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Do Standard Intelligence Tests Actually Measure Intelligence?

By wolfmotherlover May 20, 2008 2196 Words
Do Standard Intelligence Tests Actually Measure Intelligence?
The concept of intelligence has been widely debated throughout time following the inception of the IQ test. Many theories have been proposed although no single definition of intelligence has been universally accepted with disagreement between researchers from biological and psychometric fields. The psychometric approach, which is the dominant field with respect to public attention and research, attempts to measure intelligence by means such as the Stanford-Binet or Wechsler tests. General intelligence is measured on these tests by including many different items which utilise various aspects of reasoning; for example the subject may be required to complete verbal and nonverbal items which assess spatial abilities, arithmetic and literacy (Neisser et al., 1996). The aim of this essay is to examine whether standard intelligence tests actually measure intelligence. The conventional psychometric definition of intelligence revolves around an individual’s generalised ability to control oneself, learn from experience and adapt to the environment (Neisser et al., 1996; Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998). Originally, psychometric tests of general intelligence were used by Alfred Binet to measure the ability of children to succeed at school. Since then, a vast amount of research has been conducted using such tests and it has been found that IQ scores correlate highly with school performance, scores on school achievement tests, total years of education and job placement (Neisser et al., 1996). It is well documented through research that IQ tests are positively correlated with predicting future outcomes, but do IQ tests really measure intelligence? Furthermore, what is intelligence and how is someone determined as being intelligent. Is it the ability to successfully complete a pen and paper test, or are there other aspects such as the ability to apply reason to real world tasks? Possibly the earliest attempt to extend on the conventional notion and define intelligence suggested a single underlying general factor, or g, which encompassed all intellectual activity (Neisser et al., 1996). This theory is still regarded by some as the most fundamental measure of intelligence, although a number of more complex, hierarchical theories have been proposed which explain intelligence as an interaction of a number of primary factors (Neisser et al, 1996; Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998). A relatively new approach is the triarchic theory of successful intelligence (Sternberg, 1999), which was derived to extend upon the conventional notion that intelligence is one’s generalised ability to adapt to the environment. Sternberg (1999; Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998) proposed that successful intelligence be defined as the ability to achieve success in life through the accomplishment of personal, cultural and societal goals, given one’s personal standards and within one’s sociocultural context. Successful intelligence can also be defined as the ability for an individual to capatalise upon one’s strengths, whilst minimising or compensating for the effects of one’s weaknesses (Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998). Sternberg’s (1999) theory is based upon three fundamental aspects – the analytic, creative and practical components of intelligence. This is opposed to earlier theories which suggested that all intelligence can be evaluated using a single general factor. The purpose of the current essay is to argue that the current conventional notion of psychometric intelligence is incomplete as its measures are biased as they are based primarily on academic intelligence. Consequently, it will be argued that IQ tests are not valid as they do not take into account practical or creative abilities as defined by Sternberg’s successful intelligence theory. The theory of successful intelligence attempts to eradicate discrepancies in the measures of earlier theories which favour individuals of a rich academic background, whilst discriminating those who excel in practical or creative areas of intelligence. This is achieved by placing a greater emphasis on practical abilities which are involved when applying aspects of intelligence to real world settings (Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998). Ceci and Liker (1986) conducted a study which demonstrated the differences between IQ and practical intelligence. Thirty middle-aged and older men who were regular attendees at the racetrack were recruited, with fourteen being classified as expert handicappers based on there ability to predict post-time odds using factual knowledge of horses. All participants were matched on basic background information such as years attending the track and all of their IQ’s were approximately that of the general population (or even slightly lower). It was found that experts used a highly complex mental algorithm comprising as many as seven variables to handicap horse races, with no correlation between skilled handicapping at the racetrack and IQ. The results from this study reveal that IQ is unrelated to real world settings, such as handicapping which many would describe as a complex, highly intelligent behaviour. Similar studies have shown that shoppers in grocery stores were able to find the best value although faced difficulties when presented with the same task on paper (Lave, Murtaugh & de la Rocha, 1984). Another study involved Brazilian street children who ran businesses and operated as vendors on local street corners (Carraher, Carraher & Schliemann, 1985). Researchers posed as customers and conducted a normal sales transaction with the subject. The child was then asked to complete a formal test based on mathematical problems encountered during the street interaction. It was found that the children were able to complete complex mathematical problems when street vending although they did very poorly in a classroom setting when required to apply the same skills. Results from these studies show a level of computational ability which is unconventional and often self taught with many of the techniques used unable to be applied in a classroom environment. Individuals who are successful in applying practical abilities are disadvantaged in intelligence tests as the measures are based on academic abilities. It must be noted though that the theory of successful intelligence does not discredit the body of research suggesting IQ is an important measure for performance levels, it is merely an attempt to express another aspect of intelligence, independent of IQ, which is of equal importance. A vast amount of literature in this field investigates the relationship between IQ scores and schooling performance. The correlation between these two variables is relatively high (r = .50) with intelligence tests also predicting scores on school achievement tests designed to assess knowledge of the criteria (Neisser et al., 1996). Alternatively, school performance has also been shown to be a predictor of midlife IQ. Cliffordson and Gustafsson (2008) conducted a study which examined the effects of age and schooling on mid life intelligence as measured by IQ tests. It was concluded that academic schooling has a positive effect on intellectual performance, and that the effect of schooling was greater than that of age. Although results from numerous studies confirm a high correlation between schooling and intelligence, this relationship is only applicable when addressing the particular circumstances in which it applies. To successfully complete an intelligence test such as the Sanford-Binet, individuals must be capable in all areas of schooled academic criteria. For an individual to be capable in schooled areas such as literacy and numeracy, one must first attend school, have a willingness to learn and have a general interest in the material which they are being taught. It is not only the individual abilities of an individual, but also the way in which they are taught and the method with which the information is communicated which may affect their learning outcomes (Neisser et al., 1996; Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998). Currently the Fourth Edition of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (a standard intelligence test) only contains items which address crystallised intelligence, abstract-visual reasoning, quantitative reasoning and short-term memory (Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998). If an individual is denied adequate schooling because of socio-economic status, but excels in culturally relevant practices such as farming (a practical ability), their score on standard intelligence tests would be substantially lower than a schooled individual, although intelligence as defined by their respective cultures varies significantly. Although there is a substantial amount of research which concurs with the findings that schooling is a predictor of IQ, a number of environmental factors must be considered with regards to the data obtained. Environmental effects of intelligence may apply to whole populations or contribute to individual differences within a given group. The most notable environmental variable is that of culture - where people live, how they live and the values by which they live their lives. A study of the mathematical abilities of Kpelle (Liberia) people (Gay & Cole, 1967 as cited in Powell & Frankenstein, 1997) found that their difficulty in learning classroom mathematics could be attributed to the lack of cultural relevance, and the method of rote memory and harsh discipline used to teach them. On the contrary, mathematically illiterate Kpelle adults performed better than American adults when confronted with culturally meaningful tasks such as estimating the number of cups of rice in a container. Because of their inability to complete Western mathematical problems, Kpelle people would be considered to be of a low level of intelligence as measured by IQ tests, although the problems they faced were culturally insignificant. The results from this study confirm the importance of the recognition of practical intelligence as proposed by Sternberg’s successful intelligence theory. Another factor which affects intelligence involves the varying cross cultural notions of what it is to be intelligent, even within the same environmental setting. Okagaki and Sternberg (1993; Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998) conducted a study which revealed the differing conceptions of intelligence across ethnic groups within California. Participants were 359 parents of kindergarten, first and second grade school students comprising of Anglo-American, Cambodian, Filipino, Mexican immigrant, Mexican-American and Vietnamese descent. Immigrant parents placed a greater emphasis on conforming to external standards than on autonomous behaviours, whilst American-born parents favoured autonomy rather than conformity. Parents from all nationalities except Anglo-American indicated that characteristics such as motivation and social skills were as important as cognitive abilities such as problem solving. It was hypothesised that as Anglo-American was the dominant ethnicity, teaching techniques would favour conceptions of intelligence conceived within the culture. Children’s schooling performance could be predicted by the extent to which their parent’s shared the conceptions of intelligence assumed by the teacher. That is, Anglo-Americans were rewarded as they were raised to believe a view of intelligence which was that of the teachers. Differing conceptions of intelligence place immigrant children at a disadvantage when completing intelligence tests as the items are based on Western intelligence which focuses on cognitive abilities. Current IQ tests are not valid as they do not generalise across cultures as they only express Western beliefs of academic or schooled intelligence. Evidence from studies conducted on intelligence tests demonstrates the apparent misinterpretation of what it means to be intelligent. Conventionally the definition of intelligence has been constructed as the ability to adapt to the environment, a notion which is incomplete and its measures biased as they focus primarily on academic intelligence. Sternberg’s (1999; Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998) theory of successful intelligence is an attempt to address the discrepancies between IQ and practical intelligence. Although high correlations have been found between IQ and schooling performance and schooling performance and mid life IQ, there are many variables which limit these results to a specific set of circumstances. Ceci and Liker (1986) demonstrated that IQ is unrelated to real world settings, as there is no measure of IQ which incorporates practical intelligence. Furthermore, cross cultural differences regarding the characteristics of intelligence highlight cultural relevance as a variable affecting IQ scores. The evidence presented demonstrates that intelligence is an area of great debate with no universal agreement on how to define the topic. Intelligence tests are not valid as they are biased towards Western society’s beliefs of intelligence and are primarily focused on scholarly ability. Future research needs to be conducted regarding other aspects of intelligence that are equally important though independent of IQ, for example practical intelligence, and what they can teach us about the way people adopt and express attributes related to intelligence.

