elephant 003Several groups have challenged the stability of intellectual ability over time, or believe IQ can be changed. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10 year or 10,000 hour rule. He believes you don’t have to be a genius to succeed; you just have to spend 10 years working at something for 20 hours each week. This is based on work by K. Anders Ericsson. “Is Genius a Simple Matter of Hard Work?” Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2000.

Research has challenged the “10,000 hours of practice as a key to success,” however. Scientists measured the working memory capacity of pianists and found memory made quite a difference. Pianists with above average working memory accomplished more in the same amount of time than pianists with less working memory. That being the case, the total number of practice hours required to achieve is much less for people with higher intelligence.

There may have been an increase in some IQ subtest scores over decades but no uniform increase in intelligence. James R. Flynn has examined cognitive trends over time and finds that individuals are stronger in some cognitive areas than in the past. Flynn suggests that people have greater abstract ability and that this ability is influenced by experience and culture.

But if we are really smarter today, we would expect to see an increase in all IQ subtests. This is not the case. Flynn’s research is interesting and important, but it’s not relevant to The Elephant in the Classroom because here we are comparing today’s children with each other and not with children from previous generations. James R. Flynn, What Is Intelligence? Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Yep, I.Q. is for real, and ignoring it is short-sighted.