Interview with JP Das

All the responses collected by Editor in Chief Arvind Otta.

Date of Birth- 20 January 1931

Place of Birth - Puri, Orissa

Educational Qualification: BA in Psychology/Philosophy (Utkal University, 1951), MA in Experimental Psychology (Patna University, 1953), Ph.D. in Psychology (University of London, 1957)

Professional Experience:

• Current Research: Speed of Processing and Executive Functions; Reading and specific Comprehension deficits.

• Previous Assignments: Utkal University (Lecturer 1953-55); Utkal University (Reader 1958-63); George Peabody College of Teacher, Nashville, USA (Professor 1963-64); University of California, Los Angeles (Visiting Associate Professor 1964-65); Utkal University (Reader 1965-67); University of Alberta, Edmonton (Research Professor 1968-71), Director of the centre for the study of Mental Retardation (1972-94), Professor (1994-present)

Rewards and Excellences:

• Honorary Doctorate in Psychology from University of Cyprus in Nicosia (September 2015); Canadian Psychological Association Award for International Advancement of Psychology (2014); Doctor of Psychology, (honoris causa); Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC) (1999); Immigration Achievement Award (1992); University of Alberta, Research Prize (1987); Invited participant, UNESCO Conference on Disadvantaged Children (only Canadian invited), Doha Qatar, 1981; Albert J. Harris Award, International Reading Association(1979); Invited participant, UNESCO conference on policies relating to children (one of two Canadians invited), Austin, Texas, 1979; Nuffield Fellow (1972); Organized an international conference: NATO Conference on Intelligence and Learning, York, England (1979); Founding Editor, Developmental Disabilities Bulletin (1972); Founding Editor, Indian Journal of Mental Retardation (1966); Kennedy Foundation Professorship (1963)

Major Contributions:

• Co-Author of the Planning-Attention-Simultaneous-Successive (PASS) theory of cognitive processing (1975; 1994)

• Co-Author of the Naglieri-Das Cognitive Assessment System (1997)

• 11 books in English, 4 books in Oriya (an Indian language), 2 books in Spanish, 2 books in Finnish, 1 book in Chinese, and over 200 research papers and book chapters.

Research Interests:

The research interests are primarily focused to redefine Human Intelligence. His worked extensively in the field of Educational Psychology, Consciousness and Child Development (Cognitive processes and assessment, mental retardation and learning difficulties).

Publications:

Published in National and International journals including Indian Journal Psychology, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, British Journal of Psychology, Indian Journal of Mental Retardation, British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, XIXth International Congress in Psychology, London, Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, Alberta, Journal of Educational Research, American Journal of Mental Deficiency, International Journal of Psychology.

Major Publications

In addition with 300 research papers and numerous essays, his contributions are; Cognitive Enhancement Training, The working mind (Sage Publications), Simultaneous and successive cognitive process (J. P., Kirby, J. R., & Jarman, R. F.), Reading Difficulties and Dyslexia (Sage Publications), Mental retardation for special educators (Springfield), Intelligence and learning (Plenum Publishing Corp.), Verbal conditioning and Behaviour (Oxford, Pergamum Press), Theory and Research in Learning Disabilities (Plenum Publishing Corp.), Consciousness Quest Where East meets west: On Mind, Meditation & Neural Correlates (Sage Publications), Human brain and psychological processes (Harper and Row).

Interview:

1. You have worked a lot in field of Intelligence. How do you define intelligence?

Ans. I should say that intelligence is the sum total of all of cognitive processes. It entails planning, coding of information, attention and arousal as well. Of these, the coding processes required for planning have a relatively higher status in intelligence. Planning is a broad term which includes, the generation of plans and strategies, selection from among available plans and the execution of plans. Within the connotation of planning I would include decision making. In my view, knowing a lot of things is not the essence of intelligence. Rather, I believe that the ability for discriminating thinking, or discriminating intelligence, is what makes a person intelligent. This discriminating intelligence is same as we’ve Buddhi in our Indian philosophy.


2. What kept you motivated to work in this field for so long and how initially you became interested in the study of intelligence?

