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COVID-19 Has Taught Us What Intelligence Really Is

The characteristics of real-world problems are entirely different from the characteristics of problems on standardized tests. Standardized test problems are mostly multiple choice or short answer and have a right or wrong answer. Real problems require extended answers; there is no perfect answer, and sometimes, not even a very good one. Standardized test problems are decontextualized, emotionally bland and have no real-life stakes. Real-world problems are highly contextualized, emotionally arousing and may have high stakes. Standardized test problems are solved quickly and then you are done; real-life ones often take a long time and, after you think you have solved them, often come back.

In our current research at Cornell, we are measuring people’s adaptive intelligence both at a micro level and at a macro level. A micro-level problem might concern an interpersonal issue, such as how one deals with two friends who are fighting and both expect you to take their side. A macro-level problem might deal with two nations who are having a dispute over shared water resources, where one nation is accused of taking more than its fair share of water. Solutions are free response and are scored for the extent to which they seek a common good — balancing the interests of the various parties over the long as well as the short term — through the use of positive ethical values (such as acting toward others as you wish them to act toward you).


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