Archive for the ‘The Human Mind’ Category

I recently stumbled across an online discussion between mainly HR professionals who were responding to the question why some people can’t work as part of a team.

Responses seemed either to assume that it was because the individual in question was an introvert, or because they didn’t want their weaknesses to be found out, or because they were a narcissistic personality.

I decided to put the record straight on the first point straight away. I have never seen anything in any serious literature on psychology or personality types that suggests that a person can’t work as a team member just because he/she is an introvert. I suspected that commenters were making the common mistake of confusing introversion with shyness, and explained what energizes different personality types. If HR professionals really believe this stuff, it actually would explain a lot.

With regard to people with specific weaknesses, those that I have personally observed in the workplace love to bury themselves in the concept of “the team” because it means that their own particular camouflaged hole is less visible. Production and workload belong to “the department”, therefore they do not have to be accountable when they are not pulling their own freight. As a more productive member of the team I frequently found myself having to step in and pick up parts of their workload when they fell behind, and this to them was normal and natural and anything else would have marked colleagues who became fed up with it and would have preferred to let them take the rap for it from the boss as “not being team players” in a fantastic 180 degree twist. Bosses are usually the last to find out for this reason.

As for narcissists, they are too good at their own personal PR campaigns to allow themselves to be seen in such a negative light. A narcissist would never allow himself to stick out like a sore thumb. What they actually do is to form cliques. You as their colleague are then either in or out of the clique. They cosy up to the boss, spinning him or her a yarn, while creating conflicts among colleagues. If you, as their colleague, happen to find yourself on the outside of the clique, then YOU become the one who is visibly isolated and “not fitting in”.

Most people want to contribute to the overall group effort, to have their voices heard and their ideas taken on board – even we hard-to-fit pieces who are a little “different”. There are very few true total recluses, and I doubt that they would end up working for an organization in the first place.

So it is not the lone wolf who is the threat to the team – cliques are.

It takes firm leadership from managers to notice what is going on and who is instigating it, and to act appropriately to ensure that everyone is being included and their contributions valued.

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A popular criticism levelled at the high IQ community is that they have “no social skills”. Well, then the question must be asked: what exactly do the everyday folks mean by “social skills”? And do they even know themselves?

I was discussing with my partner the other day about how I have encountered people completely moving the goalposts on what I was taught from an early age was correct social behaviour.

I feel that my family of origin did an adequate job of teaching me the rules of human engagement: remembering one’s P’s and Q’s, waiting one’s turn, how to greet or address people formally or informally, correct table manners, waiting to be offered things instead of loudly demanding them, etc.

Before I was formally identified as being a high-functioning Aspie, I would have vehemently denied a lack of social skills, and to be perfectly frank, I’m not sure I buy it now.

Here are some examples:

1. Let’s say Mary and I have been talking alone in room (it doesn’t matter what about). Susan enters and says hi. I can almost guarantee what will happen sooner or later. The conversation might very briefly go from a two-way encounter to a three-way encounter while basic pleasantries are being exchanged.

However, at some point, the conversation will switch to being between Mary and Susan, with me listening on the sidelines. By the time I realise I have been left out, the Mary/Susan exchange will be too far down the road to easily find an entry point back in. It’s almost as if from Mary’s point of view, I would do as a conversation partner if there is no one else there, but just as certain particles form stronger bonds with certain other particles and weaker ones with others, the preference to chat only with Susan wins out.

They are both rude: Mary for turning all her attention to Susan, and Susan for not realizing that she had taken over an existing conversation. I was brought up to realize that excluding someone and monopolising the conversation were rude. However, it seems the way that all the hypothetical Marys and Susans I’ve encountered think that it’s up to you to just keep making your presence known, however you do that.

2. A group of people at a gathering invite me to come and join them. (Perhaps they all know each other much more than they know me.) However, once seated in their circle, they endlessly talk about people known to them but not to me, or about sports I do not follow, TV shows I do not watch, places I haven’t visited, or aspects of popular culture about which I know nothing.

Where I grew up, only talking about subjects about which another person present knows nothing, and therefore cannot participate, was considered impolite. The person who simply barged their way into the conversation was considered crude.

