Binet, the man responsible for inventing the IQ (intelligence quotient) test, never saw it as being a ‘fixed’ for individuals. Sadly, his waning was ignored as education, keen as ever on selection, sought out single measure for intelligence. The 20th C was dominate at first by the Intelligence Quotient, forever associated with Eysenck (1916-1997). This widened out towards the end of the century, first with Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, then Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. None have stood the test of scrutiny and time. With a renewed interest in Artificial Intelligence, as we moved into the 21stcentury, here has been renewed interest in the word ‘intelligence’. As the measurement of man has become a growing obsession with ever widening definitions of intelligence, unfortunately, much of it was damaging, badly researched and, at times, used for nefarious purposes. As IQ morphed into MI then EQ and AI the same mistakes were made time after time.
Hans Eysenck was the figure around whom much of the IQ debate figured in the 20th century. What is less well known is his work on personality types and his opposition to psychoanalysis and Freud in particular, explained in The Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire.
A controversial figure, he put forward the proposition that intelligence had a hereditary component and was not wholly, socially determined. Although this area is highly controversial and complex, the fact that genetic heritability has some role has become the scientific orthodoxy. What is still controversial is the definition and variability of ‘intelligence’ and the role that intelligence and other tests have in education and training. The environment has been shown to play an increasing role but the nature/nurture debate is a complex area, now a rather esoteric debate around the relevance of different statistical methods.
IQ theory has come under attack on several fronts. Stephen Jay Gould’s 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man is only one of many that have criticised IQ research as narrow, subject to reification (turns abstract concepts into concrete realities) and linear ranking, when cognition is, in fact, a complex phenomenon. IQ research has also been criticised for repeatedly confusing correlation with cause, not only in heritability, where it is difficult to untangle nature from nurture, but also when comparing scores in tests with future achievement. Class, culture and gender may also play a role and the tests are not adjusted for these variables. Work by Howe and Eriksson and others explains extraordinary achievement as being the result of early specialisation and a focused investment in over 10,000 hours of practice and not measurable IQ.
The focus on IQ, a search for a single unitary measure of the mind, is now seen by many, as narrow and misleading. Most modern theories of mind have moved on to more sophisticated views of the mind as with different but interrelated cognitive abilities. More modular theories and theories of multiple intelligence have come to the fore. Sternberger’s three-part (analytic, creative, practical) was followed by Gardner’s eight intelligences in Frames of Mind.
Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (EQ), reflected in other more academic and well researched work, also challenged the unitary theory of intelligence, with its emphasis on the ability to harness emotion in self-awareness, thinking, decision making and in dealing with others. It is not that IQ is the antithesis of EQ, they are merely different. However, even Gardner and Goleman have come under criticism for lacking rigour. In general, however, educational systems in many countries have been criticised for failing to teach this wider set of skills that many now agree are useful in adult life.
Eysenck worked with Cyril Burt at the University of London, the man responsible for the introduction of the standardised 11+ examination in the UK, enshrined in the 1944 Butler Education Act, an examination that, incredibly, still exists in parts of the UK. Burt was subsequently discredited for publishing largely in a journal that he himself edited, falsifying, not only the data upon which he based his work, but also co-workers on the research.
This is just one of many standardised tests that have become common in education but many believe that tests of this type serve little useful purpose and are unnecessary, even socially divisive. On the other hand supporters of test regimes point towards the meritocratic and objective nature of tests. Some, however, argue that standard tests have led to a culture of constant summative testing, which has become a destructive force in education, demotivating and acting as an end-point and filter, rather than a useful mark of success. Narrow academic assessment has become almost an obsession in some countries, fueled by international pressure from PISA.
