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January 25, 2012

Is school lowering your child's IQ?

By Carol Lloyd

Executive Editor 

Did you hear?  There's now cold, hard research confirming what the Dilbert set have long known: meetings make you stupid. What's more, being ranked or assigned a status within a group can have a particularly pernicious effect on our grey matter.  A new study -- led by a team of researchers at California Institute of Technology with four other institutions -- found that IQs can drop precipitously in group settings. 

In the experiment 70 people were given paper-and-pencil IQ tests. They were then divided into similarly scoring groups of five. Seated with the group, each participant was then given a second IQ test, this time on a computer. After each question, individuals would get instant feedback from the screen showing how well they were doing compared to the group as a whole and to one other individual in the group. Initially, everyone performed worse on the test. But as the test continued, some test takers managed to improve, while others continued to perform worse than they had on their paper-and-pencil IQ tests.

IQ and anxiety of influence

In the end, the IQ of the lower performing test takers (the non-improvers) dropped an average of 17.4 points.  For those of you unfamiliar with IQ scoring -- this is substantial.  Much hay is made over far lesser IQ rises and falls.  Question the whole IQ model of intelligence? Join the club.  What's notable is that these findings suggest that IQ isn't stable (as has always been thought) but deeply influenced by the social setting of the environment. 

Not surprisingly, this study is stirring up controversy in the conference rooms of America, the places where adults meet to team build, brainstorm, and make key strategic decisions.  But I couldn't help thinking about what this research meant for the places where our children go to team build, brainstorm and well, take standardized tests: the modern classroom. 

The downside of reading groups?

Watching my 12-year-old daughter struggle to figure out what she needs to concentrate gives me picture of how these principles may play out in real life.   Like many kids nowadays, she never much liked school, but she loved learning.  Her traditional but none-too-orderly classrooms in elementary school didn't capture her interest.  Mostly she complained of "annoying boys" and kids who talked, the constant interruptions, the shifting of focus. Gradually I've learned that she's a) distractible in a group setting, b) competitive, and c) a deep, conscientious learner in the right context.  I'm sure she'd be one of those test takers whose IQ plummets (right along with her mom). 

There's thinking, learning, concentrating and all of these are difficult in a classroom where personalities, rivalries, self-consciousness can impinge on the task at hand. In light of this study even the benign reading groups (each with their own ranking within the class) might lower cognitive capacities for some students. The research also calls into question the toll that competitive settings have on learning.  For some kids, it's no doubt motivating. But for some kids it's probably a distraction that deters their concentration. (I would be especially curious if this stupifying effect is worse for adolescents, who are particularly bothered by social ranking.)

Group think = intellectual funk?

The study doesn't only call into doubt the rankings of children in more traditional classrooms but certain popular assumptions of progressive education as well.  In the crunchiest classrooms, kids are forever working in groups on projects, solving problems and inventing solutions in the form of recycled metropoli and mathematical marble runs.  But if working in groups lowers some people's IQs then perhaps group work shouldn't be the primary path to improved academic performance. The study also may have implications for teaching girls and boys. Interestingly, women in the study were more influenced by the group setting -- they represented 11 of the 14 so-called low performers, while the men represented 10 of the 13 high performers. The researchers wouldn't hazard a guess as to why but one possibility is that women's heightened social awareness (yeah yeah we're trading in stereotypes but humor me, it's distracting when you judge me so harshly) --- um, um -- could be blocking the airways of concentration. 

It's just the beginning of a field of research that will continue to probe the connections between our cognitive and emotional mind.  In the meantime, it's worth wondering how many kids feel their IQs plummeting as they cross the threshold into their classrooms. 

Comments

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I wonder if you looked at the lower IQ students if you found an increase - this has long been the problem/benefit from group work as far as perceived ability: those students who would independently do poorly learn from their peers and improve their ability to do some task (comprehend text, for instance) and those who already comprehend at or above that level don't benefit from the group work (often resulting in misbehavior).

Hit the nail on the head! I am a seasoned paraprofessional; work mostly with small groups. The kids distract each other terribly. Too little discipline in classrooms these days. They have to continually 'dumb things down' for the kids who can't or won't focus. Schools so desperate for approval and funding that they practically take the tests for the kids; give them many retakes and go over wrong answers each time.
Kids get to college -guess what work is too hard-kids don't know how to study; then they simplify the work there, also, at times. We are a dumbed down nation, when we should be a disciplined, motivated people.
Another aside- sometimes there are teachers that are better than others at laying out and explaining steps in a procedure. Some teachers can actually confuse me; let alone the poor kids.

