Center Based on the Premise that Anyone Can Become Smarter Opens at Yale University

A new center that challenges the traditional view that people are born with a certain intelligence that is fixed throughout their lifetime is opening at Yale University with over $7 million in research grants and contracts.

A new center that challenges the traditional view that people are born with a certain intelligence that is fixed throughout their lifetime is opening at Yale University with over $7 million in research grants and contracts.

The Yale Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise (PACE), based within the Department of Psychology, has as its mission changing the way the world looks at intelligence.

“The IQ test is too narrow and too fatalistic. Anyone can get smarter, whether you are at the bottom or the top, and we have studies that show it,” said Robert Sternberg, IBM Professor of Psychology and Education, and director of the center. “We would like to help develop schools that work for all kids, not just those with good memory and analytical abilities. And the abilities are multiple. There are three aspects of successful intelligence - analytical, creative and practical.”

(Dedication of the center will be held February 19 beginning with a colloquium at 4 p.m. by Professor Endel Tulving of the Rotman Research Institute on “What Kind of Intelligence Does it Take to Build a House of Intelligence?” in Davies Auditorium. A ribbon cutting at the new center at 340 Edwards Street will follow at 6 p.m.).

The theory of successful intelligence, which was pioneered by Sternberg, maintains that people excel in different areas, and that abilities, competencies and expertise in any of the three areas of analysis, creativity and practicality are intertwined and can be enhanced at any time over the course of a person’s life.

“Abilities are and must be measured as developing competencies, which in turn can be transformed into various forms of developing expertise,” Sternberg said. “Abilities, then, are incipient forms of developing expertise. As a result, abilities as well as the competencies and expertise that develop from them are flexible and modifiable in nature.”

The center at this time includes about two dozen researchers, members from around the world, and research grants and contracts from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, the U.S. Army Research Institute, and the W. T. Grant Foundation.

One grant will fund a three-year project to test and refine a “balance theory of wisdom” in a group of adolescents. “The balance theory of wisdom holds that people who are wise use their intelligence for a common good by balancing their interests with the interests of other people and institutions,” Sternberg said. “You can get people who are smart, but just use it to help themselves get ahead. They are smart but not wise.”

The students exposed to this theory will be tested later against students who were not instructed in wisdom to see which group arrives at solutions to life problems that better embrace the common good.

Other research projects include: applying the theory of successful intelligence along with technology in improving science instruction; multi-site testing comparing the effects on student achievement of instruction based on Sternberg’s theory as compared with conventional instruction; studying how leadership skills are acquired; studying effective teaching of leadership skills; testing a computer program to score essays in competency tests rather than the current subjective grading; studying what it means to be gifted at different times in one’s life; working in a charter school in California based on the theory of successful intelligence to evaluate the efficacy of the theory; and a grant to study how to provide an atmosphere in schools that fosters intelligence.

“We want to have an impact on science education and society in terms of people’s understanding of what abilities are and that they are modifiable,” Sternberg said. “Our mission is scientific research and education, but we also have a societal mission. We can work with schools and people to help improve instruction in schools, assessment in schools, and identification of what it means to be smart.”

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