Carraher, T.N., Carraher, D.W., & Schliemann, A.D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in
schools. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 3(1), 21-29. Ceci, S.J., & Liker, J.K. (1986). A Day at the Races: A Study of IQ, Expertise, and Cognitive Complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 115(3), 255-266. Cliffordson, C., & Gustafsson, J. (2008). Effects of age and schooling on intellectual performance: Estimates obtained from analysis of continuous variation in age and length of schooling. Intelligence, 36, 143-152.

Lave, J., Murtaugh, M., & de la Rocha, O. (1984). The dialectic of arithmetic in grocery
shopping. In B. Rogoff & J. Lave (Eds.), Everyday cognition: Its development in social context (pp. 67-94). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Abstract) Neisser et al. (1996). Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. American Psychologist, 51(2), 77-

Okagaki, L., & Sternberg, R.J. (1993). Parental Beliefs and Children’s School Performance.
Child Development, 64(1), 36-56.
Powell, A.B., & Frankenstein, M. (Eds.). (1997). Ethnomathematics: Challenging Eurocentrism in Mathematics. New York: SUNYPRESS.
Sternberg, R.J. (1999). The Theory of Successful Intelligence. Review of General Psychology,
3(4), 299-316.
Sternberg, R.J., & Kaufman, J.C. (1998). Human abilities. Annual Review of Psychology, 49,

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