A new view on understanding intelligence

Following my recent article on IQ tests and how they work, I found this week’s New Scientist article very interesting! Adrian Owen, senior scientist at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, has an interesting new view on understanding intelligence. Along with Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist, he has compounded a list of different cerebral abilities which should better describe intelligence. Instead of IQ, which as we have seen is not always a very good measure, they have divided the brain into the sections it uses for specific things. From this idea the 12 pillars of wisdom as they call it are born – 12 tests that probe different areas of intelligence and reasoning.
The pillars are:
– Visuotemporal working memory
– Spatial working memory
– Focused attention
– Mental rotation
– Visuospatial working + strategy
– Paired associate learning
– Deductive reasoning
– Visuospatial processing
– Visual attention
– Verbal reasoning
– Verbal working memory
– Planning
Each one of these tests encompasses a different ability. As a whole these tests should help us understand intelligence and brain power. Why some people who have a great mind can use it in other subjects, whilst others are simply focused on one skill? Jack of all trades or master of one?

The tests are actually quite complex and interesting. You can participate in the “ultimate intelligence test” on the website at bit.ly/9M6NaP and help the researchers measure these 12 pillars of wisdom on a large scale. They will publish the analysis in the near future, hopefully making the definition of intelligence a little clearer. The whole article is also really worth a read, on the New Scientist website (you have to register to access the full article but it’s free).


13 thoughts on “A new view on understanding intelligence

  1. One needs a science degree to work out how this 'comment' facility works??? Obviously as there's been no comments my yesterday's one failed …LIKE ME!!!

    Posted by Anonymous | November 2, 2010, 8:42 am
  2. Ah-HA!!! It worked this time!!! Carol xxx

    Posted by Anonymous | November 2, 2010, 8:43 am
  3. bit.ly/9M6NaP doesn't work!!!

    Posted by Anonymous | November 2, 2010, 2:02 pm
  4. OK so how do I do it? Are there questions to be answered? I must have less than one pillar, I can't even find the test!

    Posted by Anonymous | November 2, 2010, 3:08 pm
  5. Where's the test, Roger?

    Posted by Anonymous | November 2, 2010, 4:36 pm
  6. Look…. I've just found the real address for the test that I couldn't find a few minutes agohttp://cbstrials.com/Open/Default.aspx?B_ID=279

    Posted by Anonymous | November 2, 2010, 4:42 pm
  7. Sorry about that, both links seem to be working though! enjoy the test!

    Posted by Natasha Agabalyan | November 2, 2010, 4:48 pm
  8. There's some problems in your web page when trying to login to the test. Is there some restrictions for passwords in the registration form? I failed to register with a complex password but a simple password worked better.The test was interesting. I have some comments:0) I'm not sure but I think that one of the tests didn't accept all mouse events correctly.1) Does the language make some of the tests much harder to perform? (I don't usually speak, read or write english.)2) It is quite easy to do wrong clicks if your hands move slower than your thoughts.3) The nineth test had an inadequate description. I guess there was not mentioned that 'the left bars may not be empty in the final solution' and '…the number is blocked and cannot be moved, when… (i.e. although it's just a picture, it has "normal" physical restrictions)'.4) The black background irritated my eyes. For example it was harder to see whether some triangle had equal angles (white triangles on a black background). Was this the intention?5) The 12th test had unclear description. I failed it totally, because I didn't know how to choose the correct pairs although I knew where they were.6) Each test could have one correct visual example so that it will not be unclear how to proceed the tests.7) How difficult is it to improve those abilities (or 'the pillars of wisdom')? Is there some specific training how to make them better?

    Posted by Anonymous | November 13, 2010, 9:15 pm
  9. The 12th test. So a gray ball is not an item?

    Posted by Anonymous | November 13, 2010, 11:37 pm
  10. HeyIndeed some valid comments…. I didn't set the test so I can't certify to the difficulties in it working or the descriptions of the different tests but yes I do agree that some of the explanations weren't totally clear.It's a very new idea so I'm sure it's a work in progress and the people working on it would probably appreciate the feedback. You can find the website of the researcher by tipping Dr Adrien Owen into google.

    Posted by Natasha Agabalyan | November 14, 2010, 4:40 pm
  11. As a Psychologist who deals with psychometric and intelligence testing, Anon. Here's my input. 1) Does the language make some of the tests much harder to perform? (I don't usually speak, read or write english.)- yes this is something that has to be taken into consideration if the test is of verbal intellience. However in the world of psychology there are non-verbal tests that can get around this, but again culture has to be considered (e.g. if asked to draw something, would someone from anothe culture draw it the same and therefore get full marks?)2) It is quite easy to do wrong clicks if your hands move slower than your thoughts.Reaction time is a common element in intelligence/psychometric testing – not necessarily a problem but a measure of your processing abilities7) How difficult is it to improve those abilities (or 'the pillars of wisdom')? Is there some specific training how to make them better? The more frequently you do intelligence/psychometric testing the better you naturally become. It's like people who've played video games for their whole lives – they naturally know that you have to (for example) press the button, run to the left, duck under something not obvious etc because they've learnt the common things to look for. Hence why people tend to be getting "more intelligent" as generations go by – but this importantly does not actually show increased intelligence. It's a very difficult point to answer in the world of psychology because we can see the flaws in these tests and yet we don't know how to improve them as these tests are really important to our work! Hope that helpsLauren

    Posted by Lauren | March 28, 2011, 3:14 pm
  12. Thanks for that Lauren! Some Psychology questions that I didnt know much about, so that helps the reader I hope!xxxx

    Posted by Natasha Agabalyan | March 28, 2011, 4:52 pm

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About me

Natacha is a research scientist and a lover of all things science! She love finding out interesting facts about all aspects of life, whether it’s how genetic engineering works or what the difference between crimped and straight hair is. There’s a bit of science behind every mystery and the Science Informant will help find the clues for everyone to enjoy and understand the amazing world of science!

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