Friday, April 29, 2011

That IQ Research

I am sure that Steve Sailer is more thorough and more clever in reviewing the IQ research reported yesterday, but I am disciplining myself to do this without assistance.

The quote at the end of the article tells you what you need to know about the rest of the research. This is where she wanted to go all along:
Instead of limiting ourselves to narrow standardized tests, we might seek as well directly to assess motivation as well as creativity, practical skills, wisdom, and even ethics. If we did, we might find our society advancing to levels of economic productivity and, for that matter, well-being that we previously believed to be out of reach.
Yes, and boo'ful kitties as well.

I have little doubt that the study tells us a little something, but not quite what Duckworth thinks. That motivation influences scores is rather obvious, but perhaps it does need to be studied and teased apart a bit. Here's the thing: high motivation doesn't raise one's score much, but low motivation can certainly depress it. Thus, when the films are reviewed for sign of ebbing interest, they are picking up the losses. If one transfers thinking about this over to athletics, my statement about motivation becomes clearer. A good athlete, with training, he might cut as much as minute off his time in the mile run. If motivated by a coach, a drill instructor, a competitor, or a corny movie, might cut 10, 20 seconds off his best time during that training, especially at the beginning. And that's it.

But a less good athlete can lose a lot more than a minute by being unmotivated. He can slow to a jog, or even a walk, completing the task only for politeness or because others are yelling. In fact, it will usually be the less good athletes who do this, and the poor athletes most of all. The bad singers will get quieter, try to turn invisible, not show for practice. Unskilled artists will try to just get out with a dashed-off sketch. People like succeeding at things, and so keep doing things they are good at. Things they aren't good at, they will focus on less, unless there is some other draw - social, monetary, guilt.

This is surprising? Is this the great new knowledge in understanding IQ scores, that the kids with 120 IQ and above will fight for every point, while the kids at 85 may blow off subtests they are particularly bad at and drop to 81?

It seems a strawman that Duckworth is arguing against, that there were people who viewed IQ tests like a Sorting Hat, a smart-o-meter that reads your brain wand the dial hits a number installed at birth? Has she met such folks? There are people who take the stability of IQ more seriously, much more seriously, than Duckworth does, and have evidence to back it up. She hasn't dented their view with this.


Texan99 said...

It does seems a little obvious, doesn't it? Who hasn't known any highly intelligent slackers? Who hasn't noticed that people are a lot smarter about intellectual tasks when they have some skin in the game? Bored students don't learn well. Students who respond to the pleasure of learning, or the rewards of praise from teachers or parents, will make the best of whatever brains they were born with. Other students may not get engaged until they see some practical advantage. I really enjoyed one of the episodes of "The Wire" in which some alternative-methods teachers taught the kids about probabilities by showing them how to win big in street craps games: the kids' brains fired right up. Bailey White claimed that kids are naturally nuts about maritime disaster stories, and therefore would learn to read twice as fast on primers about the Titanic. My own experience tells me that boredom makes me very stupid.

It also should come as no surprise that some combination of motivation and intelligence is a good predictor of life success. Motivation is another way of saying "not lazy," for one thing, and for another, it's a way of saying "tuned in to some degree to what people around me care about," which should figure heavily in my chances of having a good job instead of a jail cell.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would be even more extreme. I think that topics such as maritime disasters would encourage children to learn to read...about 5% faster. And strategies such as The Wire - about the same. I think the external motivation is fleeting, the internal motivation related strongly to what one is already wired to be be good at.

Circumstances can change this, certainly. People have the experience of moving to a new culture and finding themselves a local sensation for displaying a skill that is quite average back home. Hell, everyone where I come from can do that. This suggests that the parental or cultural pressure to at least meet local expectations - graduating HS, shooting a gun, sewing a bit - can have significant value even for children you have to drag through the experience. It gives a basis for cultural comparison and understanding as well.

But in the main, motivation follows skill.

Texan99 said...

You're certainly right that the more skilled we are, the more motivated we are to pour ourselves into something. There can be reasons, though, for motivation to break down in someone with lots of natural talent, even if motivation won't do much to make up for lack of talent. I'm agreeing that an improvement in motivation is most likely to have a big impact where there's a great deal of talent -- where there's a great mismatch between motivation and talent, in other words.