The Great Secret

My entire childhood I felt as though everyone other than me– parents, teachers, other students– were all in on some great secret. Once I grew older, and started challenging assumptions about myself and the world, I started to realize that it was *I*, who in fact, was in on the great secret. The great secret is that there is no great secret. There is no secret formula, secret gatekeeper, secret key to universal success. While some people in a position of authority and expertise may act as though they are in on the secret, they aren’t. We are all just trying to make our own meaning out of this world, and there are many paths to fulfillment. Once I realized this, it freed me up to explore the world on my own terms. It was one of the most freeing realizations of my life. Thought I’d share the secret.

Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success

Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success

 Tim Kautz, Baster Weel, James J. Heckman, Lex Borghans, Ron Diris, Lex Borghans

This paper reviews the recent literature on measuring and fostering cognitive and non-cognitive skills. IQ tests and achievement tests do not adequately capture non-cognitive skills—personality traits, goals, character, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many other domains. For many outcomes, their predictive power rivals or exceeds that of cognitive skills.

Evidence from the General Educational Development (GED) testing program in the United States shows the importance of non-cognitive skills. The GED is an achievement test which dropouts can take to certify that they are equivalent to secondary school graduates. The program is based on the widely held belief that tests capture the important skills learned in school. On the surface, the program is successful. Based on test scores, GED recipients are just as smart as high school graduates. When it comes to outcomes that matter, such as college completion and labor market success, GED recipients perform much worse in the labor market and in a variety of other life domains than traditional secondary school graduates. Achievement tests like the GED do not adequately capture valuable non-cognitive skills. This evidence should cause policymakers to think twice about relying on achievement tests to evaluate the effectiveness of educational systems.

Reliable measures of non-cognitive skills are available, and they are discussed in this paper. In developing any measure of non-cognitive skills, it is essential to recognize that all measures of skill are based on performance on some task. Traditional personality tests are based on the performance of the task of self-description. Performance on any task depends on multiple skills as well as the effort expended on it. Effort, in turn, depends on the incentives offered to exert the effort to perform the task. Since all measures of cognitive and non-cognitive skill are measures of performance on some task, it is necessary to standardize for incentives, effort, and other skills that determine performance on the task in measuring any skill, yet this is rarely done in conducting skill assessments. Standard measures of cognitive skill have been shown to be sensitive to incentives and levels of other skills. Test scores for young children can be improved by one standard deviation by offering candy for correct answers. The responsiveness to incentives in turn depends on a child’s levels of conscientiousness. Using measured behaviors to capture non-cognitive skill is a promising approach that has been shown to be empirically effective. Such measures are available in administrative data that are collected routinely by schools and government agencies.

Skills are stable across situations with different incentives, although manifestations of skills vary with incentives. Though stable at any age, skills are not immutable traits that are set in stone over the life cycle. They have a genetic basis but are also shaped by environments, including families, schools, and peers. Skill development is a dynamic process. The early years are important in shaping all skills and in laying the foundations for successful investment and intervention in the later years. During the early years, both cognitive and noncognitive skills are highly malleable. During the adolescent years, non-cognitive skills are more malleable than cognitive skills. The differential plasticity of different skills by age has important implications for the design of effective policies.

This paper reviews a variety of interventions targeted to different stages of the life cycle. We interpret all of the studies we examine within an economic model of skill development. While it is difficult to compare different interventions because they are often multifaceted and target different populations, nonetheless, four conclusions emerge.

First, the evidence base is larger on the long-term effectiveness of interventions that start in early childhood and elementary school compared to their adolescent counter- parts. Many evaluations of early programs measure a diverse set of outcomes and have follow-ups lasting more than 20 years. Evidence on adolescent interventions is more scarce. Follow-ups for them are typically shorter and fewer outcomes are analyzed over shorter horizons. For this reason, we can draw stronger conclusions about the long-run efficacy of early programs and how they work.

