We Overvalue Intelligence

We Overvalue Intelligence

In “We Overvalue Intelligence,” David Brooks explores the nuanced fate of individuals labeled as gifted in childhood through an engaging blend of social science research and personal reflection. He sheds light on the journey of highly intelligent children, whose lives are often presumed to be a straightforward trajectory of success due to their cognitive abilities. However, the reality is more complex. While intelligence can indeed correlate with significant educational and professional achievements, it doesn't guarantee fulfillment or an obstacle-free path. Brooks invites you to reconsider the emphasis society places on raw intelligence, suggesting that there are other equally vital traits that contribute to a well-rounded and meaningful life. You are challenged to reflect on the broader implications of this often singular focus on intellectual prowess. Have you ever wondered what happens to those exceptionally bright kids you may have known from school? You know, the ones always acing their tests without even trying, or who seemed to have a talent for everything from math to music. Do these gifted children go on to enjoy unequalled success throughout their lives, powered by their undeniable brilliance? Or do they, perhaps, face unique challenges navigating a world that doesn't always know what to do with them?

Understanding Giftedness

What Does It Mean to Be Gifted?

Before delving into whether we overvalue intelligence, it's crucial to clarify what being “gifted” entails. Gifted children typically exhibit high capabilities in intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership areas. This often translates into scoring in the top percentiles on intelligence tests, showing remarkable problem-solving abilities, and grasping complex concepts at a young age.

How Is Giftedness Identified?

Giftedness can be identified through a variety of means. Standardized tests such as the IQ test are common, but they aren't the only method. Educational professionals also consider academic , creativity, and social skills. A comprehensive evaluation usually includes:

  • IQ Tests: Scores in the top 1–2% can indicate intellectual giftedness.
  • Achievement Tests: These tests evaluate knowledge and skills in specific academic areas.
  • Teacher Evaluations: Often, subtle qualities like curiosity and motivation are flagged by educators.
  • Parental Input: Parents typically provide insight into a child's emotional resilience and creative propensities.

The Role of Intelligence in Success

What Do Studies Show?

Social science has long been intrigued by the trajectories of gifted individuals. One of the most renowned investigations into this area is Lewis Terman's “Genetic Studies of Genius,” begun in the 1920s. Terman followed 1,521 highly intelligent children over several decades. By the 1950s, two-thirds had become college graduates—an impressive figure, especially when compared to the average population.

The Modern Perspective

More recent studies provide similar conclusions. For example, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth tracks students who score in the top 1% on intelligence tests, focusing on verbal, mathematical, and spatial intelligence. This data pinpoints nuanced differences, acknowledging that various types of intelligence may lead to success in different ways. High IQ tends to correlate with better educational outcomes and, more moderately, with higher income levels.

Table: Correlation of Intelligence with Success

Study Name Sample Size Key Finding
Terman's “Genetic Studies of Genius” 1,521 Two-thirds became college graduates
Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth Varies Strong educational attainment; moderate income rise

The Case for Overvaluing Intelligence

Social Expectations

It's almost universally accepted that high intelligence is an indicator of potential success. This belief shapes societal expectations, educational practices, and even corporate hiring policies. High IQ individuals are often perceived as future leaders, innovators, and key contributors to fields like science, medicine, and technology.

Disregarding Other Forms of Intelligence

However, this focus on traditional cognitive skills may overshadow other crucial forms of intelligence. Emotional intelligence, social skills, and practical intelligence are often undervalued despite their significant contributions to personal and professional success. For instance, high emotional intelligence can lead to better interpersonal relationships and job satisfaction, areas that pure intellectual prowess might not guarantee.

Table: Types of Intelligence and Their Importance

Type of Intelligence Description Importance
Traditional IQ Cognitive skills, problem-solving abilities Academic and professional achievements
Emotional IQ Understanding and managing emotions Social interactions, mental health, job
Practical Intelligence Street smarts, ability to adapt to new situations Real-world problem solving, everyday successes

The Challenges Gifted Children Face

Social Isolation

One of the most significant challenges for gifted children is social isolation. Their advanced intellectual capabilities can set them apart from their peers, making it difficult to form close friendships. This often leads to feelings of loneliness and social alienation.

Unrealistic Expectations

Being labeled as “gifted” can create immense pressure. These children are often placed on pedestals, with adults expecting continuous high performance. Such expectations can lead to stress, anxiety, and in some cases, mental health issues.


Surprisingly, some gifted children struggle academically despite their high intelligence. This phenomenon, known as “underachievement,” can occur for various reasons—lack of motivation, boredom with the school , or poor organizational skills.

We Overvalue Intelligence

What Happens If We Overvalue Intelligence?

The Consequence of Narrow Focus

Overvaluing intelligence can create an environment where other essential skills are overlooked. This narrow focus can result in a lack of balanced education, where emotional and social development is neglected. Gifted children might grow up intellectually advanced but emotionally immature.

Society’s Missed Potential

When society narrowly emphasizes IQ, it might miss out on nurturing talents in other vital areas. A child with exceptional creative abilities or leadership skills might not receive the same opportunities for growth and development as their “smarter” peers.

Table: Potential Negative Impacts of Overvaluing Intelligence

Impact Description
Emotional Neglect Overlooking the importance of emotional intelligence and social skills
Career Mismatches Pushing individuals into paths unsuited for their broader skill set
Early Burnout Heightened stress and anxiety due to unrealistic expectations

Supporting Gifted Children Holistically

Emotional and Social Development

Ensuring the well-being of gifted children requires balancing academic challenges with emotional and social development. Parents, teachers, and advisors should foster environments where these children can develop strong interpersonal relationships and coping mechanisms.

Encouraging Diverse Interests

Supporting gifted children also means encouraging diverse interests. If a child shows a proclivity for the arts or sports, those interests should be nurtured alongside academic pursuits. This well-rounded approach can help prevent burnout and underachievement.

Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs can bridge the gap between intellectual and emotional development. Having a mentor who understands both the child's gifts and challenges can provide invaluable guidance. Mentors can help these children navigate social complexities, academic pressures, and career planning.

Table: Strategies for Holistic Support

Strategy Benefits
Emotional Development Enhances resilience, reduces stress, improves social interactions
Diverse Interests Prevents burnout, encourages a balanced life, fosters overall growth
Mentorship Programs Provides guidance, emotional support, and career advice

We Overvalue Intelligence

Conclusion: A Balanced Perspective

In a society that often elevates intelligence above all else, it's crucial to remember that giftedness isn't just about high IQ. While intelligence undoubtedly plays a role in success, it isn't the sole determinant. Emotional intelligence, creativity, social skills, and practical intelligence are equally important. A well-rounded approach to nurturing gifted children can pave the way for a balanced, fulfilling life.

So, as you ponder the paths of those exceptionally bright kids, remember that true success is a mosaic of many talents and abilities, not just intellectual prowess. By valuing all aspects of a child's development, you can help ensure they grow into well-rounded, happy adults. After all, intelligence may open doors, but it's the person behind that intelligence who truly walks through them.

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