But I’ve been in similar situations where members of the group have eventually commented, “You’re very quiet,” or even made a remark like, “You’re boring, you don’t say anything!” In other words, these people’s entire purpose of inviting another there is not to include that person and put them at their ease, but an expectation that the invitee will provide entertainment value.

Again, these people seem to think that it is simply up to you to push your way into the conversation and join in somehow, anyhow, just for the sake of making your presence known.

3. At a gathering where I do not know anyone, I enter a room full of people whose conversations are already in full swing. I try to catch someone’s eye or look for a friendly face, hoping that I won’t be completely invisible to the other people and spend the evening in the kitchen.

This is very rude, both on the part of the host and other attendees. I was taught that if you invite someone, you welcome them when they arrive and introduce them to the other guests. Yet here’s the 180 degree switcheroo most people these days run on you – they seem to expect YOU to do the approaching, and if you haven’t gotten the attention of the group and won them over within a couple of minutes, again, you’re deemed to have “poor social skills”.

However, in all cases, rather than realize their own manners are lacking, people choose to place the onus on the person who is getting left out.

A recent exchange of letters in a London free newspaper illustrates this same phenomenon perfectly, where a pregnant woman wondered why so few commuters offered her a seat on the Tube. As expected, there were all the usual replies along the lines of, “If you need a seat, just ask,” and “You’re pregnant, not mute.”

As far as I’m concerned, if someone is obviously pregnant, injured, ill or otherwise more needing of a seat on the train or bus than most, and no fellow traveller is offering a seat, there must be something wrong with those remaining seated: either with their eyesight, their thinking processes, or their manners. Perhaps that pregnant woman felt as I would: she would grit her teeth, hold on, and hope no one would elbow her bump, rather than risk being ignored or refused by the people she asked, while other passengers stared at her for speaking up.

Instead of being a clear-cut set of methods of conduct which can easily be taught, it is perceived that you either have this Ingredient X or you don’t – which leaves the door wide open for the crude steamrollering of those who were brought up with traditional, old-fashioned manners.

My partner says it sounds like a case of poor breeding on the part of all the people concerned in the scenarios above, rather than poor social skills on my part.

So, just how is Joe Public defining social skills, if basic “manners” will not do?

It’s hard to figure out exactly, and that uncertainty in pinning it down to a set of behaviours and attitudes that can be precisely defined and delineated makes things quite hit-and-miss.

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Here is Sternberg’s definition of intelligence: “I define [intelligence] as your skill in achieving whatever it is you want to attain in your life within your sociocultural context by capitalizing on your strengths and compensating for, or correcting, your weaknesses (personal communication, July 29, 2004).”

There are obvious flaws in defining intelligence purely in terms of performance in the person’s current environment.

Here is an example to illustrate the point. Two people start at a McJob (we won’t speculate on why, as it will get in the way of the explanation). One is of average intelligence, while the other is of above average intelligence. It would be fairly safe to assume, everything else being equal, that the one of above average intelligence will learn the ropes more efficiently than the other one, and achieve a basic level of competence more quickly.

However, once both have achieved a certain necessary level of competence, it is unlikely that a significantly superior level of job performance will be seen in the above average employee. The duties of the job simply don’t allow that extra intelligence to be expressed in any meaningful way. If that employee started attempting to apply his/her superior intelligence to a situation where it was unwarranted or unwelcome, it is likely that he/she will end up getting into wrangles with colleagues or management.

Therefore, the environment itself didn’t give sufficient scope for that person’s full potential to be expressed. If we link his/her performance to such an environment, then we are never going to see the full picture in terms of the person’s capabilities.

Now we take the above average individual and put them on a highly technical project where their intelligence is fully capitalized on, and their capabilities are really stretched. (The average person put on the same project may struggle and take much longer to learn what to do.) These new circumstances are capable of giving a much more realistic picture of what the person can do.

However, not all highly intelligent people find themselves, for one reason or another, in an environment where they can be most productive in terms of their gifts.

I have already written at length elsewhere on this blog how my education came to be messed up, and I tried numerous things in an attempt to discover my true calling in life, which may have been interesting at the time, but didn’t move me forward in terms of what is traditionally regarded as successful. I didn’t discover my interest in neurotechnology research until I was almost 40, and I have been advised not to take the lengthy academic route into this field, but to simply do whatever I can to get a foot in the door careerwise. Although I have stirred up quite a bit of interest, in some quarters, with my activities and writings, nothing so far has materialized into a job offer, and I continue with my pay-the-bills job. I guess Sternberg would consider I am “average”, despite my unrewarded abilities.

My mother had the smarts and the drive to become a lawyer, but by the time she realized that was what interested her in life, she had already had my elder sister. As she was also supporting a sick husband, in England in the 1950s there was no support available for a wife and mother who was also the family breadwinner to train and enter a professional career. So she continued working as a legal secretary, a vocation which I am sure never reflected the best of what she could have been given appropriate opportunities. I guess Sternberg would consider she was average, too, despite her obvious ability to think.

And how about Dr. Celia Green, a prococious youngster whose early academic promise was derailed by a downright oppositional head teacher, and whose subsequent opportunities were never quite enough to push her into the senior academic position she craved? (Strangely, she has never answered any of my emails, despite their supportive nature; either she never received them, or she regards me as a competitor, rather than a potential sponsor or useful pair of hands to forward her own project.)

Whether or not the “intelligent unrewarded” can change that environment to something more personally desirable is not a useful measure either, because like it or not (and as I hope my examples above illustrate), most of the possible obstacles are not neat problems with neat solutions but are tied up in that most random of random variables – other people. Faced with overwhelming opposition from all sides, it doesn’t matter how brilliant you are, or how brilliant your ideas are. (Wealth, credentials and the right connections, interestingly enough, often go a very long way toward changing their minds.)

How meaningful, then, is Sternberg’s definition, and how could we rework it so it encompasses ability whether or not reflected in appropriate levels of opportunity?

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Ever since I can remember, the boundaries between the senses were not clear cut. I had no reason to think about or identify this as a discrete phenomenon, mention it to other people or give it a label as a small child – it was simply the way my perceptions worked. The first time it was actually brought to my attention was when a friend of the family was visiting, and he asked my mother and me if, when we thought of a certain letter, a colour came to mind. We said we did, and had fun comparing our various colour alphabets.

Because two members of the same household as well as this family friend all apparently experienced some form of synaesthesia, I didn’t realise until recently what a rare condition it actually is. Researchers estimate that anywhere between 1 in 200 and 1 in 2000 people experience the world in this way.

Recently, I volunteered to participate in a synaesthesia study online. The study asks participants to fill out a quiz at the beginning asking them what types of synaesthesia they have, and then depending on the answers, the participant is directed to various tests designed to collect data about each type of synaesthesia.

I recall reading an earlier article somewhere that included what was supposedly a synaesthesia test consisting of random 2’s and 5’s that had been printed with the curves as angles so that to most people they would be hard to distinguish without careful examination. The way it was supposed to work was that if you had number-colour synaesthesia, the colours you saw in your mind’s eye would make the different digits stand out. It was instantly clear to me that this test had not been devised by someone with the ability, as then he/she would have realised that if you change the shape of the digits, it also affects other perceptions of them. In my case, the squaring off of the curves made the colours (yellow and red respectively) look all black. I would have flunked this particular “test”.

So, upon hearing that this new test battery gave participants the chance to submit their personal “library” of colours, etc. I signed up and took the initial quiz.

The first test was the “grapheme colour picker test”. Each letter of the alphabet and digits 0-9 appeared in random sequence, three times each. There was a palette for picking the exact hue seen in the mind’s eye of the participant for each one. The site then analyses responses to see how consistent the participant’s responses are. Exactly matched hues would result in a perfect score of 0.0. A score below 1.0 is ranked as synaesthetic. Non-synaesthetes asked to use memory or free association to complete the same task typically score in the range of a 2.0. Mine was 0.56.

Next, there was the “speed-congruency test”, the purpose of which, it would seem, was to double check the results of the above. A random number or letter would appear, either presented in “your” colour or some other random colour, and the task was to click “Match” or “Doesn’t match” as quickly as possible. Accuracy and reaction time were both recorded. An accuracy percentage of 85% or greater typically indicates synaesthetic association between the graphemes and colours. Mine was 95.83%, although I’m not sure where I made a mistake. Perhaps some of the colours presented were very close, but not exact, and on a highly speeded test there wasn’t time to deliberate on “close but no cigar” items.

There followed tests to establish colours for weekdays and months, which were similar in format. Again, scores below 1.0 are deemed to by synaesthetic. Mine were 0.41 and 0.59 respectively.

The issue I have with these tests is that they assume that the person has a single synaesthetic colour-association for each one, and that these never vary. I see digits 2-9 as having a single, bright unvarying colour, but there it stops. 1 and 0, when seen individually or juxtaposed with other digits, tend to look black. When next to each other, however, the 1’s look black and the 0’s look white. Letters, weekdays and months tend to have not only a primary colour, but often secondary and tertiary ones too, and any of these can shift depending on what other letters etc. they are next to. The researchers are assuming that they have a single colour, and that these are absolute and not relative.

Next up were various music-colour tests, and I actually had to skip over every question of these without answering them. The researchers again assumed that musical notes, chords and instrument sounds had a single, fixed colour. I only know that I do experience colour, shapes, images etc. when I listen to music, but beyond that, I really cannot be any more specific. The problem in trying to describe them, I think, lies in the fact that they are totally relative. Perhaps this note, or this instrument, sounds “yellower” than that one, but I can’t say that the note itself is yellow.

Chords are definitely not a single colour (as that part of the test again assumed), but each individual note within the chord has a colour. Again, I can’t say which note is which, and they tend to change according to the chords against which they are juxtaposed and the position (inversion) in which the chord is played. All I can say is that major triads tend to be bright spectral colours, like red, orange and yellow, while minor triads tend more to the cool end of the spectrum. The 7th note in a 7th chord sort of sticks out in varying shades of blue, lilac or bluey purple, while the chord having 4 notes rather than 3 makes the overall effect more subtle. The more complex the chord, the more subtle the colours. Very complex jazz chords might lose the colours altogether. I daresay my taste in music has been shaped by this phenomena, and is possibly the reason I’ve never understood what people mean when they say pop is “bland” – the simple melodies and chords evoke the brightest, strongest colours. Thrash metal, atonal classical music, overly complex jazz and people screaming unintelligible things over record scratches just appear like harsh, monochromatic shapes. I made sure I pointed all this out in the feedback, as my internal experiences were clearly more sophisticated than the test allowed for.

After answering the various “About Yourself” type questions that followed, the questionnaire took me to the “3D Month Picker Test”. There was an image of a person standing in the middle of a grid-patterned floor, and you were supposed to place tiles with the names of the months on them in the locations you synaesthetically “saw” them in space. Unfortunately, the controls didn’t seem to work too well, and only resulted in tilting or panning the floor, rather than placing the tile where I wanted it to go. I think that the researchers had assumed that we would spatially locate the months in relation to our body or the environment, whereas in my case, both are irrelevant – I only see them as spatially located in relation to each other. I see both months and weeks like wires suspended between rows of poles, with Christmas and the New Year and the weekends at the “poles”, and the summer months and Wednesdays at the lowest point of the wire’s suspension in the middle. I have an early memory of telling my mother that, “Saturday is a hill day” (i.e. it was near the highest point), and she didn’t have any idea what I was talking about.

For those interested, here is a document about synaesthesia research by David Eagleman, on which this web questionnaire appears to be based.

While I completed this questionnaire for fun, and didn’t expect anything overly sophisticated, I hope that my feedback makes it back to the office of some serious researchers so that some of the more subtle manifestations can be taken into account for future test designs.

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Reading this article about physicist and polymath Robert Hooke, I was reminded once again of why the extent of a person’s genius should never be measured in terms of public name recognition.

I’d choose a difficult, irascible Hooke over a zillion charming idiots any day of the week.

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Finally, I’ve found an electronic version of this article to link to.

Minds are as clever as they will ever be, say scientists

It’s all downhill from here – we are as clever as we are ever going to be, scientists have concluded.

If our brains were to evolve any further, it would increase the risk of disorders such as autism.

Our grey matter has hit an evolutionary ‘sweet spot’ – with the  perfect balance between high intelligence and a balanced personality.

But scientists claim that, if our brains did become more advanced, we would be more likely to develop disorders such as autism or synaesthesia, where several senses ‘join together’ and are indistinguishable.

Becoming super-intelligent would also increase the chances of us concentrating too hard on tiny details of life and missing the wider picture.

Researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Basel in Switzerland cite how people who already have high IQs are more likely to suffer autism, synaesthesia or other neural disorders.

Ritalin is used to help improve the attention span of hyperactive children but, when given to someone with good concentration levels, it can lessen their mental agility.

‘There is a “sweet spot” in terms of enhancing our mental abilities,’ said study author Dr Thomas Hills, from the University of Warwick.

‘If you go beyond that spot, you have to pay the price.’

Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/news/884305-minds-are-as-clever-as-they-will-ever-be-say-scientists#ixzz1iUDQS4hD

I have to disagree with the writer’s assessment of synaesthesia being a disorder. I consider it to be just another dimension to my internal life. And sometimes my intensity and focus on the current project can be mistaken for Aspergoid traits.

If a few personal quirks happen to be concomitant with a statistically deviant IQ, then I feel it’s a small price to pay. I like being that way.


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When you have a person whose mind works entirely differently from their age peers, there are obviously going to be misunderstandings. The more different the person, the more likely it is there will be a complete failure to relate. That isn’t anyone’s “fault”, it’s just a given.

When the group of people concerned are all four and five years old, it is a rather tall order to expect the “different” child to have the life experience or to be emotionally equipped to deal with being different. It is also a tall order on the wider group to have the maturity to show tolerance, patience and understanding to their unusual classmate.

(Jeez, I feel like I shouldn’t be having to spell this all out.)

If anyone is to “blame” here, it is the adults in my life at the time for not grasping that a kid who could already fluently read chapter books didn’t belong in that class.

So the purpose of this post is to express my frustration at what is universally missed, even among some fellow gifties who should know better: I did not cause these kids to treat me the way that they did.

I don’t know what pop psychology some people have been reading, but I did not invite, attract, manifest or “pull in” these kids’ bad behaviour. They did that all of their own accord.

I suppose that at the time, because it happened every day, I just assumed that was what kids do. If, indeed, the thought ever occurred to me.  I can’t ever remember introspecting on my behaviour at that age and thinking, “Now, what I am I doing to make these kids not like me?” Things were just the way they were.  That was life.

One day, while walking in the street with Dad, we ran across a classmate of mine, who called out a cheery “Hello”. I, of course, saw a completely different side to this little girl each day in the playground, and held on to Dad’s hand tighter as I slunk past. Dad was annoyed, and I got a lecture about how I could be very popular if I only learned to “show some manners”. Thus the idea that I must be “doing something to deserve” the constant abuse got laid down in concrete from the point of view of my parents and teachers as if it were incontrovertible law.

As for the idea that I antagonized these kids by showing off all the things that I could do that they couldn’t, nothing could be further from the truth. In our class, nobody gave a toss how well you could read, write or count. The things that impressed youngsters of that age (myself included) were whether you could win a running race, perform gymnastic tricks or play ball games. Either that, or how impressive your toys were. If the truth be known, I fell rather short on both sporting prowess and material acquisitions.

I had no concept as to my differing intellectual qualities at the time.

In fact, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on!

Showing off was not something that even occurred to me, as I had no clue I had anything to show off about. If the kids in the class perceived the way I was as being stuck up it was not because of anything I was doing on purpose. It was simply their perception, brought about by the mismatch in intellectual development.

No amount of other people asserting the idea that I antagonized the others into doing what they did will make it “fact” or even “sound psychological theory”.  I stopped blaming myself for this a long time ago, so stop being irritating.

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