Second, when evaluating skill enhancement programs it is vital to consider outcomes other than IQ or achievement test scores. Only interventions that start long before kindergarten begins have been shown to have long-term effects on IQ. If IQ were the only measure of success, most intervention programs would seem futile. Using a diverse set of outcomes presents a more optimistic point of view. Many early programs improve later-life outcomes, even though they do not improve IQ.

These programs work because they foster non-cognitive skills. Some have annual rates of return that are comparable to those from investments in the stock market. Parental involvement is an important component of successful early interventions just as successful adolescent mentoring is an age-appropriate version of parental involvement.

Third, the available evidence suggests that the most successful adolescent remediation programs are not as effective as the most successful early childhood and elementary school programs, although adolescent mentoring and the provision of information can be very effective. Building an early base of skills that promote later-life learning and engagement in school and society is often a better strategy than waiting for problems to occur. Prevention is more effective than remediation if at-risk populations are sufficiently well targeted.

Fourth, adolescent remediation is possible for children who grow up in disadvantaged environments in their early years. The available evidence suggests that the most promising adolescent interventions are those that target non-cognitive skills as well as programs that offer mentoring, guidance and information. Many adolescent programs that focus on academic skills or temporarily change a participant’s environment are only successful in the short run although the short-term results can often appear to be spectacular. Workplace-based programs that teach non-cognitive skills appear to be effective remedial interventions for adolescents. They motivate acquisition of work- relevant skills and provide for disadvantaged youth the discipline and guidance which is often missing in their homes or high schools. Successful interventions at any age emulate the mentoring and attachment that successful families give their children.

Skills enable people. They are capacities to function. Greater levels of skill foster social inclusion and promote economic and social mobility. They generate economic productivity and create social well-being. Skills give agency to people to shape their lives, to create new skills and to flourish.

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STUDY ALERT: ‘Old wine in new bottles’? Relationships between overexcitabilities, the Big Five personality traits and giftedness in adolescents

‘Old wine in new bottles’? Relationships between overexcitabilities, the Big Five personality traits and giftedness in adolescents

Wiesława Limont, Joanna Dreszer-Drogorób, Sylwia Bedynska, Katarzyna Sliwinska, Dominika Jastrze ̨bskaa

This study examined the relationship between types of overexcitability (OEs), Big Five dimensions, and giftedness. A sample of intellectually gifted adolescents (N = 132) and controls (N = 103) completed the OEQ-II and the NEO-FFI. As hypothesized, the gifted scored higher than controls on intellectual OE, imaginational OE, and openness to experience but lower on neuroticism. Contrary to expectations, group- related differences were found for sensual OE, but not for emotional OE. Moreover, SEM analysis showed that giftedness moderated the relation of OEs with openness and extraversion. The relations between sensual OE and openness as well as between psychomotor OE and extraversion were stronger in the gifted than in controls. Relationships between sensual, intellectual, imaginational OEs and extraversion turned out to be significant only in the controls.

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STUDY ALERT: Thinking positively: The genetics of high intelligence

Thinking positively: The genetics of high intelligence

Nicholas G. Shakeshaft a, Maciej Trzaskowski a, Andrew McMillan a, Eva Krapohl a, Michael A. Simpson a, Avi Reichenberg a,b, Martin Cederlöf c, Henrik Larsson c, Paul Lichtenstein c, Robert Plomin a,⁎

High intelligence (general cognitive ability) is fundamental to the human capital that drives societies in the information age. Understanding the origins of this intellectual capital is important for government policy, for neuroscience, and for genetics. For genetics, a key question is whether the genetic causes of high intelligence are qualitatively or quantitatively different from the normal distribution of intelligence. We report results from a sibling and twin study of high intelligence and its links with the normal distribution. We identified 360,000 sibling pairs and 9000 twin pairs from 3 million 18-year-old males with cognitive assessments administered as part of conscription to military service in Sweden between 1968 and 2010. We found that high intelligence is familial, heritable, and caused by the same genetic and environmental factors responsible for the normal distribution of intelligence. High intelligence is a good candidate for “positive genetics” — going beyond the negative effects of DNA sequence variation on disease and disorders to consider the positive end of the distribution of genetic effects.

