Intelligence: theories, routines and other concerns

What CWRU is really teaching

Abby Armato

I sit in Cognitive Science 101 and focus on not crying. Not because of a grade-determining test or the possessed stuffed squirrel our professor uses to draw our attention back to her. No. I am fighting back tears because she has just taught us about three different cognitive scientists’ approaches to intelligence.

The first is a very benign approach determined by IQ. I may not be brilliant, but I think Monsieur Binet would consider me intelligent from his perspective. The next deals with multiple capacities of intelligence such as linguistic, musical, spatial, logical-mathematical, etc. Mr. Gardner’s approach is even better than Binet’s IQ because he gives me multiple chances to label myself as intelligent.

But my trouble is with the third perspective, Mr. Sternberg’s theory of goal-directed adaptive behavior. Sternberg wants to define intelligence by our ability to survive. Survival, in his mind, requires that we effectively deal with new tasks, plan, create categories, draw inferences and create routines. And here is where the tears start welling up. I have realized that, by Sternberg’s theory, I am not intelligent because I struggle to create new routines.

This problem with the routines was not always apparent to me. But really, how could it be? I had lived my conscious life in the same suburb, surrounded by the same people, directed by the same parents. There was no need for variation or change. And yes, high school happened and that was a big deal, but I had the same 145 kids from my junior high, the same neighborhood to drive through every morning and the same house, room and family to come home to every night. Because even my “biggest” transition was so marginal, I did not have to deal with forming a new routine or plans or tasks on a major scale. So here I am in college, forced with the seemingly impossible task of carving out a new reality in Cleveland.

The first couple of days, I was doing alright. I could convince myself that I wasn’t really in college, just in an elaborate summer camp. The heat, strangers and spirit did not suggest otherwise. Even in the first week of classes, as grueling as that felt, I kept the truth at bay: I am not studying in a library three hours a night because of college; I am doing it to build character!

But the more of home I forgot, the more I was forced to leave my comforting lie. Leaving the cave and facing the light brought on a series of emotions that oddly resemble the five stages of grief. The old summer camp in lieu of college trick exemplifies a classic case of denial. The anger set in shortly into the second week when I decided to rebel against the man and watch Moulin Rouge instead of doing homework. Bargaining came more in the form of asking for one more plate of pasta at dinner in exchange for never-bothering-you-again-sir-I-swear. Following that episode was a series of bad choices that led me to six scoops of ice cream, half a box of Reese’s puffs and three bowls of rice. For the sake of argument, we will call that depression.

But what about that promised fifth step? Surely Kubler-Ross has not promised me the relief of acceptance if it will never come. That is just poor sportsmanship. tells me that, while it will never be okay, “This stage is about accepting the reality… and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality.” Great.

Do you know what accepting a new and permanent reality requires, Routines. Do you know what I have never created for myself on such a large scale before? Routines. Do you know what’s holding me back from that third and final perspective of intelligence? Exactly.

The struggle is real.

I curl up on my mattress, the extra-super-thin edition, and consider this whole routine debacle. My mind begins a series of pro-tips like pacing yourself, especially when it comes to sitting in KSL for hours and hours and hours.

Another one is yes, Starbucks is great but no, not being able to fall asleep until 4 a.m. due to espresso is not so great. My personal favorite: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. That rule is a big one, especially for sleep.

In this list of silly rules and limits, I come to the unfortunate realization that, from here on out, I will always be forced to create new routines. Every time something changes, a job, a home, a relationship, a new schedule to life would be needed. These immense amounts of changes require an immense amount of time to adjust.

It has been a mile-long, uphill battle. In the snow. Both ways. I keep striving to find a routine following my pro-tips and advice from anyone who sits around long enough to hear me complain. Admittedly, I will probably continue to tear up every time Sternberg or his frustrating perspective is mentioned in casual conversation. But as Babs as my witness, I vow to figure out how this routines thing works and make Sternberg proud.

Abby Armato is a first-year student currently majoring in English and anthropology. When she is not freaking out about impending adulthood, she enjoys various strokes of creativity, determination, and passion.