Multiple Intelligences


I had to laugh the other night as I watched University challenge. It was London University of the Arts against Imperial College (again, London). As Paxman went through the team, they recounted studying Photography, Painting, Drawing and I almost thought I heard colouring in.

Then Paxman turned to Imperial College. These students were studying fuel cell technology, physics, theoretical physics and medicine. I thought the Arts students looked almost abashed and downcast as this litany of scientific intellect was reeled off.

I must admit, I figured it might be a forgone conclusion until the questions started firing. The trouble is, Science students don’t do current affairs, read ancient literature or modern classics. Instead, they spend all hours in lectures or lab. So, I’m ashamed to say, the Arts wiped the floor with them -215 to 95. Yes, there were flashes of brilliance when asked a techy question but otherwise they were just out of their element.

It reminded me that the appearance of intellect, erudition is context dependent. It’s asking the right questions. Pub quizzes favour those who watch day time TV and soaps and who have an unhealthy interest in football and celebrities. So, don’t expect to do well if you don’t fit into that category.
The multiplicity of intelligence was recognised many years ago by people like Howard Gardner. He recognised that IQ tests only looked at a narrow range of factors – constituting academic intelligence. Indeed others have shown that IQ is not in fact fixed or innate either – scores can be increased very significantly (like 30%) with some training and education. That’s no surprise; parents have been cramming their kids through these types of reasoning exams for entrance to Grammar schools and Independent schools for years. They get better at them with practice.

So, people can seem stupid or slow when they’re in unfamiliar territory. That’s normal. The good news is, a bit of training and the right context may make you look like a star. Sadly, there’s no cure for day time TV.