In What Intelligence Tests Miss, Stanovich shows that we have enough knowledge and the right tests to assess rationality as systematically as we determine IQ. So why aren’t we doing it? He thinks the reason is a “historical accident.” Because we had measures of intelligence first, IQ tests became ubiquitous early on and have pushed any interest in other cognitive abilities out of our minds ever since.
Stanovich makes a compelling argument that we need to put more emphasis on measuring and teaching critical thinking skills. His clear writing and his many interesting examples make the book accessible and engaging. What Intelligence Tests Miss illuminates the actions of everyone who affects our lives, from our family members to our co-workers to former president Bush.
Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond
by Meg Daley Olmert. Da Capo Press, 2009
In 1980 Brooklyn College health scientist Erika Friedmann designed a survey to assess how social support affects survival after a heart attack. Just for fun, she threw in a question about pet ownership. When she analyzed her results months later, she was startled to find that pets—more than support from family and friends—kept people alive. Patients who owned pets were 22 percent more likely to be alive a year after their heart attack than those who did not.
No one knew at the time why pets were such excellent “medicine.” But in the decades since, research has revealed that animals and people sharea special bond that is based not only on emotions but also on biology—and that relationships with animals keep us healthier and happier. As Meg Daley Olmert writes in her heartwarming and fascinating book Made for Each Other, the human-animal bond, which developed over the course of several millennia, shaped our evolution and that of the animals we love.
About 100,000 years ago, the theory goes, an ice age forced our herbivore hominid ancestors to expand their diet to include meat. Those who had the courage to draw near to the animals they feared probably had some help from oxytocin, a hormone that Olmert argues is key to the animal-human bond. Oxytocin—best known as the hormone that facilitates the mother-child bond—is also important for overcoming fear. The first hominids to approach animals most likely had higher-than-normal levels of oxytocin in their brains. And oxytocin has other effects: it promotes social bonding, reduces stress levels, increases antioxidant production and promotes happiness. So when oxy-tocin-rich hominids started focusing on animals, even though their intention was to hunt them, they probably also started bonding with them. This emotional connection then released more oxytocin, building a self-propagating cycle.
Over the course of the next 100,000 years, human-animal relationships solidified. According to Olmert, women occasionally breast-fed wolf pups and children sometimes suckled milk from cows’ udders. This bond started influencing the evolution of both humans and animals as we lived together and learned from one another. The surges of oxytocin our ancestors enjoyed also kept them healthy and happy. We needed animals, and they needed us.
Today in our urban and technological culture, we have only the faintest memories of these incredible ties. But our continued love for pets is evidence that we have not forgotten entirely. Still, only 63 percent of Americans own pets. As a population, we may not be getting the same oxytocin doses we used to, which could have negative effects on our well-being. Olmert makes a convincing case that we are better off with them in our lives.
“Clinically speaking, animals are a homeostatic necessity,” she writes. “Like breathing, they can only be denied for so long.”