Funded Grants

Assessing real-world intelligence in children: A cognitive offloading approach

Explaining what makes the human brain so powerful requires us to look outside it. Indeed, humans routinely “extend” our minds and make thinking easier by manipulating the external environment. We take notes, set alarms, and use calendars to aid and augment our memories; we turn to calculators when faced with difficult mathematical problems; and we use GPS to navigate through both new and familiar territory, setting the map to match our spatial orientation so that we don’t have to mentally rotate it. With technological innovation soaring exponentially, this general capacity for “cognitive offloading” is becoming increasingly central to modern notions of intelligence.

In adults, psychometric measures of intelligence that incorporate the opportunity for cognitive offloading are better at predicting real-world outcomes than traditional measures of intelligence that inherently preclude offloading. Intelligence tests for children, however, which are often used to identify low- and high-capacity students in need of intervention, continue to employ batteries of tasks that preclude offloading. Such tests therefore fail to capture a crucial element of intelligence that might be especially predictive of academic and other measures of success. The proposed project will seek to rectify this issue, by developing the first intelligence test battery with offloading-unavailable and offloading-available versions of each task. Children’s performance on these tasks, as well as their performance on a traditional intelligence test, will then be compared with subsequent academic outcomes. The overarching hypothesis is that children’s performance on the offloading-available tasks will be more strongly correlated with academic outcomes than their performance on the offloading-unavailable tasks, thus providing proof of concept for the incorporation of cognitive offloading into standardised intelligence tests for children.

This project has the potential to not only overhaul long-held theoretical assumptions about the nature and development of intelligence, but also lay the groundwork for new assessment tools that can identify children at risk of falling behind their peers (or children who might benefit from accelerated education).