Intelligence may be deciding factor behind individual being ‘good or great’

A Michigan State University scientist has refuted a popular theory that intelligence only goes so far in determining excellence, but suggests it might sometimes be the deciding factor between good and great.

Popular theorists such as the New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell and the New York Times’ David Brooks argue that intelligence plays a role – but only up to a point. Beyond that, they say, it’s practice, practice, practice.

Hambrick agrees with the practice argument, but he takes exception to the view that intelligence plays no role in determining excellence.

In a provocative new paper, Hambrick suggested that working memory capacity – which is closely related to general intelligence – might sometimes be the deciding factor between good and great.

In a series of studies, Hambrick and colleagues found that people with higher levels of working memory capacity outperformed those with lower levels – and even in individuals with extensive experience and knowledge of the task at hand.

“While the specialized knowledge that accumulates through practice is the most important ingredient to reach a very high level of skill, it is not always sufficient,” said Hambrick, associate professor of psychology.

“Working memory capacity can still predict performance in complex domains such as music, chess, science, and maybe even in sports that have a substantial mental component such as golf.

“David Brooks and Malcolm Gladwell are simply wrong. The evidence is quite clear: A high level of intellectual ability puts a person at a measurable advantage – and the higher the better,” Hambrick’s added.

The study appeared in the research journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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