goals.

All in all, this is a deep and impor­tant read, which large­ly deliv­ers on the ambi­tious promise set forth in the sub­ti­tle: “The Truth About Tal­ent, Prac­tice, Cre­ativ­i­ty, and the Many Paths to Great­ness.”

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

Search in our archives

Follow us and Engage via…

RSS Feed

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)