Investigating psychotic traits in poets

Neuroscience and education: myths and messages

Neuroscience and education: myths and messages

Paul A. Howard-Jones

For several decades, myths about the brain — neuromyths — have persisted in schools and colleges, often being used to justify ineffective approaches to teaching. Many of these myths are biased distortions of scientific fact. Cultural conditions, such as differences in terminology and language, have contributed to a ‘gap’ between neuroscience and education that has shielded these distortions from scrutiny. In recent years, scientific communications across this gap have increased, although the messages are often distorted by the same conditions and biases as those responsible for neuromyths. In the future, the establishment of a new field of inquiry that is dedicated to bridging neuroscience and education may help to inform and to improve these communications.

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STUDY ALERT: Autism as a disorder of prediction

Autism as a disorder of prediction

Pawan Sinhaa,1, Margaret M. Kjelgaarda,b, Tapan K. Gandhia,c, Kleovoulos Tsouridesa, Annie L. Cardinauxa, Dimitrios Pantazisa, Sidney P. Diamonda, and Richard M. Helda,1

A rich collection of empirical findings accumulated over the past three decades attests to the diversity of traits that constitute the autism phenotypes. It is unclear whether subsets of these traits share any underlying causality. This lack of a cohesive conceptualization of the disorder has complicated the search for broadly effective therapies, diagnostic markers, and neural/genetic correlates. In this paper, we describe how theoretical considerations and a review of empirical data lead to the hypothesis that some salient aspects of the autism phenotype may be manifestations of an underlying impairment in predictive abilities. With compromised prediction skills, an individual with autism inhabits a seemingly “magical” world wherein events occur unexpectedly and without cause. Immersion in such a capricious environment can prove overwhelming and compromise one’s ability to effectively interact with it. If validated, this hypothesis has the potential of providing unifying insights into multiple aspects of autism, with attendant benefits for improving diagnosis and therapy.

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STUDY ALERT: Functional brain networks contributing to the Parieto-Frontal Integration Theory of Intelligence

Functional brain networks contributing to the Parieto-Frontal Integration Theory of Intelligence

Andrei A. Vakhtin, Sephira G. Ryman, Ranee A. Flores, Rex E. Jung

The refinement of localization of intelligence in the human brain is converging onto a distributed network that broadly conforms to the Parieto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT). While this theory has received support in the neuroimaging literature, no functional magnetic resonance imaging study to date has conducted a 18 whole-brain network-wise examination of the changes during engagement in tasks that are reliable measures of general intelligence (e.g., Raven’s Progressive Matrices Test; RPM). Seventy-nine healthy subjects were scanned while solving RPM problems and during rest. Functional networks were extracted from the RPM and resting state data using Independent Component Analysis. Twenty-nine networks were identified, 26 of which were detected in both conditions. Fourteen networks were significantly correlated with the RPM task. Fourteen networks were significantly correlated with the RPM task. The networks’ spatial maps and functional connectivity measures at 3 frequency levels (low, medium, & high) were compared between the RPM and rest conditions. The regions involved in the networks that were found to be task related were consistent with the P-FIT, localizing to the bilateral medial frontal and parietal regions, right superior frontal lobule, and the right cingulate gyrus. Functional connectivity in multiple component pairs was differentially affected across all frequency levels during the RPM task. Our findings demonstrate that functional brain networks are more stable than previously thought, and maintain their general features across resting state and engagement in a complex cognitive task. The described spatial and functional connectivity alterations that such components undergo during fluid reasoning provide a network-wise framework of the P-FIT that can be valuable for further, network based, neuroimaging inquiries regarding the neural underpinnings of intelligence.

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