University Scholar Exploration Series – Intelligence

Each semester, University Scholars engage in small-group discussion seminars called “Exploration Series.” University Scholar James Felderhoff ‘17 is a junior aerospace engineering major who participated in the Intelligence Exploration Series seminar this semester. Throughout the semester, Scholars benefitted from the expertise of guest lecturers like Dr. Lisa Geraci, associate professor of psychology, who shared how stereotypes affect performance, and Dr. Fredrick Nafukho, department head of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development, who gave an interactive presentation on emotional intelligence. In this post, James shares the difficulties of forming a single definition of intelligence.

By James Felderhoff

Intelligence has and always will be a large discussion among humans as we strive to quantify everything. Everyone knows what intelligence is and recognizes it when we see it. However, it may be one of the most difficult ideas to measure because of the immense diversity in which it can be found. Who is considered intelligent? A doctor? A lawyer? An engineer? A musician? A plant? A robot? Someone who can crunch numbers or play Beethoven’s 5th symphony? If they can do one but not the other, are they still intelligent? It all depends on how you define intelligence, which is exactly what we attempted to do in the Intelligence Seminar this semester.

We first began with trying to give a concrete definition of intelligence. However, we quickly realized that there are simply too many types of intelligence to incorporate into one distinct definition that fits them all. As a result, we decided to look at how we could measure intelligence to see if that would help. We took the Wonderlic IQ test used by the National Football League [presented by Dr. Arnold LeUnes, psychology professor], listened to a speaker on how schools found “gifted” students [Dr. Joyce Juntune, instructional associate professor of educational psychology], and even spoke with an expert on artificial intelligence [Dr. Tracy Anne Hammond, director of A&M’s Sketch Recognition Lab]. Yet they all calculated intelligence differently.

Dr. Joyce Juntune, left, shared the challenges and merits of gifted education with the Intelligence seminar. James Felderhoff pictured third from left.
Dr. Joyce Juntune, left, shared the challenges and merits of gifted education with the Intelligence seminar. James Felderhoff pictured third from left.

However, they all agreed on one thing: They were only trying to measure a specific type of intellect, not intelligence as a whole, and they realize that their tests have faults. The Wonderlic test wanted to find those that could think and decipher quickly, the schools looked for who could learn quickly, and artificial intelligence focused on communication and the functions of the body that humans do naturally without thought, such as reading people’s emotions. The separate tests rarely overlap, yet they all study intellect.

Once we figured out that we cannot give a single definition to intelligence and cannot measure it except in bits and pieces, we decided to look at how/if it changes. For this we looked at memory. We had an expert in false memory [Dr. Steven Smith, psychology professor] come in to speak about how our minds often trick us into remembering something that did not happen. For example, he gave us the Spider Test. We looked at a list of words related to a spider that did not include the word spider and were told to memorize them. After a certain time the list was taken away and we were told write the words we remembered. Most of us wrote the word spider. Are we intelligent for making the correct association to a spider or “dumb” for remembering it on the list when it was not?

As the semester came to a close, we realized that there was no way for us to define intelligence, at least, not in a single, concise, overlaying definition. So we decided on this conclusion: There are multiple types of intelligence and they can all be measured in different ways, to a degree. While we “know” what intelligence is, we could not tell you. It is something everyone has to figure out on their own for now.

Applications for University Scholars open Monday, January 25. For more information on University Scholars and how to apply, please see:


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