Interestingly, when measuring IQ, the Flynn Effect, taken from military records, shows that scores have been increasing at the rate of about 3 points per decade and there is further evidence that the rate is increasing This was used by Stephen Johnson in his book Everything bad is Good for You to hypothesize that exposure to new media is responsible, a position with which Flynn himself agrees. This throws open a whole debate and line of research around the benefits of new media in education and learning. Highly complex and interactive technology may be making us smarter. If true, this has huge implications for the use of technology in education and society in general.
Unfortunately, Eysenck and many other psychologists, throughout the middle of the 20th century may have focused too much on narrow IQ tests. This has led to some dubious approaches to early assessment, such as the 11+, that has, to a degree, socially engineered the future educational opportunities and lives of young people. IQ theorists like Eysenck tended to focus on logical and mathematical skills, to the detriment of other abilities, leading some to conclude that education has been over-academic. This, they argue, has led to a serious skew on curricula, assessment and the funding of education to the detriment of vocational and other skills.
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences opposes the idea of intelligence being a single measurable attribute. His is a direct attack on the practice of psychometric tests and behaviourism, relying more on genetic, instinctual and evolutionary arguments to build a picture of the mind. He also disputes the Piaget notion of fixed developmental stages, claiming that a child can be at various stages of development across different intelligences.
For Gardner, intelligence is “the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting” (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). To identify he nature of intelligence he sought evidence from repots of brain damage showing isolated abilities, the existence of idiot savants, prodigies and other exceptional individuals, an identifiable core operation or group of operations, specific development histories with definable 'end-state' performances, an evolutionary history (at least plausible), evidence from experimental psychology, psychometric findings and the ability to express such intelligences in a symbolic way. In other words, he took a holistic, not a purely experimental or scientific, approach to evidence.
What popped out of studying these criteria was a list of eight ‘intelligences’. To be fair this original list of eight has developed over time but his thoughts on what constitute intelligence have developed over time, as the theory was scrutinized. It opened up the meaning of intelligence to purely rational and logical abilities, which were long held as the essential measures of intelligence.
Loosely speaking, the first two have been typically valued, some would say over-valued, in education; the next three are often associated, but not exclusively, with the arts; the final three are what Gardner called 'personal intelligences':
1. Linguistic: To learn, use and be sensitive to language(s).
2. Logical-mathematical: Analysis, maths, science and investigative abilities.
3. Musical: Perform, compose and appreciate music, specifically pitch, tone and rhythm.
4. Bodily-kinaesthetic: Co-ordination and use of whole or parts of body.
5. Spatial: Recognise, use and solve spatial problems both large and confined.
6. Interpersonal: Ability to read others’ intentions, motivations, desires and feelings.
7. Intrapersonal: Self-knowledge and ability to understand and use one’s inner knowledge.
8. Naturalist: Ability to draw upon the immediate environment to make judgements.
These intelligences complement each other, work together as blends of intelligences. Individuals bring multiple subsets of these intelligences to solve problems.
Gardner also wrote a full set of recommendations on the use of multiple intelligence theory in schools in The Unschooled Mind, Intelligence Reframed, and The Disciplined Mind, to look at how the theory can be applied in education. As John White observed, one problem with the theory is that it bears an uncanny resemblance to the current curriculum subjects, opening it up to the charge that it reflects what we want to teach, rather than having cognitive certainty. It can look like a simple defence of the classic curriculum.
This has led to a broader more holistic view of education, being less rigid about abstract and academic learning. It demands knowledge of these intelligences among teachers, an aspirational approach to learning, more collaboration between teachers of different disciplines, better and more meaningful curriculum choices and a wider use of the arts.
Many have also criticized the choices as being based on general observations, subject to personal and cultural bias, rather than universal cognitive abilities based on empirical evidence. There is always the problem with identifies ‘intelligences’ such as these not mapping onto the many different forms of cognitive functions, sensory, memory and others. In many of these supposed intelligences, multiple and complex cognitive operations are at work.
