Intellect – is it all in your head?

Intellect – is it all in your head?

If you tell a child from birth that they are bright, clever, and gifted it is likely that they will grow up believing it and acting that way. For the rest of their lives, this belief acts as a foundation to their confidence which will be prominent as a result.

So, is it the same in reverse? If we tell ourselves we aren’t very clever – is it true?

Raymond Cattell developed the concepts of psychometric profiling and the ability to understand and measure personality traits (those elements of behaviour that we are born with). One of his most famous tools was the 16pf, which he created by looking at the 17,000 words in the English dictionary that describe personality and then grouping them into factors. He whittled them down to 16 primary factors (16pf), which he believed illustrated how people come across to others.

One of the factors was intellect. Cattell believed that intellect is a primary factor in a person’s makeup and that by measuring it, we can begin to build a picture of what that person is like. Over time, Cattell learned that a person’s intellect is a calculation of the ‘speed’ at which they absorb, retain, and process information. So, he removed intellect from his psychometric questionnaire (renamed 15pf) because he believed that if an intellect test is not timed, it does not provide a true picture of a person’s intellect.

However, the view that intellect is a primary factor in defining someone’s personality stayed with Cattell. He put intellect back into his questionnaire, but unlike before, this time it was to enable people to measure their own intellect and belief of their intellectual capacity. He made up a word for this – Intellectance – one’s confidence or belief in one’s intellect. He developed and published the personality questionnaire 15fq+.

So, are intelligence and inner confidence or belief linked? Well, most people would say not innately. But the concept of Intellectance suggests that people can develop a greater belief in their intellectual capability. Clever people receive feedback - people tell them they are clever from a young age, they get top marks at school and always seem to know the answer. All this supports a greater level of confidence in their intellect and the ability.

In contrast, consider someone not so obviously bright in school. Maybe labelled by family, friends, and teachers as lazy or slow. The impact of such labelling is understandable on their confidence.

Research undertaken in the US tested this labelling and the impact on confidence. They tested a group of children to establish their intellectual level and split them into high and low intellectual performers. The high performers were told they were actually in the lower performing group for a task and vice versa; at the end of the test, the children were tested for intellect again. The original low performers fared considerably better than they had on their first test, while the high performers scored lower.

Challenging research but an interesting and revealing experiment. Looking at all the data and research, it is possible to consider that our belief systems are hugely important to support our development and to enhance our intellectual capacity and skill – it is all in our head! People who believe they are clever, will do things that clever people do and get results in spite of their tested intellectual ability.

So, the next time you are in a situation where you think (in your head) or wish out loud, you were more intelligent, remember Intellectance. You can be as clever as you believe yourself to be; you can be as clever as you tell yourself you are; you can be as clever as you choose to be.

Sally is the Founder of LifeBuddy. She is an Organisational Development consultant and is a Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology.