Incremental Theory Of Intelligence Vs The Entity Theory Of Intelligence. Does Enhanced Learning Increase intelligence Over Time ?


I recently took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE ) as I planned to pursue a PhD part time in Financial Engineering at a university though many of my friends questioned the sanity of my decision. I was a bit appalled when I saw my quantitative score was a seventy percentile in comparison to my quantitative score of ninety+ percentile when I took the same exam twenty four years back. No wonder much to my disappointment I was not accepted into the PhD program which placed a high onus on a very high quantitative score in the GRE exam. I was confounded by the question If my quantitative skills really declined with age. I really doubted that possibility and attributed my bad quant score due to the vagaries of the GRE exam.

I acknowledge I put little effort into preparing for the exam than how I prepared twenty four years back and interestingly my verbal score also showed a marked decline in terms of the percentile droppings not as glaring as the drop in my quant scores. From my point of view I look at these tests GRE, GMAT and SAT as aptitude tests and by default you fall into a certain score bracket and a little bit of practice and luck can push you into the higher bracket. As these tests test your aptitude the assumption would be your score should remain the same irrespective at what age you take the test. In my case the theory was debunked and was in marked contrast to the oft repeated Entity Theory of Intelligence and gives more credence to the Incremental theory of Intelligence.

Here we go what really are these two theories of Intelligence? In social and developmental psychology, an individual’s implicit theory of intelligence refers to his or her fundamental underlying beliefs regarding whether or not intelligence or abilities can change, developed by Carol Dweck and colleagues.

Researchers have identified two different mindsets regarding intelligence beliefs. If you believe that intelligence and ability are fixed and unchangeable, then you subscribe to the entity theory of intelligence. However, if you think that you can accumulate intelligence through hard work and effort, then you subscribe to the incremental theory of intelligence. People who believe this incremental (or growth) theory “don’t necessarily believe that anyone can become an Einstein or Mozart, but they do understand even Einstein and Mozart had to put in years of effort to become who they were. They are more concerned with actual learning than just appearing intelligent. They are not afraid of making errors, while people who believe the entity theory are primarily concerned with preserving the appearance of their competence.

Individuals may fall on some spectrum between the two types of theories, and their views may change given different situations and training. By observing an individual’s motivation and behavior towards achievement, an individual’s general mindset regarding intelligence is revealed. About 40% of the general population believe the entity theory, 40% believe the incremental theory, and 20% do not fit well into either category.


Well after understanding what the Entity theory of Intelligence and Incremental theory of intelligence I was wondering which theory I really subscribe to? In a way I believe both theories have compelling arguments. Entity theory of intelligence takes more of a defeatist attitude and totally negates the role of hard work in enhancing ones intelligence. As much I think Entity theory has a point where it points out a person’s intelligence remains constant the incremental theory emphasizes the role of hard work in enhancing intelligence. Now I don’t agree here, I see it this way if you put some effort in learning something or getting better at something you get more knowledgeable but not intelligent. Here’s the caveat say two people with same level of intelligence put in the same amount of effort towards learning a specific skill do they both end up with higher intelligence not really? They become more skillful and knowledgeable in the area they focused on and a person with higher intelligence may become more knowledgeable with less effort and vice versa. This brings the oft repeated quote Genius is 1% percent Talent and 99% Hard work into focus which again I partly degree and to do justice to both the theories of intelligence I would say its fifty fifty.

So how do we answer the more important question if enhanced learning increases intelligence over time? I don’t take any recourse to any theories to answer this question. I believe we don’t become more intelligent with age we only become more knowledgeable with age. This is more in tune with the Entity theory of learning. The added knowledge and experience we accumulate as we age may make us feel we are better equipped to confront life’s challenges in contrast to how we would have dealt with a similar situation earlier on in our life. In the end it’s every ones individual decision how to utilize their innate potential in terms of their intelligence to use it wisely and channel it in the right direction to enhance their knowledge in tune with their intelligence.

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RS is a deep thinker. His hobby is to analyze and reanalyze. Out of a passion to analyze he started this blog

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