Measuring Non-Standard Forms of Intelligence

UCLA professor Mike Rose from “The Meaning of Intelligence,” a conversation with Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith, August 26, 2010:

It's like we have a ruler that is very precise for half of its width or length. Right? I'm interested in those folks that don't do well on those kinds of tests, that don't do well on the standard IQ test or don't do so well on the SAT test, let's say. What I want to know is what they know that's not being reflected in that test.

Or another angle on it is, I want to find out more about what didn't happen in their educations that made them do poorly on that test or in their life experience.

So let's take the IQ test…If someone does well on an IQ test, that certainly tells us something, right? They've got some smarts; there's no doubt about it.

But think of the folks who might not do so well on those kinds of tests because they didn't have a lot of formal schooling — and everybody admits that there's a direct correlation between amount of formal schooling and how well you do on tests like that. There's an intimate connection between those two things. So they didn't have a lot of formal schooling. They haven't had a lot of experience taking those kinds of tests.

They also don't invest as much in them. Those of us who have been through a ton of schooling, we've been socialized to know that when one of those things appears in front of us, we better try our damnedest to do well on it.

So there's all kinds of reasons through which we can explain somebody not doing so well on a test like that, reasons other than some intellectual deficiency. So then I say I'm interested in, well, gee, what happens when we go out into the worldwith this person and we watch them work, let's say, or we watch them raise kids, or we watch them figure out how to make their way through the day or some complicated social relationships. What emerges that bespeaks of intelligence? What goes on right under our noses that bespeaks of some kind of smarts?

So the plumber who reaches up inside of the wall of an old building where he cannot see and he can only feel, and through feeling around the structures in there, feeling the rust, feeling moisture if there's any, feeling the way the thing is structured, he's visualizing what's back there that he can't see and then bringing a knowledge base to bear on trying to figure out what the problem may be. Think of what a complex set of mental operations are involved in that.

Or the hairstylist who is presented with someone who comes in and they have a botched dye job, let's say. And the stylist — and this woman said this to me when I was watching her work — she said, "The first thing I asked myself was what was that previous stylist trying to accomplish?" So what an interesting question to ask.

And what an interesting problem-solving road that takes her down. Now those kinds of things are not going to be picked up on an IQ instrument. They're not structured to get to that stuff. But those are certainly manifestations of intelligence.