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The Concept of Intelligence in Cross-cultural Perspectives
[1] One of the positive outcomes from so much research on the relationship between culture and intelligence is an expanded view of what intelligence may be, and how it may be conceptually related to culture. This issue is intricately intertwined with cross-cultural research on intelligence because one of the possible confounding factors in previous studies that documented cultural differences has been cultural differences in the very concept and meaning of intelligence.

 [2] Researchers in this area have discovered that many languages have no word that corresponds to our idea of intelligence. The closest Mandarin equivalent, for instance, is a Chinese character that means “good brain and talented”. Chinese people often associate this concept with traits such as imitation, effort, and social responsibility. Such traits do not constitute important elements of the concept of intelligence for most Americans.

 [3] African cultures provide a number of examples. The Baganda of East Africa use the word obugezi to refer to a combination of mental and social skills that make a person steady, cautious, and friendly. The Djerma-Songhai in West Africa use the term akkal, which has an even broader meaning – a combination of intelligence, know-how, and social skills. Still another society, the Baoule, uses the term n’glouele, which describes children who are not only mentally alert but also willing to volunteer their services without being asked.

 [4] Because of the enormous differences in the ways cultures define intelligence, it is difficult to make valid comparisons from one society to another. That is, different cultures value different traits (their definition of “intelligence”) and have divergent views concerning which traits are useful in predicting future important behaviors (also culturally defined). People in different cultures not only disagree about what constitutes intelligence but also about the proper way to demonstrate those abilities. In mainstream North American society, individuals are typically rewarded for displaying knowledge and skills. This same behavior may be considered improper, arrogant, or rude in societies that stress personal relationships, cooperation, and modesty.

 [5] These differences are important to cross-cultural studies of intelligence because successful performance on a task of intelligence may require behavior that is considered immodest and arrogant in Culture A (and therefore only reluctantly displayed by members of Culture A)but desirable in Culture B (and therefore readily displayed by members of Culture B). Clearly, such different attitudes toward the same behavior could lead researchers to draw inaccurate conclusions about differences in intelligence between Culture A and Culture B.

 [6] Another reason it is difficult to compare intelligence cross-culturally is that tests of intelligence often rely on knowledge that is specific to a particular culture; investigators based in that culture may not even know what to test for in a different culture. For example, one U.S. intelligence test contains the following question: “How does a violin resemble a piano?” Clearly, this question assumes prior knowledge about violins and pianos – quite a reasonable expectation for middle-class Americans, but not for people from cultures that use different musical instruments.

 [7] Our expanding knowledge about cultural differences in the concept of intelligence has had important ramifications for our theoretical understanding of intelligence in mainstream American psychology as well. Although traditional thinking and reasoning abilities have dominated views of intelligence in the past, in recent years psychologists have begun to turn their attention to other possible aspects of intelligence. Until very recently, for example, creativity was not considered a part of intelligence; now, however, psychologists are increasingly considering this important human ability as a type of intelligence. Other aspects of intelligence are also coming to the forefront. A psychologist has suggested that there are really seven different types of intelligence: logical mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. According to this scheme, not only do the core components of each of these seven types of intelligence differ, but so do some sample end-states (such as mathematician versus dancer). His theory of multiple intelligences has broadened our understanding of intelligence to include other areas besides “book smarts”.

 [8] Perhaps the field is coming to realize that intelligence in its broadest sense may be more aptly defined as “the skills and abilities necessary to effectively accomplish cultural goals”. If your culture’s goals, for example, involve successfully pursuing a professional occupation with a good salary in order to support yourself and your family, that culture will foster a view of intelligence that incorporates cognitive and emotional skills and abilities that allow for pursuing such an occupation. Those skills and abilities may include deductive reasoning, logical thought, verbal and mathematical skills – the sorts of skills that are fostered in contemporary American culture. If your culture’s goals, however, focus more on the development and maintenance of successful interpersonal relationships, working with nature, or hunting and gathering, intelligence will more aptly be viewed as the skills and abilities related to such activities.