Like many forms of measurement in education, from learning styles, through to MBTI and intelligences, the theory can be criticized as it leads to stereotyping and pigeon-holing learners, pushing them towards narrower roads that they would otherwise have been exposed to. It may be their perceived weaknesses that should be addressed not necessarily the most obvious strengths. Like learning styles, it may do more harm than good.
Gardner himself was shocked and often frustrated by the way multiple intelligences was crudely applied in schools, among “a mish-mash of practices…Left Right brain contrasts….learning styles….NLP, all mixed up with dazzling promiscuity”. Some schools in the US even redesigned the whole curriculum, classrooms and entire schools around the theory. His point was that teachers should be sensitive to these intelligences, not to let them prescribe all practice. In his 2003 paper Multiple Intelligences after Twenty Years, for the American Educational Research Association, you could feel his frustration, when he writes, “I have come to realize that once one releases an idea – “meme” – into the world, one cannot completely control its behaviour – any more than one can control those products of our genes we call children.”. Like many of these theories, the problem was its simplification and seductiveness. It gave us permission to say anything goes. Rather than promoting a focus on a wider, but still rigorous and relevant curriculum, it was used to confirm he view that here are almost innate ‘talents’ and that young people simply express those through interest. On the other hand it also provided some defence against those who want to labour away at maths all day at the expense of many other subjects or get overly obsessed with STEM subjects.
Like many theories, they develop over time and many teachers who quote and use the theory are unlikely to have fully understood its status and further development by Gardner himself. Few will have understood that it is not supported in the world of science, despite the perception by educators that it arose from that source. Gardner’s first book, Frames of the Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983) laid out the first version of the theory, followed 16 years later by a reformulation in Intelligence Reframed (1999), then again in Multiple Intelligences after Twenty Years (2003). Few have followed its development after 1983 or the critiques and Gardner’s subsequent distancing of the theory from brain science.
Lynn Waterhouse laid out the lack of scientific evidence for the theory in Multiple Intelligences, the Mozart Effect, and Emotional Intelligence: A Critical Review in Educational Psychologist. In many areas of learning, such as reason, emotion, action, music, language and so on, are characterised by their intersecting, distributed and complex patterns of activity in the brain. Islands of functional specificity are extremely rare. In short, Gardner seems to suffer from conceptual invention and simplicity. In short, brain science appears not support the theory. Gardner responded to this absence of neurological evidence for his separate 'intelligence' components, by redefining his intelligences as “composites of fine-grained neurological sub-processes but not those sub-processes themselves”(Gardner and Moran, 2006). Pickering and Howard-Jones found that teachers associate multiple intelligences with neuroscience, but as Howard-Jones states, “In terms of the science, however, it seems an unhelpful simplification as no clearly defined set of capabilities arises from either the biological or psychological research”. However, Project SUMIT (Schools Using Multiple Intelligences Theory) does claims to have identified real progress across the board in schools that have indeed been sensitive to Gardner’s theories. The problem is that Gardener claims that the science has yet to come, but teachers assume it is already there and that the theory arose from the science.
The appeal of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences is obvious. It can take on the mantle of science, even neuroscience, and claim to have reinforced the view, not that specific knowledge and skills mater but that all knowledge and skills matter. It plays to the socially constructivist idea that anything goes, in a sea of constructions. Critics are right in holding his feet to the fire of experimental rigour and science, to show that these are indeed identifiable ‘intelligences’ and not just his, or the current educational system’s curricular preferences. They also seem to support the popular movement towards separate, so-called 21st century skills, as. A generic set of skills that can be taught beyond knowledge. In other words it chimes with other popular, and possibly erroneous myths in learning. On the other hand, while the theory may be rather speculative, his identified intelligences represent real dispositions, abilities, talents and potential, which many schools could be said to downgrade or even ignore.
