The Delicate Nature of IQ Testing

The Delicate Nature of IQ Testing

It doesn’t matter who you are or whatever decisions you’ve made to arrive at this point in your life. Chances are, you’ve heard about intelligence testing. However, what I would like to ask the reader is the following: when you think about intelligence testing, what would be the optimal way to measure it, similarly if there was a single indicator of intelligence, what would it be? It would come as a surprise to, perhaps, nobody that the light that turns on in your head when the term is mentioned, would come in the form of IQ, the Intelligence Quotient. 

Examining some of the history and delicate nature about its implementation comes with some truly interesting observations, with examples from the American Army and the former Soviet Union. It also dwells into questions such as race, gender and class. Three structures whereby their comparison comes with some delicate conclusions that may not fit into general acceptance by the general public, as well as whole governments. 

Before dwelling into IQ as a quantified measurement of intelligence, it’s notable to understand the methodology of intellectual giftedness in children, which in itself is vastly different than a purer form of intelligence. The first record of examining intellectual giftedness in children was first mentioned in a published book from 1575 in Spain but this in itself did not take into account different factors affecting a standardized score, which continued to be examined but not really taken seriously until the beginning of the 20th century. 

It was only then that the viewpoints on intellect started to be looked at from every angle possible and developed into something that continues to have the same root today, albeit more meticulously crafted and carries on the same methodology. As an initial statistical application to the concept of intelligence, it was Francis Galton (1822-1911) that drew linkages between his core area of study of statistics, to the deviations of intellectual inheritance. If it wasn’t for this Victorian Era psychometrician, the term nature vs. nurture would not have come to light as has formed the basis for many areas of debate even in recent times. 

The world’s first intelligence test was developed by French psychologist Alfred Binet in 1905. It assessed children’s ability to perform tasks such as developing words, copying patterns, and classifying objects into schemas. Binet, who defined intelligence as “the sum of the mental processes involved in adapting to the environment”, revised his test in 1908 and later in 1911. In 1904, Alfred Binet was commissioned by the French state to create tests that made it possible to assess what education children left to pass. Binet claimed that intelligence tests should measure judgment, understanding and ability to reason – i.e those factors that present day tests still aim to measure.  Binet’s test was imported to Stanford University and is still called in its many times revised form, as the Stanfort-Binet test. 

By standardization, a collective value, IQ, is still calculated based on the test result’s ratio to an individual’s expected value for the individual. Some methods, such as the Wechsler test, also calculates separate IQs for eg. verbal ability as a standalone result. Not completely unexpected and, like most human characteristics, IQ shows a normal distribution within reasonably large populations, and the keyword here remains reasonably. Stanine’s scale, as was used by Swedish military authorities, is a nine-digit scale based on the same distribution. It is usually stated that 2/3 of the population is between IQ 85 and 115 and 95 percent (= two standard deviations) between 70 and 130. And as such, the IQ quotient was born…

As evidenced, measurement of human intelligence has evolved considerably since the first test in 1905. Although there is still no fixed definition of intelligence, a modern IQ test can still fascinate and distort when it divides people after IQ, which has allowed for quite sensitive discussions to take place, namely in societies where hierarchical structures formed the basis of notions that were deemed unfavorable to some within that structure. Let’s take a general example. 

In the early 1900s, teachers had difficulty distinguishing between lazy and literally weak students. At the same time, it was known that intelligence was an ability that was more hereditary than socially conditioned, and the need arose to measure student intelligence. This is where the successive academic in the line could solve this problem. After the death of Binet, colleague Lewis Terman continued on the test. He incorporated the idea of ​​measuring intelligence as a quotient. And in 1916 he was able to present the first test to measure real intelligence quotas: the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale. A test that still forms the basis of modern IQ testing. 

How would a present-day IQ test look? IQ tests are found in many shades and of varying quality and credibility. A classical element in an IQ test is pattern recognition, where the test person tries his ability to visualize contexts. There is a logical, mathematical reasoning section that attempts to address the ability to handle mental processing of logical tasks and the flexibility of such thinking. The result of the test gives you a number (as explained above) and establishes a category for how much you deviate from the mean, as can be illustrated by the following table:

IQ tests have also been used to recruit spies and they have simultaneously been more or less popular in different parts of the world at different times. During both world wars, both Germany, England and the United States used intelligence tests in great style. Both military and intelligence services tested and assessed the soldiers. Especially during World War II, the most talented psychologists prepared tests to find the best agents and spies. In the Soviet Union, similar tests were implemented in relation to the “adding of fuel to the fire” in the attitudes towards the bourgeoisie, and thus they were outlawed. The focus on group application in line with intelligence seemed sensitive, especially when the children of the nobility seemed to score higher. Could this really be accepted in a society where hierarchical structures needed to be flattened out? Au contraire, this was kept secret and thus such tests were only used by the Soviet Union to recruit people to perform tasks of a higher intellectual capacity. 

In the US it is still not uncommon for applicants to the country’s universities to measure both the linguistic and mathematical intelligence when they apply for admission. But is the IQ test reasonable?

In recent times, it has been discussed whether the IQ test can at all be used to compare the intelligence of people who are completely different in terms of culture and education. IQ predicts academic success quite well. But it turns out that IQ does not predict professional success especially at all. In a study, managers in the American business community asked what characteristics they considered to be most important for success; They received responses of the kind of ability to delegate responsibilities, encourage communication and the like. It turned out that after testing different managers, these characteristics predicted significantly better than IQ, which almost did not provide any information about how well they could handle. This should not surprise you at all; A good boss needs to be able to guess more than guessing numbers or drawing figures.

Recently, it has become popular to speak of “multiple intelligences”, where the properties measured with IQ are just a special case, an abstract ability that is not always so applicable in reality. Howard Gardner has proposed seven kinds of intelligence: linguistic, mathematical / logical, musical, spatial, bodily, interpersonal and impersonal. Critics believe this goes too far – we get an inflation of intelligence; why not moral or aesthetic intelligence too? Or political intelligence? At the same time, the point is that one begins to realize that what intelligence tests measure is only part of total human ability.

What is commonly called intelligence is due to several different features: memory, perception, focusing attention, prioritizing, problem solving strategies, etc., which may well be domain-specific. In neuropsychology, people study cases of people who, despite the fact that their IQ is normal or better, are not able to make sound decisions about how to act in practice – they have been injured in areas of the brain that seem necessary for social understanding or judging benefit. They are capable of performing abstract tests, but fail complete with larger projects and their lives.

However, in 1994, a group of 52 psychologists wrote a joint statement on IQ testing, and concluded, among other things, that IQ tests are good at measuring a person’s intelligence and that the IQ test is not culturally prejudiced. Nevertheless, IQ tests have long been on the radar and while we may be looking for something superior in assessing intelligence; those tests do exists. But an interesting question that arises from this debate is: why has IQ been solidified as the prime standard for this assessment? Should we be looking for other ways? In this day and age we have around 4000 different methods for psycho-diagnostics and yet, here we are. Is there a slanted bias of those that want it to be the industry standard? 

Evolvera – always changing, always evolving

Further references available upon request.

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