What Makes a Smart and Happy Kid? Q & A with Dr. John Medina
Editor's Note: Becoming a parent can be one of the most exhilarating and confounding experiences of our lives. When you have a baby, information and advice come at you from a million different directions. Everyone, including family, friends, "experts" and even marketers, have an idea about how you can best help your child thrive. We sat down and talked with Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and the author of the Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School and Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five about what science actually tells us (and doesn't) about raising a smart and happy kid.
In your book you explain that intelligence is more than IQ. What are the essential ingredients of human intelligence?
We have no idea [laughing]! IQ measures a form of something, but we actually don’t know what it measures. Some researchers believe IQ might predict nothing more than your ability to do well on IQ tests.
From the book: Given the range of intellectual abilities that exist, it is probably smart to reject a one-number-fits-all notion as the final word on your baby’s brain power.
Give us the 40,000-foot view of intelligence.
Human intelligence can be divided into two categories:
1. Crystallized intelligence: This is the ability to record information, to memorize something. There are probably 20 or 30 memory gadgets in the brain that are involved in stamping things into a database. (One of those for example is declarative memory: the brain substrates of things that you can declare openly – the third president of the United States is … )
2. Fluid intelligence: This is your ability to improvise off of those things you stored in the database by your crystallized intelligence.
The brain is the world’s best, most sophisticated survival mechanism. Our memory database plus improvisation equals our ability to learn from the past and then project into the future. For example, one day you see a big snake with red stripes and it bites you. Next day you see a smaller one, maybe even a similar different snake, and you learn to stay away. This allows us a survival advantage.
May 29, 2013 at Town Hall in Seattle
Renowned molecular biologist and bestselling author John Medina and Casey Family Programs CEO William Bell will explore the the relationship between stable families, growing brains, and a child’s ability to learn. Learn how we can ensure that all of our community’s children, including the most vulnerable kids in foster care, can overcome their educational challenges and have the stability they need to thrive.
So is IQ malleable?
IQ is a little bit like your weight, as opposed to your height … there’s enough variability in the IQ number that if you are born in a lower socio-economic strata, if you’re stressed, if your parents talk to you when you’re a baby, if they don’t, it can vary. The problem is, IQ gives you a number that is supposed to range the entire breadth of human intelligence. How can one number ever describe that? If you sit down to a beautiful multi-course dinner, can you describe it with one word?
From the book: [IQ] has been shown to vary over one’s life span, and it is surprisingly vulnerable to environmental influences. It can change if one is stressed … living in a different culture form the testing majority … is influenced by his or her family.
So is there another way of measuring intelligence?
There’s a concept called general cognition (“g”): A statistical relationship between a wide variety of cognitive gadgets in the brain. It’s a little controversial.