Ans. Well, I grew up in India. Growing up in an ancient country like India, it was impossible to avoid thinking about intelligence. Why? Because scholarship, intelligence and wisdom were regarded as the hallmark of a human being. But at the same time it was not assumed that an illiterate person who has not gone to school must be dumb. Because you see that a large percentage of people in the traditional communities in India might have no formal schooling. My grandfather was one of those. But he was always regarded by his villagers as a wise man, so much that he was called to help the local magistrate to make decisions about difficult cases in village. So I thought that making decisions that would be good for the community was a mark of intelligence. Later on when I went to the university, I had a professor, Dr. Mohsin who had a Ph.D. in intelligence from Scotland, working with Godfrey Thompson. Thompson, as you know, was a pioneer in proposing multiple intelligence. I think Dr. Mohsin inspired me sufficiently to understand experimental psychology and introduced me to intelligence tests. That was formative period of my interest in intelligence.

3. Who were your inspirational figures in psychology from India as well as outside, while you were a student?

Ans. I was lucky to have Dr. Mohsin in India and then Professor Hans Eysenck, who was my Ph.D. supervisor at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. At the time of my doctoral studies I also met Professor Arthur Jensen, who was then a postdoctoral fellow with Eysenck. I remember having many discussions on intelligence and selection of students for entrance into various professional schools in America, on the basis of IQ. Jenson was a strong defender of IQ and, I was astounded by the assumption that IQ was something given, and could not have been improved through better education, social environments…great scholarly pursuits. In other words, it was a fixed idea of IQ that astounded me. I was a bit skeptical of course. In addition to this, I was keenly aware of the culturally disadvantaged children in India, who were likely to drop out of school altogether by grade five. Later in my career I was much influenced by the work of A.R. Luria and Vygotsky. Their influences, as well as the influence of Dr. Mohsin and Professor Eysenck are apparent in my research and writing.

4. As you have done researches in many fields, how your work on intelligence has informed your research in other areas?

Ans. I’ll tell what, goal of all my researches was to understand and measure intelligence. There are two disabilities that have fascinated me. One is mental retardation and the other is learning disability. When I started to investigate the effects of poverty and malnutrition on intellectual function, and when I attempted to understand the differences among the children with mental retardation, my interest in intelligence (arising out of neuropsychology and cognitive psychology) did influence my work. The variety of difficulties that the so-called learning disabled children experience you cannot measure in terms of IQ. Thus, I had to use alternative models of intelligence, that’s how my thinking evolved.

5. Tell us more about your PASS theory of intelligence?

Ans. This has foundation in two branches, neurology and psychology. I thought we can operationalize how brain works, through some limited number of tests. PASS stands for planning, attention, simultaneous and successive processing. There are four major cognitive processes of brain. Two ways we gather information are, patterns and sequencing. According to the PASS theory, information first arrives at the senses from external and internal sources, at which point the four cognitive processes activate to analyze its meaning within the context of the individual’s knowledge base. One unusual property of the PASS theory of cognitive processes is that it has proven useful for both intellectual assessment (e.g. the CAS) and educational intervention. It is different from existing standardized tests of IQ mainly because it’s not a collection of questions that relate to school learning. Rather, it has a firm base on major functions of the brain and assumes that an individual with mental retardation can have a variety of strengths and weaknesses in the PASS process in spite of his lower level of functioning.

6. In a lecture of yours, you said that if you want to develop concept in child, you need to send them to a school teaching in mother tongue. We would love your views on 'how schooling and education in the mother tongue can aid in the learning of a child'. Any peculiar comment in the Indian context, where parents are very firm about sending children to English medium schools, irrespective of their mother tongue.

