MacArthur fellowships are often called “genius grants,” and grant-winners tend to be unusually motivated, passionate and forward thinking. But are they geniuses? The annual conversation that ensues raises questions about what it means to be intelligent and whether that’s something that can be cultivated, measured or even defined.
Despite decades of research into how different brains work, experts said, there are no easy answers. Scientists now know that there are multiple types of intelligence. There’s a strong genetic component to certain aspects of intelligence. And scores on intelligence tests are tightly linked to school performance, future income level, health and more.
“The field is just fraught with controversy after controversy,” said Randall Engle, a psychologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “There are group differences all over the place in intelligence measures and that just adds to the controversy. It’s hard for the field to come to grips with what’s understandable about this in the midst of all this craziness.”