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Friday, October 18, 2013

Intelligence or adaptive responses to the environment?

It seems sometimes the universe conspires to make me fall into certain issues, because different persons have shared me different texts about intelligence during the past few weeks. I will not mention them, just in case this articlecan be  offensive to some persons, but I thank all of them for the inspiration. I read around 500 pages before this idea made sense.

It is not a secret that I don't like the concept of intelligence, I have said it at diverse conferences, when people ask me how this links with my ideas about learning, I reply so far, I have not needed it to explain how species evolutionarily have to adapt to the environment, and I still believe that learning is one process that allows them to create responses front the needs around the environment.

I've seen the concept of intelligence as a tautology: no one can prove that it is necessary for learning, because with the right teaching strategies children are able to learn, and when I say ALL,  I mean of children with disorders of neurodevelopmental, people with acquired brain damage, and other species. If the answer makes sense in the environment, the response can be developed under specific mechanisms.

At the same time, so far, after many years of testing and labeling  children, there is no agreement between psychologists about what intelligence is, even more, there is no agreement among the biological, neurocognitive and psychological models, it is not possible to find studies able to unify it from different points of view.

The following map allows me to argue my refusal to believe on the one hand, we can make someone more intelligent, as many schools say and secondly, accept that if someone is not intelligent, doesn’t have a chance to learn:
from Lynn and Vanhanen, (2012)
This map was created from hundreds of studies carried out by various associations and independent investigations around the world using standardized tests measuring intelligence and published by Lynn and Vanhanen. What I see on this mapt is the enormous cultural impact, which on average, intelligence is not increased by attending an expensive school, and that intelligence is not victorious before the environment test.

So far, what I can assure, there are only some constants over time, the language, the reading writing and arithmetic skills, all these processes survive among generations, but at the same time are dependent on the social environment, so culture has a great weight in which is called intelligence. 

If we look the map at detail, Finland, which is the country best placed in the PISA tests, is not among the most intelligent. There is not correlation between these tests and the average intelligence of the countries, probably the only thing clear is that greater cultural input, higher average in academic tests, but another view is the fact intelligence does not correlate with academic tests.

But this makes sense, since environmental needs direct the kind of responses expected, in the case of the United States, intelligence is located along East and West coasts, does the landscape have any relationship?.

Now, let’s take a breath for a moment, it is socially said that the most intelligent people are those who manage to highlight, for example a pair of icons in science: Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, both with bad scores in initial education, but none is considered a genius by his score on intelligence tests, but by their ability to analyze problems that no one else would have been able to resolve.

We admire people who have the ability to join the points as no one else has done in any field, which implies the process of association of ideas and especially creativity, divergent, convergent thinking.

This ability to be flexible at the environment is what allows some to take mankind to a new level. Windows, the Ipad, artists and the most exciting theories in science, arise when someone is able to break the model and make something new, call it mental flexibility.

This applies to humans but also to other species. Studies with dogs have shown that more domestication, major adaptive social responses and when we are looking in species that have not had household contacts, as studies with squirrels or prairie dogs, even they, are able to learn and reply in a flexible way to adapt to the  environment. However, like the school learning, domestication makes dependent to the species.

Hence, a question arises: is intelligence inherited?, evidence shows the answer is not, nature won’t  convey skills that were functional for a generation but will not be for another. Many people who were born before generation X are bogged down with new technologies. New generations on the other hand, adapt to continuous changes, the exception is language, reading, writing and numbers.

This applies to brain and artificial neural networks, too-rigid algorithms are not successful, there must be room for adaptation.

That’s why intelligence arises my mental itching when all educational models decide that ALL persons must know the same, and intelligence tests determine the success of children. This simplistic classification of intelligent and non intelligent is absurd in the light of the evidence and how have shown different investigations, only increase the level of stress in children, since it is  found high correlations between low self esteem and depression among children labeled as gifted.

It was Jean Piaget who said the most important thing was not the response of the child, but the logic used by the child to reach it. If Steve Jobs had applied a test about how a computer works, not doubt his teacher would had crucified him, because he was able to see beyond his teachers were able to see.

So far, none expensive school that assure increase children's intelligence is a factory of geniuses. So far, regardless of the level of intelligence of our parents, nobody can sit back comfortably and see how birds fly. All of us must find our way, design it, create it and make it something worthwhile.

So in response to all my friends who ask me, share and comment on the subject of intelligence, here is my answer: no one has sucessfully demonstrate that it is a unique process and I can not convince them that we should exploit the creativity, thinking, convergent and divergent in schools, because no one knows how the future will be and so hold, I have not seen a case where learning depend on intelligence, nor in humans or other species.


Deary, I.J. (2012) Intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology. 63. 453-482.

Dzib Goodin, A. (2013) Animal models for the study of learning. Available at:

Eliasmith, C., Trujillo, O. (2014) The use and abuse of large-scale brain models. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 25. 1-6.

Guignard, JH., Jacquet, AT., & Lubart, TI. (2012) Perfectionism and anxiety: A paradox in intellectual giftedness? Plos One. 7 (7) e1043. Available on line:

Kan, KJ., Wicherts, JM. Dolan, CV., and Van der Maas, HJL. (2013) On the nature and nurture of intelligence and specific cognitive abilities: The more heritable, the more culture dependent. Psychological Science. In press.

Kovas, Y., Voronin, I., Malykh, SB., Dale, PS., Plomin, R. (2013) Literacy and numeracy are more heritable than intelligence in primary school. Psychological Science. 24 (10) 2048-2056.

Lee, CS., & Therriault, DJ. (2013) The cognitive underpinnings of creative thought: A latent variable analysis exploring the roles of intelligence and working memory in three creative thinking process. Intelligence. 41 (5) 306-320.

Lynn, R.,  and Vanhanen, T. (2012) Intelligence: A unifying construct for the social science. Ulster Institrute for Social Research. London, UK.

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