Ans. We need to understand how language develops. A pre lingual child at very beginning can discriminate all phonemes in any language. Gradually, the discrimination destroys and get concentrated in language he grows up. So, a loss of perception of difference in phonemes happen. If you don’t grow up in a unilingual environment, you don’t acquire a grasp on any language. That is beginning of loss of mastery over language. We are all aware how is it affecting the present generation of kids. They cannot take advantage of cultural resources in own language. Comprehension is not all what the word means, unless you are extremely familiar with a language and the culture, you can’t go beyond simple meanings. So, you can’t have very much of original thinking. Up to age 7, most countries teach in their mother language. In India, we don’t give grounding in their local languages, so several local Indian languages are dying. Reason being, thinking that English has an advantage in education and jobs. We don’t transfer knowledge, this is our biggest mistake. It is a very big dilemma in our country.

7. We would wish to know more about 'JP Das development disabilities centre' at the University of Alberta, and your overlong association with it.

Ans. It was by chance that I heard about the University of Alberta, where I have been working for many years. One day, I was sitting in my office at Utkal University in Bhuneshwar, when I received a letter from University of Alberta asking me if I would be interested in a job at Centre for Study of Mental Retardation. I asked my mentor Nicholas Hobbs, president of APA. On his suggestion, I wrote to them that I’ll be glad to join as Researcher. This started my tenure at the Centre of Study of Mental Retardation as a research professor, later as director. The centre was named after me, because of my successor and people of this University. This changed my life. At that time normalization movement started in Britain i.e. living in community to learn normative behaviour. I became very interested to help mentally retarded people in my own country. There are many disadvantaged children. I dis research on malnutrition in children in Orissa & Sri Lanka. Poverty has become a big topic in education. Chronic poverty produces chronic stress, stress depresses learning. Once poverty is improved, stress and many other things reduces.

 

8. Please enlighten us with some of your recent researches and academic activities, including 'Modules of Mathematics', which is getting popular in India.

Ans. Helping disadvantaged children has really encouraged me to make programmes for improvement, not of knowledge only but also of foundational cognitive skills, that help us learn how to read and how to do maths. About modules of mathematics, Researches tell us two things: to see patterns (both in language and visual), working memory. Little bit of language and to plan and strategize. One of the strategies is working memory. The math module emphasizes the second i.e. working memory. Comprehension vs. learning to read encourages another set of cognitive processes. Reading surely depends on sequencing. At the same time, we have to grasp total meaning of sentence. My programmes in reading are based on PREP and COGENT, which are commercially available. Programmes on MATH are based on planning, strategies and working memory. That’s how we approach intervention. First we know what Science and research tell us and then we make programme to help.
The new test I am developing is called ‘Brain Based Intelligence Test’. Name comes from the idea that all intelligence come from the brain. We are including age 5 to 20. One thing we are measuring is, Executive functions and Planning, which has cognitive flexibility, inhibition and working memory as components. We have tests for all of these. Then, we have simultaneous and successive tests, which I have modified. It is in verbal and nonverbal both. Uniqueness of BBIT is that it will be bilingual. To start with in English and Hindi. We’ve already collected data on 1400 people from ages 5 to 20, each one tested individually, from 5 different parts of India. For 15-20 age group, besides logical problem solving, we have emotionally coloured decision making, unlike lot of tests previously available.
As people now realize that a majority of world’s children lags schooling & healthcare and have disrupted childhood. Should we be doing Intelligence testing on one academically oriented IQ scale, or true score should include human value of compassion and sharing & equitable distribution of resources. That would be problems of future generations.

9. What are your suggestions to organizations working in field of Learning Disability in India?

Ans. Imbue in culture. Anyone not knowing the culture cannot advice what to do in India. Stay sensitive to culture. Then you have to see that the knowledge we create is backed to practice. We must acquire knowledge before we make improvement. Transfer of knowledge to practice is lacking.

10. What is your message to learners and students and young professionals in Psychology?

Ans. Knowledge! It is available easily on internet for free. Take good courses available. Read, don’t rote learn. The practice or profession is based or guided by knowledge. It need to be updated coutinously. Do have little groups of people working in the field. Acquired knowledge need to be continuously discussed in terms of reading, experiences and possible solutions.

 

About the Author

Arvind Otta
Editor in Chief.

From a very young age, I was interested in the way the human thinks, react and develops. I was always fascinated by what people do and puzzled as t

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