So far it has been one step forward, getting away from the idea of a single measure of intelligence, as a core entity in the mind, towards a more general theory of multiple entities and measures of intelligence. The problem is that this step wasn’t really solid enough to remain stable. It failed to be supported by solid evidence. But we have a glimpse here of the dangers of the word ‘intelligence’, its tendency to invite forms of essentialism. Like the allure of gold it attracts ‘miners of the mind’ looking for this singular intelligence or multiple set of essential intelligences. It turns out that what is mined is Fool’s Gold. It may look like gold but, on examination, it is rigid and non-malleable.
The ‘intelligence’ movement, then took a surprising turn, as it swung into the affective or emotional territory. IQ ignored this, Multiple Intelligences tried to widen out to include interpersonal skills but the emotional side was still outside of their scope. So along came another form of intelligence ‘emotional intelligence’.
Michael Beldoch wrote papers and a book around emotional intelligence in the 1960s and is credited with coming up with the term. But it was Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (1995) that launched another education and training tsunami. Suddenly, a newly discovered set of skills, classed as an ‘intelligence’ could be used to deliver yet another batch of courses.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is seen by Goleman as an a set of competences that allow you to identify, assess, and control the emotions which you and others have.
He identified five types of Emotional Intelligence:
Self-awareness: Know your own emotions and be aware of their impact on others
Self-regulation: Manage your own negative and disruptive emotions
Social skill: Manage emotions of other people
Empathy: Understand and take into account other people’s emotions
Motivation: Motivate yourself
For Goleman, these emotional competencies can be learned. They are not entirely innate, but learned capabilities that must be worked on and can be developed to achieve outstanding performance.
We now have some good research on the subject which shows that the basic concept is flawed, that having EI is less of an advantage than you think. Joseph et al (2015) published a meta-analysis of 15 carefully selected studies, easily the best summary of the evidence so far. What they found was a weak correlation (0.29) with job performance. Note that 0.4 is often taken as a reasonable benchmark for evidence of a strong correlation. This means that EI has a predictive power on performance of only 8.4%. Put another way, if you are spending a lot of money and raining effort on this, it is largely wasted. The clever thing about the Joseph paper was their careful focus on actual job performance, as opposed to academic tests and assessments.
What became obvious as they looked at the training and tools, was that there was a bait and switch going on. EI was not a thing-in-itself but an amalgam of other things, especially personality measures. Indeed, when they unpacked six of the EI tests, they found that many of the measures were actually personality measures, such as conscientiousness, industriousness and self-control. These had been literally lifted from other personality tests. So, they did a clever thing and ran the analysis again, this time with controls for established personality measures. This is where things got really interesting. The correlation between EI and job performance dropped to a shocking -0.2.
Like many fads in HR, such as learning styles, an intuitive error lies at the heart of the fad. It just seems intuitively true that people with emotional sensibility should be better performers but a moment’s thought will make you realize that many forms of performance may rely on many other cognitive traits and competences. In our therapeutic age, it is all too easy to attribute positive qualities to the word ‘emotional’ without really examining what that means in practice. HR is a people profession, people who genuinely care, but when they bring their biases to bear on performance, as with many other fads, such as learning styles, Maslow, Myers-Briggs, NLP and mindfulness, emotion tends to trump reason. When it is examined in detail, EI like these other fads, falls apart. Eysenck, the doyen of intelligence theorists, dismissed Goleman’s definition of ‘intelligence’ and thought his claims were unsubstantiated.
Goleman’s claims, that general EI was twice as useful as either technical knowledge, or general personality traits, has been dismissed as nonsense, as is his claim that it accounts for 67% of superior, leadership performance. This undermines lots of Leadership training, as EI is often used as a major plank in its theoretical framework and courses. Føllesdal looked at test results (MSCEIT) of 111 business leaders and compared these with the views of those same leaders by their employees. Guess what – there was no correlation.