 [9] On one level, therefore, people of all cultures share a similar view of intelligence – a catchall concept that summarizes the skills and abilities necessary to live effectively in one’s culture. At the same time, however, cultural differences naturally exist because of differences in how cultures define goals and skills and abilities needed to achieve those goals. Future research will need to delve into these dual processes, searching for commonalities as well as differences across cultures and exploring what contextual variables affect intelligence-related behaviors, and why.

 [10] Awareness of cultural differences in intelligence raises difficult questions concerning testing and the use of test scores. Should bias in testing be eliminated at the expense of the predictive validity of the test? Many educational institutions and business organizations today face this difficult question, which is compounded by legal ramifications and the constant threat of litigation. Perhaps we need to give consideration to yet another aspect of intelligence – that is, our attitudes regarding intelligence. A cross-cultural understanding of differences in the definitions and processes of intelligence should help to deepen our appreciation and respect for cultures different from our own, and help us to find similarities as well as differences among people.
 [1] “启蒙”的本义是开启蒙昧,识字读书,明白事理。在中国古代,人们从小要接受“蒙学”,才能成为有教养的人,否则就是“教化未开”。据说,早年被启蒙到了什么程度,决定其日后可达到的智力高度。

 [2] 同样,人类社会从传统向现代转型的过程,也与启蒙相伴随;没有启蒙就没有现代化。

 [3] 然而,作为现代话语的“启蒙”,却源自于近代西方。在人类历史上,近代启蒙思想和启蒙运动首发于17世纪后期的英国,后传播到法国、德国等欧洲国家,波及北美,19世纪后期又影响到日本、中国等亚洲国家。

 [4] 正是由于西方有了洛克、斯密、伏尔泰、卢梭、狄德罗等启蒙思想家,才有了之后欧美的工业革命、市场经济和宪政体制。在中国,自晚清时期出现近代启蒙思想后,中国知识分子在“救亡图存”的背景下,借助西方近代思想,改造中国传统文化,塑造新型国民,引发了洋务运动、戊戌变法、新文化运动等。特别是在当代,1978年关于“实践是检验真理的唯一标准”的大讨论,极大地解放了人们的思想,带来了之后“改革开放”的巨大成果。由此,思想的力量可见一斑。

 [5] 长期以来,人们对于启蒙运动有一种误解,认为那是先知先觉的知识分子和哲人启发、教育、训导被启蒙者,因而“启蒙”成了及物动词,其宾语是未开化的芸芸众生。其实,根据现代启蒙思想家康德的解释,启蒙的本质不是“他启”而是“自觉”,即人们从由自我原因的不成熟状态(在缺乏指导下无力运用自我理性的状态)中觉醒,其根源并非是人们缺乏理性,而是缺乏对理性的运用。

 [6] 这种真知灼见至今闪烁着理性的光芒。

 [7] 在西方,启蒙思想的支撑源于人们对于客观规律的认知,如哥白尼的“日心说”、牛顿的“万有引力”、伽利略的“宇宙论”等,认为整个宇宙中的一切物体都遵守同一定律,进而冲破千年的宗教束缚,将这一理性思考引入了人类社会,从而开创了一个不断进取的新时代。在中国,几千年的封建农业社会,使得科技落后、法治传统缺乏,只是受到近代西方启蒙思想(包括马克思主义)的影响,才引入了科学、民主、法治的概念,开始与世界文明接轨。

 [8] 在这一历史大潮中,中国现在比历史上任何时期都更接近中华民族的伟大复兴。正如“一带一路”被越来越多的国家认识到不是中国的独角戏,而是沿途民族的大合唱,每个中国人对于客观与主观世界的深刻、自觉的理性开发,最终将汇集于前所未有的“中国梦”的实现。


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