04 August 2009

Executive Function, Intelligence, Talent, and Grit

“I’d bet that there isn’t a single highly successful person who hasn’t depended on grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped pioneer the study of grit. “Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do.” _Globe
The linked Globe article above takes a fascinating look at "grit", the human trait of setting goals and persisting in finding a way to achieve the goals against all obstacles. The successful application of grit is virtually indistinguishable from well-tempered "executive function."
Goal-setting, planning, organizing, attending, sequencing, problem-solving, and self-monitoring are all aspects of something called "executive function." This part of our cognition is primarily housed in the frontal lobes of the brain. _Examiner
Executive function (EF) has been found to be at least as important to life success as a person's IQ. Some overlap exists between EF and IQ, but they are not the same thing.

Given the significant heritability of both EF and IQ, one might be excused for believing that mental talent is largely innate. But it is impossible to separate genes from environment. Much "innate talent" is never developed. And sometimes sheer energy and persistence can compensate for shortcomings in innate talent.
We are not a world cruelly divided between the innately-gifted and the destined-to-be-mediocre. Rather, every human being is a reservoir of talent waiting to be successfully tapped.

"Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake," declared the 19th century American philosopher William James. "...We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources." _Genius Blog
It is certainly not true that a person can do anything he wants to do -- particularly a person with an IQ less than 90 and poor executive function. But persons of lesser intelligence may accomplish significantly more than a person of greater intelligence -- if they learn to set goals, and have the grit and imagination to reach the goals despite obstacles.

If the K-12 educational system taught nothing else but goal-setting and grit, the quality of its graduates would improve immensely over the tremendous underachievement currently seen.

It is quite possible, however, that grit and EF can be better taught at home by parents, or by playing videogames or role playing games, than by attending school. It is quite possible that generations of Americans living before mandatory schooling were significantly grittier than subsequent generations who were confined indoors several hours a day with age-cohorts, at the mercy of the "pedagogy du jour".

The demographic trend of US and Canadian society is quite clear. European ethnicities are declining, and non-European ethnicities are growing via immigration and differential birthrates. If we do nothing to increase the EF and "grit" of non-European residents, it is unlikely that the US and Canada will be able to field the talent necessary to fully bridge the gap between the age of scarcity and the coming age of technology fueled cornucopia. East and South Asians have demonstrated high skills in science, technology, and commerce / industry -- but the majority of new immigrants are from elsewhere. Their innate talents do not measure up to those of their European predecessors or their Asian co-immigrants.

If the limits of innateness are to be overcome, a prodigious amount of effort must be expended by many areas of society, including schools, families, popular media, and other facets of mainstream culture. Without that effort, the limits of innateness will be impossible to ignore and disregard.

It is too early to tell how successful we may be with improved methods of imparting grit and EF, along with better ways of teaching competencies and knowledge. We have a long way to go on all fronts. But we should have gotten started correcting these shortcomings long ago, if we wanted to reverse some quite catastrophic trends.

We need technologies that allow us to accomplish these things without the help of Education Departments, and teachers' unions. Those vested interests care only for power and bureaucratic longevity. They make our jobs harder, for all the resources wasted on them. It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate our own grit.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice Post

Tuesday, 04 August, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

technology for grit? How about a little something called work instead of relying on a government to feed, clothe, and house its people. No reason for grit when one does not do the nitty gritty work

Tuesday, 04 August, 2009  
Blogger kurt9 said...

I thought there was a reason why I read your blog. This is quite nicely put.

Tuesday, 04 August, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Oh yes, one cannot stress how important grit - and leadership - are in getting anything accomplished!

Nice post.

Wednesday, 11 August, 2010  

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