Tests often lie at the heart of these fads, as they can be sold, practitioners trained and the whole thing turned into pyramid selling. Practitioners, in this case are sometimes called ‘emotional experts’, who administer and assess EI tests. However, the main test, the MSCEIT, is problematic. First, the company administering the tests (Multi-Health systems) was found by Føllesdal to be peddling a pig with lipstick. To be precise, 19 of the 141 questions were actually being scored wrongly. They quietly dropped the scoring on these questions, while keeping them in the test. Reputations had to be maintained. More fundamentally, the test is weak, as there are no correct answers, so it is not anchored in any objective standard. As a consensus scored test, it is foggy.
Emotional Intelligence has all the hallmarks of other HR fads – the inevitable popular book, paucity of research, exaggerated claims, misleading language, the test, ignoring research that shows it is largely a waste of training time. This is not to say that ‘emotion’ has no role in competences or learning. Indeed, from Hume To Haidt, we have seen that reason is often the slave of the passions. Gardner’s mistake was to over-rationalise emotion. In particular, his use of the word ‘intelligence was misleading.
Education became fixated with the search and definition of a single measure of intelligence – IQ. The main protagonist being Eysenck and it led to fraudulent policies, such as the 11+ in the UK, which is still used for selection into schools at age 11. It was promoted on the back of fraudulent research by Cyril Burt. Out of this obsession also came the language of the gifted and talented, still popular in education, despite the fact that the measures are flawed.
Many have criticised IQ research as narrow in definition. This is a key point. Cognitive science has succeeded in unpacking many of these complexities without reducing them to singular measures or short lists. The focus on IQ, a search for a single, unitary measure of the mind, even a small set of such measures, is now seen by many as narrow and misleading. Gardener tried to widen its definition into Multiple Intelligences (1983) but this is weak science and lacks any real rigour.
Goleman wanted to add another, Emotional Intelligence, but this turned out to be little more than a marketing slogan. The search for ‘intelligence’ still suffers from a form of academic essentialism. Most modern theories of mind have moved on to more sophisticated views of the mind as with different but interrelated cognitive abilities.
Goleman’s confusing ‘intelligence’ or ‘competences’ with personality traits is telling. Eysenck also contributed (with his wife) to the area of personality traits with idea that personality can be defined in terms of psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism. This provided the basis for the now widely respected OCEAN model proposed by Costa & McCrae:
Eysenck rejected the Costa & McCrae model but in the end it has become the more persuasive theory. This well researched area of ‘personality types’ has largely been ignored in learning, in favour of the more faddish ‘learning styles’ theory. However, it has been argued that this type of differentiation is far more useful when dealing with different types of learners than the essentialism of Eysenck, Gardner and Goleman.
More recently, the rise of AI has produced a lot of debate on what constitutes ‘intelligence’. I discuss this in my book ‘AI for Learning’. Turing’s seminal paper Computing Machinery & Intelligence (1950), along with its nine defences, set the standard on whether machines can think and be intelligent. Yet the word ‘intelligence’ is never mentioned in his sense in the actual paper. But it was John McCarthy who invented the term at the famous Dartmouth Conference in 1956, that is seen as the starting point of the modern AI movement.
We would do well to abandon the word ‘intelligence’, as it carries with it so much bad theory and practice. Indeed AI has, in my view, already transcended the term, as it had success across a much wider sets of competences (previously intelligences), such as perception, translation, search, natural language processing, speech, sentiment analysis, memory, retrieval and other many other domains. All of this was achieved without consciousness. It is all competence without comprehension.
Machine learning has led to successes all sorts of domains beyond the traditional field of IQ and human ‘intelligences’. In many ways it is showing us the way, going back to a wider set of competences that includes both ‘knowing that’ (cognitive) and ‘knowing how’ (robotics) to do things. This was seen by Turing as a real possibility and it frees us from the fixed notion of intelligence that got so locked down into human genetics and capabilities. We can therefore avoid the term ‘intelligence(s)’ thereby avoiding the anthropomorphism around transferring human ideas around intelligence on to non-comprehending, but competent, performance. ‘Intelligence’ embodies too many assumptions around conscious comprehension in a field where man is NOT the measure of all things.
