One of the challenges of developing a measure of human intelligence is to decide on a coherent theoretical basis. What are the important aspects of intelligence that can and should be measured? Do the existing tests predict academic and career success? Contemporary intelligence theorist Robert Sternberg (2014) held that IQ tests only measure one type of intelligence: a formal type of analytic ability needed to perform well academically. This includes indicators such as verbal ability, reasoning ability, and logic. An individual might succeed academically, but may be less able to flexibly adapt to novel and changing demands when applying his or her knowledge, an activity that requires creative, imaginative thinking. Sternberg (2014) also identifies a practical, interactive social knowledge he identifies as “tacit learning,” which is the knowledge that is not formally taught in school, but is necessary for career success. For example, a geology professor could be extremely knowledgeable in his or her subject field, but to be a successful professor, he or she needs to acquire other information, such as how to obtain grants, attain good course evaluations, and understand and navigate department and college politics.
Sternberg (2014) identifies all three of these types of intelligence as necessary, useful, and indicative of very different kinds of knowledge, and he devised an intelligence test to measure these three types of intelligence. However, when his test was subjected to factor analysis (a statistical procedure that looks for clusters within data), only a single factor of general intelligence was found, suggesting his three types are not as distinct from one another as he believed, at least as measured by his test.
One of the implications of the nurture/nature debate about intelligence is whether it can be modified. One position is that intelligence is mostly genetically determined, implying that an individual is born with a fixed amount of it: Either one has it or one does not. This argument is often used as a reason to deny funding to compensatory education programs, such as Head Start; it is claimed that the cost is not justified because ability cannot be modified or enhanced.
As a counterpoint, one researcher, Richard Nisbett (2009), believes that the genetic basis for intelligence has been greatly overstated and in his book Intelligence and How to Get It, he describes cultural, social, and economic factors that can be modified. One such factor is the frequency and manner in which parents talk to their young children. Those whose parents frequently ask them questions that elicit thinking, such as “What sound does a cow make?” are much more prepared for the formal learning demands of school.
Another researcher, Carol Dweck (2007), states that an individual’s personal theory of intelligence itself can determine his or her success. In her book Mindset, she describes two types of attributions children make about their intellectual ability: Some children see themselves as having a fixed amount of intelligence—if they answer questions quickly and correctly, or if learning comes easily to them, that means they are smart. However, given that premise, if they are not successful or do not learn immediately, they conclude that they must be dumb. Children with this “fixed” mindset avoid challenges and lose motivation quickly when they encounter setbacks. In contrast, a child with a “growth” mindset does not equate success or failure with how smart they are and will persist with the task, focusing on effort or different strategies. Both Nisbett and Dweck conclude that one way to increase intelligence is to increase persistence and motivation by reinforcing effort rather than “smartness.” To draw a parallel—a fixed mindset is analogous to the genetic viewpoint, whereas a growth mindset resembles the environmental viewpoint. These attitudes and attributions about intelligence are not measured by IQ tests, yet have large implications for academic attainment.