How Smart Are You - Answer Carefully
Flickr photo by Alberto
Do you think you are pretty intelligent? If you don't think
so, perhaps you should start thinking differently. In fact, as
reported in past issues of the Brainpower Newsletter, how you
answer the question of how smart you are can actually affect
Yes, you read that correctly. Your belief or even your pretense
that you're smarter can affect intellectual performance. In Malcolm
Gladwell's book Blink, there is this interesting bit of
Two Dutch researchers did a study in which they had groups
of students answer forty-two fairly demanding questions from
the board game Trivial Pursuit. Half were asked to take five
minutes beforehand to think about what it would mean to be a
professor and write down everything that came to mind. Those
students got 55.6 percent of the questions right. The other half
of the students were asked to first sit and think about soccer
hooligans. They ended up getting 42.6 percent of the Trivial
Pursuit questions right.
Gladwell points out that there was no evidence that the subjects
in the "professor" group knew more than the ones in
the "soccer hooligan" group. They were simply in a
different state of mind due to the little exercise in imagination.
That was interesting enough, and confirms the idea that how we
think about ourselves affects how we think period. But there
is also another study he discussed in the book:
The psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson created
an even more extreme version of this test, using black college
students and twenty questions taken from the Graduate Record
Examination, the standardized test used for entry into graduate
school. When the students were asked to identify their race on
a pretest questionnaire, that simple act was sufficient to prime
them with all the negative stereotypes associated with African
Americans and academic achievement--and the number of items they
got right was cut in half.
Fascinating... and sad too. Gladwell's comment:
As a society, we place enormous faith in tests because
we think that they are a reliable indicator of the test takers
ability and knowledge. But are they really? If a white student
from a prestigious private school, gets a higher SAT score than
a black student from an inner-city school, is it because shes
truly a better student, or is it because to be white and to attend
a prestigious high school is to be constantly primed with the
idea of "smart"?
How intelligent are you? Probably more so than you realize,
but how you think about and answer the question makes a difference.
I'm not going to suggest that you start standing in front of
your bathroom mirror and saying "I am smart." Affirmations
may work to some extent, but as I have said before, evidence
is more convincing than affirmation.
So why start assuming that you are pretty sharp mentally,
if you do not already assume this. Then you can start to look
for examples of when you had a good idea, or solved a problem
efficiently. You'll find them, and that will put you in a different
state of mind, which will change your mind in subtle ways.
If you already consider yourself to be pretty smart, you can
take the next step and read our page on how
to become a genius. To work on the underlying physical basis
for intelligence, see the pages on brain
exercises and brain
For more of the latest brain research and ways to become smarter,
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