The brain is the organ that named itself and created all that we are discussing but it is a odd thing. It takes over 20 years of education before it is even remotely useful to an employer or society. To attribute ‘intelligence’ to he organ is to forge that, compared to machines, it can’t pay attention for long, forgets most of what you teach it, is sexist, racist, full of cognitive biases, sleeps 8 hours a day, can’t network, can’t upload, can’t download and, here’s the fatal objection - it dies. This should not be the gold standard for intelligence, as it is an idiosyncratic organ that evolved for circumstances other than those we find ourselves in.
Let’s take this idea further. Koch (2014) claimed that ALL networks are, to some degree ‘intelligent’. As the boundary for consciousness and intelligence changed over time to include animals, indeed anything with a network of neurons, he argues that intelligence is a property that can be applied to any communicating network. As we have evidence that intelligence is related to networked activity, whether these are brains or computers, could intelligence be a function of this networking, so that all networked entities are, to some degree, intelligent? Clark and Chalmers (1998) in The Extended Mind, laid out the philosophical basis for this approach. This opens up the field for definitions of ‘intelligence’ that are not benchmarked against human capabilities or speciesism. If we consider the idea of competences residing in other forms of chemistry and substrates, and see algorithms and their productive capabilities, as being independent of the base materials in which they arise, then we can cut the ties with the word ‘intelligence’ and focus on capabilities or competences.
Few would argue that AI has progressed faster than expected, with significant advances in machine learning, deep learning and reinforcement learning. In some cases the practical applications clearly transcend human capabilities and competences in all sorts of fields, calculation, image recognition, object detection and the may fruits of natural language processing, such as translation, text to speech, speech to text. We do not need to see ‘intelligence’ as the sun the centre of this solar system. The Copernican move is to remove this term and replace it with competences and look to problems that can be solved without comprehension. The means to ends are always means, it is the ends that matter.
What is wonderful here is the opening up of philosophical issues around the idea of ‘intelligence(s)’. We are far from the existential risk to our species that many foresee but there are many more near-term issues to be considered. Ditching old psychological relics is one. Artificial smartness is with us it need not be called 'intelligent'.
Eysenck, H.J. (1967) The Biological Basis of Personality. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Eysenck, H.J. (1971) The IQ Argument: Race, Intelligence, and Education. New York: Library Press.
Eysenck, H.J. (1985) Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire
Eysenck, H.J. & Eysenck, S.B.G. (1969). Personality Structure and Measurement. London: Routledge.
Gould, S. J. (1981).The mismeasure of man. New York: Norton.
Beldoch, M. and Davitz, J.R., 1964. The communication of emotional meaning. McGraw-Hill.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Howe, M. J. A. (1999). Genius explained. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, S. (2005). Everything bad is good for you. London: Allen Lane.
McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (2003). Personality in adulthood: A five-factor theory perspective. New York: Guilford Press.
Bloom (1956). Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain.
Dennett, D. (1995). Consciousness Explained.
Clark and Chalmers (1998) The Extended Mind
Dreyfus, H., & Dreyfus, S. (1997). Why Computers May Never Think Like People. Knowledge Management Tools, 31-50.
Ebbinghaus, H. (1908). Psychology: An elementary textbook. New York: Arno Press.
Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books.
Frey B.C. Osborne M.A. (2013). The Future of Employment, Oxford Martin School.
Harari, Y.N. (2016). Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Harvill Secker, London.
Haugland, J. (1997). Mind design II: Philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Koch (2014). "Is Consciousness Universal". Scientific American Mind.
Searle, J. (1980). Minds, Brains and Programs. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.3, pp. 417–424. (1980)
Susskind, R., & Susskind, D. (2015). The Future of the Professions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Turing, A. M. (1950). I.—Computing Machinery And Intelligence. Mind, LIX(236), 433-460.