Thursday, 23 January 2014

Why is intelligence seen as a gift, but hard work is praised as a virtue?


Edited summary:

The psychological attributes of intelligence and personality are usually seen as being quite distinct in nature. Higher intelligence is usually regarded a ‘gift’, bestowed mostly by heredity, or by favourable conditions.

But personality or ‘character’ is morally evaluated by others, and conscientiousness is praised as a virtue on the assumption that it is mostly a consequence of choice and effort.

So a teacher is more likely to praise a child for their highly Conscientious personality (high ‘C’) – an ability to take the long view, work hard with self-discipline and persevere in the face of difficulty – than for possessing high IQ. And even in science, where high intelligence is greatly valued, it is seen as being more virtuous to be a reliable and steady worker.

Yet it is probable that both IQ and personality traits such as high Conscientiousness are about-equally inherited ‘gifts’. Measured heritability of both are in excess of 0.5. But if imprecision of definition and measurement and random accidents were fully-eliminated from the analysis - heredity for both intelligence and personality would probably be seen as nearly total.

Rankings of both IQ and C are generally stable throughout life (although absolute levels of both will typically increase throughout the lifespan, with IQ peaking in late-teens and C probably peaking in middle age).

Furthermore, high IQ is not just an ability to be used only as required; higher IQ also carries various behavioural predispositions – as reflected in the positive correlation with the personality trait of Openness to Experience; and characteristically ‘left-wing’ or ‘enlightened’ socio-political values among high IQ individuals.

However, IQ is ‘effortless’ while high-C emerges mainly in tough situations where exceptional effort is required. So we probably tend to regard personality in moral terms because this fits with a social system that provides incentives for virtuous behaviour (including Conscientiousness).

In conclusion, high IQ should probably more often be regarded in morally evaluative terms because it is associated with behavioural predispositions; while Conscientiousness should probably be interpreted with more emphasis on its being a gift or natural ability.

In particular, people born with high levels of Conscientiousness are very fortunate in modern societies, since they are usually well-rewarded for this aptitude; while people with low Conscientiousness may find it very hard to hold down any kind of job - even when they are of extremely high intelligence.

This includes modern science and academia, where Conscientiousness is being selected-for much more more rigorously than IQ. The modern 'intellectual elite' is selected to be hard-working, productive, obedient to group norms - but it is not especially bright.

Indeed, taken overall, those ‘gifted’ with high Conscientiousness are much luckier than the very intelligent – because there are far more and better jobs for reliable and hard-working people (even if they are relatively ‘dumb’) than for smart people with undependable personalities.