IQ tests provide us with a quantitative measure of intelligence, known as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ for short). This type of testing has a long and rich history, beginning in Europe over a century ago. Though we still use variations of many of these early tests today, there is much controversy over measuring intelligence in this way. The current pressing question is: How useful are IQ tests to us today?
The History Of IQ
As a society we have long had an interest in quantifying the concept of intelligence. From measuring head size, to judging intelligence by facial features, many individuals have made efforts to develop ways to measure intelligence. When the above measures were proven invalid, researchers began to explore the idea of measuring intelligence with a series of performance tests. Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon developed the first intelligence test considered to be valid in 1905. This test, the BinetSimon scale, was designed to identify children, then termed the “mentally handicapped,” who were struggling in school. Soon after this test was introduced, Lewis Terman of Stanford University translated this test from French into English and brought it to the United States.
It was in the scoring of this revised test, the Stanford-Binet, that the term “IQ” was first coined. Terman used a formula dividing a child’s mental age by his or her chronological age (actual age). This result was then multiplied by 100, yielding the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Terman, however, did not use the test for the purpose it was intended; he decided instead to use the Stanford-Binet to compare children of varying ages with regard to intelligence. Though this type of quotient system worked well with children and teens, there were problems with this formula when testing adults; how could one fairly distinguish between the developmentally appropriate capabilities of a 40-year-old in comparison with a 45-year-old? David Weschler led the charge to find an accurate measure of intelligence, and devised new strategies to obtain a number that used norms to compare adults to an “average” score. The Weschler intelligence tests are some of the most commonly used tests in the field today. These tests include the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale, third edition (WAIS-III), the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children, third edition (WISC-III), and the Weschler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, revised (WPPSI-R). The Stanford-Binet, fifth edition (SB5), is also used frequently to measure ability today.
Popular IQ Tests Of Today
The Stanford-Binet remains a popular test for assessing the intelligence of children and adults today. Now in its fifth revision, the SB5 measures intelligence in individuals aged 2 to 85, using five main factors—fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory—and the ability to compare verbal and nonverbal performance.
The Weschler tests also remain a common choice for today’s psychometricians. These tests measure along two subscales: verbal ability (including, but not limited to, such tasks as defining words, finding similarities between objects, and comprehension of certain situations) and performance ability (e.g., tasks such as finding missing details from pictures, completing patterns, and manipulating blocks into particular designs), leading to three scores: verbal intelligence quotient (VIQ), performance intelligence quotient (PIQ), and the full-scale intelligence quotient (FIQ). The average score is 100, with a standard deviation of 25 points. This means that a FIQ score of 100 conveys an “average” level of intelligence. Above this distinction, classifications exist such as “above average,” “superior,” and “very superior.” Below this 100 point mark, classifications such as “borderline,” “low average,” and “very low average” exist.
Current Issues In IQ Testing
In past decades, IQ testing was conducted in a more indiscriminant way. For example, tests were given to all children for the purpose of labeling and ordering them along tracts “appropriate” for their level of intelligence. Today, educators and mental health professionals understand the importance of interpreting these test scores as only part of the child’s true potential and ability. Though it is commonly believed that IQ tests measure a child’s potential, this is not the case; IQ tests are only able to assess current cognitive ability. Without accurate interpretation of these scores, children can be labeled in ways that could be detrimental to their psychological adjustment.
Multifaceted Nature of Intelligence
A second issue that is currently being debated with regard to IQ testing surrounds the actual definition of intelligence. While tests such as the Stanford-Binet and the Weschler tests measure verbal and performance-based qualities of intelligence, there are many researchers who say that these types of tests do not capture the true nature of intelligence.
Robert J. Sternberg has defined intelligence in three parts. This “triarchic theory of intelligence” includes a facet termed componential intelligence (the types of abilities measured by common intelligence tests), but adds two more components. Sternberg’s contextual intelligence encompasses an individual’s ability to adapt to the environment. This facet is the “common sense” part of intelligence. Finally, Sternberg includes experiential intelligence, which is defined by an individual’s ability to deal effectively with both new and old tasks and situations placed before him or her.
A second theorist, Howard Gardner, has defined intelligence as having even more facets. In his Multiple Intelligences theory, Gardner states that intelligence cannot be determined by measuring abilities in just one area. Instead he advocates that individuals may be intelligent in areas outside of the traditional view of intelligence. Gardner’s intelligences include areas of linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligence. He, too, sees a need for a wider definition, and therefore testing process, to accurately measure intelligence.
Finally, the issue of cultural bias has been an important part of the IQ controversy for many years. It has been found that individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States often score much lower on IQ tests when compared with individuals from the majority culture. Many scholars and practitioners feel that some of the types of questions asked on common intelligence tests are biased in the direction of the majority, middle-class culture in the United States. Questions that assume a broad exposure to the majority culture pose a problem for members of the many subcultures that exist in the United States.
To demonstrate some of the links between items on IQ tests and cultural knowledge, Stephen Jay Gould asked Harvard students to point out the missing features of pictures of objects that are not a part of popular culture today, but have been in the past. One such item depicted a Victrola record player that was missing its horn. Almost none of the students in the sample were able to identify this object as it is no longer a part of popular culture. Because many items on IQ tests involve tasks such as these, tests may be unfair to individuals of certain racial and ethnic cultural groups as well as to individuals from certain socioeconomic classes who may not have been exposed to some of the items.
In addition, individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups may score lower on tests because of a concept called stereotype threat. Claude Steele, a researcher at Stanford University, posits that there are many negative stereotypes that exist toward certain groups in our society. He states that there are stereotypes that women do not do as well in math as men, and that African American students are not as academically proficient as Caucasian students. While these stereotypes are groundless on an individual level, they are common myths and as such may exert extra pressure on members from these groups when taking tests. Indeed, individuals in Steele’s experiments of this phenomenon report that they often feel pressure not to confirm these negative stereotypes. This “pressure” may manifest itself in the form of “testing anxiety” and may lead to lower scores for these individuals.
It is important to note the aforementioned limitations when considering the use of IQ tests in today’s culture. However, if used correctly and interpreted with caution and consideration of the limitations, IQ tests can be useful in determining areas of cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Professionals in this area of the field, including educators, school psychologists, and counselors, have a responsibility to uphold the true nature of the scores obtained through the use of IQ testing. In addition, it is important that scores on tests such as these not be used to label or stunt the development of children’s cognitive abilities. Having more knowledge about the benefits and limitations of these tests can improve our appropriate use of them.
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