Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hope for Filipinos: Intelligence and cognitive ability CAN be improved!

Scientists have recently been exploring the possibility that intelligence may be a trait that can be improved through training. Intelligence has always been thought to be a trait one is born with. And some scientific studies even proved that it was genetic and that past efforts to improve inherent intelligence yielded temporary results at best (i.e. the subject's cognitive skills reverted back to their original levels after the effort).

Andrea Kuszewski writing for Scientific American defined intelligence as it is referred to in the findings cited here as one's...
[...] capacity to learn new information, retain it, then use that new knowledge as a foundation to solve the next problem, or learn the next new skill [...]

Considering how the flavour of intelligence defined above describes the fundamental nature of the cognitive challenges Filipinos face both collectively and as individuals when it comes to solving their many problems, these findings should be of profound interest. Filipinos are world-renowned for an ability to:

(1) mis-read otherwise familiar situations that had been history textbook cases for decades;

(2) fail to recognise subtle connections and relationships across events, ideas, and units of knowledge to form robust and systemic solutions; and,

(3) fail to grasp larger contexts as exhibited in their well-documented stunted faculty for foresight.

Kuszewski citing her own experience dealing with children who fall within "the autism spectrum" offers hope for people who suffer from an inability to to live up to their full potential as a result of their low intelligence.
These kids had a range of cognitive disabilities—my job was to train them in any and all areas that were deficient, to get them as close to functioning at the same level of their peers as possible. Therapy utilized a variety of methods, or Multimodal Teaching (using as many modes of input as possible), in order to make this happen.

One of my first clients was a little boy w/ PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Delays-Not Otherwise Specified), a mild form of autism. When we began therapy, his IQ was tested and scored in the low 80s—which is considered borderline mental retardation. After I worked with him for about three years— one on one, teaching in areas such as communication, reading, math, social functioning, play skills, leisure activities—using multimodal techniques [pdf] —he was retested. His IQ score was well over 100 (with 100 considered "average", as compared to the general population). That's a 20 point increase, more than one standard deviation improvement, by a child with an autism spectrum disorder!

Her observation of how "multimodal teaching" promises to yield lasting results was confirmed in a breakthrough insight from a 2008 study published with the title "Improving Fluid Intelligence with Training on Working Memory". The study revealed that it may be possible to increase intelligence through training. Subjects of the study were "trained on an intensive, multimodal (visual and auditory input) working memory task (the dual-n-back) for variable lengths of time, for either one or two weeks, depending on the group." The results were stunning:
Following training of working memory using the dual n-back test, the subjects were indeed able to transfer those gains to a significant improvement in their score on a completely unrelated cognitive task. This was a super-big deal.

Kuszewski highlighted the key takeaways of this research:
1. Fluid intelligence is trainable.

2. The training and subsequent gains are dose-dependent—meaning, the more you train, the more you gain.

3. Anyone can increase their cognitive ability, no matter what your starting point is.

4. The effect can be gained by training on tasks that don’t resemble the test questions.

Bottom line is that anyone given sufficient will can grow smarter -- even Filipinos! All it takes is to remember five key principles that Kuszewski came up with. These principles are listed below along with some realities about the collective character of Filipinos that work against these:

* * *

(1) Seek Novelty.

Filipinos are imprisoned by their society's comfort zones -- their repressive religion, their no-results traditions, and their deferrence to their elders' obsolete ideas.

(2) Challenge Yourself.

Filipinos prefer to measure themselves by their own self-imposed low standards rather than step up to globally-recognised international standards. This is ironic considering that Filipinos have always shown a sad inclination to copy Western lifestyles and standards of living.

(3) Think Creatively.

Filipinos are renowned for their lack of imagination. This is evident in how the Philippine economy remains sorely dependent on low-value labour-added-value industries to thrive.

(4) Do Things The Hard Way.

Filipinos are a people who are used to getting things the easy way. A culture that evolved in a tropical climate with no winter is accustomed to all-year-round abundance. As such pwede-na-yan ("that'll do") is a national philosophy that remains deeply ingrained in the Filipino psyche.

(5) Network.

So far as can be seen, the last six to eight months was a period marked by an alarming rate of degeneration in Filipinos' relationship with a powerful cultural bloc within East Asia -- Greater China.

* * *

There is hope for Filipinos. And this hope lies in science. Filipinos only need overcome its long tradition of mediocrity in the sciences to get around to developing and implementing real solutions.


  1. Intelligence and cognitive ability can be improved, but ideology is one of those things that builds the adage of the old dog.

    With that in mind, a person must be trained to take the initiative to continuously improve while they're young. Otherwise the only thing that will change such a hardened mind is adversity.

    Given that the collective Filipino mind is already close to the "old dog" stage, only the threat of its imminent demise at a particularly bad stage of adversity - and I'm talking "teetering over the goddamn brink adversity" - will be the impetus that finally gets it to actually improve.

    Of course, by then everyone else will have left him too far behind to catch up, and perhaps the old dog would choose instead to go quietly.

  2. If you are what you eat then it is equally important what you read is what you think.

  3. @Lazzo: One can also argue that susceptibility to imprisonment by ideology and dogma is also a function of intelligence. Perhaps then we may approach the challenge by addressing both intelligence and the ideological or even philosophical framework that holds Pinoys together (if, indeed, there is such a thing) simultaneously. But it seems that intelligence is the harderware and ideology the softerware. More scalable software (such as, say Mac OS) usually requires more powerful hardware, while more regimented software (such as, say, MS DOS) requires less powerful hardware.

  4. @benign0: Either way, hardware only lasts so long before they become obsolete and operating systems can no longer support them. In terms of, say, graphical capability, you'll need the latest and most expensive hardware just so your computer can be capable of something more than word processing.

    The short life in which a computer's potential is really maximized plays to the "old dog" analogy.

  5. Fair enough. Maybe Filipino brains are in bad need of some serious re-wiring.

  6. @benign0: very true, education is the key. Forget the old ones, start rewiring the young ones. Nasa kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan.