SCT & intelligence

SCT and Intelligence

This is how the assumption goes: If one is labeled with a condition known in academic journals as “sluggish cognitive tempo,” then it must follow that such individuals are by definition foggy and slow in thinking and therefore “stupid.”

It is clear to me that some people make that generalization based upon some comments on the online forums. For example, one member says “to me it just seems as if “sluggish” and “foggy” more or less indicate that you are a bit slow thinking or even a bit dumb… is that the way to understand it?” He was not necessarily being condescending, but rather made the comment because he wanted to learn more about SCT.

Another member admits that he has “never heard the term ‘sluggish cognitive tempo’ before” but to him it “sounds like one of those politically correct terms that could just as easily be applied to what used to be called ‘mental retardation.’” In response to that comment, Greg P., the original person who started the thread because he was concerned about his nephew’s attention problems, countered with “As far as ‘sluggish cognitive tempo’ being just a politically correct way of saying retardation, I disagree. Just because the input and output mechanism is slow doesn’t mean the processing unit is defective – just look at Stephen Hawking.”

If anybody were to ask me, unequivocally, whether SCT is just a formalized way at hinting at “stupidity,” this is how I would respond:

“Yes, I have SCT and no, I am not categorically stupid, but I do indeed do stupid things (just like anybody else does).” What kind of stupid things do I do you may ask? All I really need to do is redirect readers to my driving skills discussion…

Based upon the limited amount of research available on SCT currently available as well as dozens of informal reports about people who can identify with SCT, it is fair to assume that SCT can occur in individuals with all types of education, backgrounds, and levels of ability.

Keep in mind that as of early 2013, SCT is not an officially recognized condition so there is no way anyone can be officially diagnosed with it. The closest official diagnosis that relates to SCT is ADHD-PI which really just refers to people who have problems with attention in the absence of high hyperactivity. There are perhaps dozens of people who are a walking textbook definition of SCT, but due to a lack of awareness on the issue, are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed altogether. I personally have not been diagnosed with SCT but rather ADHD-PI (how can one be diagnosed with a condition that is not officially recognized?), but it may be clear that I am a strong advocate for this cause.

If SCT can occur in people of all abilities and it is not just a matter of low intelligence, then what really is the best way to characterize it? What is the real problem of SCT? Research is scarce and ongoing. However, if I had to take a stab at it this is my explanation: SCT is primarily a problem with memory – both working memory and possibly retrieval of verbal long term memory – and this is the primary cause of much of the SCT symptoms. And it is these memory problems that onset early during childhood that differentiates SCT from other memory difficulties in different age groups. (When I was young, say age 6 or 7, I spent a very long time trying to find things I had lost or misplaced because I couldn’t remember where I put them in the first place.) In 2005, child development expert Adele Diamond was the first researcher to hint at this explanation. In her paper on “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder without hyperactivity,”Diamond hypothesizes that the core problem in inattentive ADD is short term memory, or working memory, and this may result in the “forgetful” nature of those individuals affected.

As a trade-off of “raw computational abilities” such as holding and manipulating multiple numbers in one’s mind at a time, people with SCT may have more developed “meta skills” which leads to their drifty but introspective appearance. In the academic world that documents paradoxical abilities and disabilities occurring within the same person, SCT may very well be a case where someone can have poor memory but intact or above average general abilities. People with SCT may have poor memory, but this may be coupled with good logic and common sense. And I believe logic is just a subset of good sense and is not necessarily the same as the formal logic that is taught in school. It is just really a matter of mitigating those difficulties and finding a solution that works out.

  • FuzzDog

    I wonder if Dual-n-back would be helpful. This site is terrific btw.

  • http://epicfail.xepher.net amuletts

    Going to comment on this because I was told I had a learning difficulty in school but never which one, probably because they didn’t have an official name for it. Given the description of SCT and how being ‘slow’ and ‘away with the fairies’ are my main things when I read about it was was like “OMG that’s me!” One of my biggest difficulties if finding it hard to keep up in conversation. But, like with other learning difficulties like dyslexia it doesn’t mean you’re stupid… being ‘slow’ I had to struggle with the stupid label. It just means you process differently and can’t learn in the usual way. Like the Tortoise and the Hare analogy sometimes slow and steady wins the race. With SCT it can be hard to access the correct memories but, on the other hand, the flights of fantasy are amazing (I have my own 3D virtual world inside my brain, seriously) and the creative problem solving that comes with them (SCTs are almost certainly ‘outside the box’ thinkers!)

  • Brian Rood

    Pretty sure I have SCT. I was diagnosed 20 years ago with ADD. Some doctors said it might be a hearing problem where words are processed slowly and it makes it easy for me to get lost when someone is talking. My wife generally had to tell me something twice if she is switching topics. I had trouble in school. I would easily get lost in lectures, so I ended up just teaching myself everything. I am however very intelligent. On multiple professional IQ tests I scored around 130 and was put into a special gifted school for several years. While I can’t remember 4 numbers for more than 30 seconds. I can juggle abstract concepts and ideas that most people will never understand. I am a problem solver at work and very successful because I can see solutions no one else thinks about. Anyway I think about my mind like it’s a computer. I have too little RAM but a fast CPU.