So let me see if I interpret this correctly; large groups are more distracting than small groups? Girls are more sensitive to distractions than boys?

This is NOT news.

When schools get over the "inclusion" stigma and start weeding out kids that are distracting quickly, then we will raise our learning levels.
When schools realize that class size matters, then we will raise our testing scores.
When we start expecting boys/young men to be as mature as girls/young women, then we will see more success in education.

The study makes sense, but reading this as a reason to trash inclusion seems like a totally mistaken interpretation. I think the take-away is that when we work in groups we need to have structured ways where team members contribute through their strengths and weaknesses are minimized as opposed to being allowed to take over.

The author makes a lot of joking references to meetings at works. My IQ plummets when I go to a poorly structured meeting. At their best, meetings have come up with novel solutions and quickly polished them using each team member's strength in different areas, while allowing fresh perspectives to ask questions that seem to slip "experts" minds.

In a school situation we need to do something similar. Teachers need to group students sometimes by homogeneous performance levels (when you want to really plunge into a single skill and lead the students to peak performance), but more often in a group where different members have different talents and everybody can learn from each other. This probably takes a lot more work from the teacher which in turn means you need smaller classrooms, but it benefits all students, special needs to high performers, and it more closely matches the adult world.

one thing I like to know,kids that r in specail ed and also has PTSD how do they deal or help these kids past on the test?.they have no comunication with teachers or discuse a way to single out the weak point of the child that needs more work,then at test time they send u a letter stating that ur child wont post or needs summer school.WHY THEY CANT ADDRESS THE PROBLEM. A CHILD THAT DOES HER HOME WORK AND GIVE HER WORK THAT HER MIND SET CANT NOT COMPUTE OR SOLVE THE PROBLOME THAT THE TEACHER IS GIVING THAT CHILD.HOW CAN U TELL UR CHILD THAT SHE IS NOT PASSING BECAUSE HER MATH IS LOW BUT THE TEACHERS NEVER WORK ON THE TASK AT HAND FOR THAT CHILD TO LEARN A FORMULAR TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM THAT THEY KNOWING WITH OUT THAT PART OF HER WORK WONT HAVE A CHANCE TO PASS TO THE NEXT GRADE.WHO IS GOING TO SHUT DOWN,THE TEACHER OR THE CHILD THAT WENT TO SCHOOL EACH DAY, DOES HER HOME WORK EVERY SINGLE DAY WITH OUT A HEART BEAT.MY CHILD IS GOING THREW THIS,HOW CAN I TELL HER.AND THEY GOING BY HER SCORE RECORDS,THATS THE EXCUSE.IN SPECAIL ED,PRINCIPALS NEED TO ADRESS THIS TO THE TEACHERS IF A CHILD HAS A MEMORY PROBLEM AND FIND A FORMULAR TO HELP THE CHILD TO DO MORE OF WHAT CAN HELP HER PASS THEN GIVING THEM SO MUCH HOME WORK AND WRITING TO A PARENT TO HELP HER WITH HER WORK IN WICH SHE DOES NOT UDERSTAND DO TO THE FAILAR OF HER MOMERY. THIS NEEDS TO BE ADDRESS.

It's challenging for me to think about "group work" as a monolithic strategy--particularly at a time when the solitary student (...academic, scholar, professor) is always interconnected--and always working in some sort of group--whether face-to-face, virtual, or asynchronous.

I believe in any group setting it is the atmosphere that needs to be recognized. Kids are competitive, but I believe the current situation in classrooms is that the teacher makes some kids feel "dumb" to the rest of the class bad enough that the class treats the "dumb kid dumb". There is just too much negativity in classrooms today and yes, very little control of the teachers. Perhaps it's time to sort through the teachers of tenure and get some fresh young teachers that have more patience? Greatest distraction in my son's class is the teacher yelling and sometimes sounds like she goes "postal". That is definitely not professional and not conducive to learning.

I believe, if Schools run older curriculum and do not emphasize on practical learning, as it was in before 90s' then it can surely hampers Child's IQ. Parenting is also an essential household tool to help build child's IQ

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