Defining Intelligence (Part 2) – the Dreaded IQ test

Honestly, this has been one of the hardest posts to write because the abundance of hype, craze, scientific jargon and mathematical terms related to the subject of Intelligence Quotient (IQ).  So let’s take a more tongue-in-cheek look atthis otherwise really boring yet still controversial subject.

IQ is a score derived from one of the standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. There are at least 6 credible tests that are being used currently include Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Stanford-Binet, Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities, Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children, and Raven’s Progressive Matrices. So you can take all 6 and brag about the highest score on the “official test” at the next networking event! However, if you have 6 low scores, read on – I will show you how to “defeat” every IQ test elitist that talk about his/ her scores.

When modern IQ tests were constructed, the average score within an age group was set to 100 and the standard deviation (SD) or intervals set to 15. For example, 85-100 will be one interval; 100- 115 will be another.  Approximately 95% of the population scores between 70 and 130. Also, two-thirds of the populations have IQ scores within the range 85-115. These numbers practically mean nothing because every IQ test converts the raw scores into a standard bell curve!

Rising IQ?  The average IQ scores for much of the population have been rising at an average rate of three points per decade since the early 20th century, a phenomenon called the Flynn effect. It is disputed whether these changes in scores reflect real changes in intellectual abilities. In plain English, we know the IQ scores are going up; but we don’t know if it really means we are getting smarter! It does not help that on modern tests, the standard error of measurement is about 3 points. In other words, there is a 95% chance that the true IQ is in range from 4-5 points above OR below the test IQ. Here goes our Flynn effect!  To be fair, Flynn effect has prompted much new research in psychology and “demolish(ed) some long-cherished beliefs, and raise(d) a number of other interesting issues along the way” according to 1998 article in IQ and Human Intelligence.

IQ test may actually be based on an outdated methodology.  A 2006 article stated that contemporary psychological research often did not reflect substantial recent developments in psychometrics and “bears an uncanny resemblance to the psychometric state of the art as it existed in the 1950s.”

Is IQ score even an accurate measure? It may surprise you to know that scientists are divided on the issue of whether or not IQ tests are an accurate measure of intelligence. It is difficult to define exactly what constitutes intelligence; it may be the case that IQ scores represent ONLY a very specific type of intelligence.

Alfred Binet, a French psychologist who developed the first IQ test, did not believe that score can be used to measure intelligence. He stated in 1905 that IQ score  “does not permit the measure of intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured.”

Binet had designed the Binet-Simon scale in order to identify students who needed special help in coping with the school curriculum. He argued that with proper remedial education programs, most students regardless of background could catch up and perform quite well in school. He did not believe that intelligence was a measurable fixed entity. I can sincerely say that Binet was a scientist after my own heart or maybe it is the other way around.

How we have been using these not so reliable IQ scores? IQ scores have been shown to be associated with such factors as morbidity and mortality, parental social status, and, to a substantial degree, parental IQ.  After close to 100 years of research, researchers can only conclusively point to a strong positive relationship between parent’s and child’s IQ.  We are not sure what that positive relationship means or how significant it is, or if IQ can be inherited, and if it is “inheritable”; we are clueless on how it takes place.  

Psychologist Peter Schönemann was also a persistent critic of IQ, calling it “the IQ myth“. He argued that IQ is a flawed theory and that the high heritability estimates of IQ are based on false assumptions. There is also the issue of test-bias. A 2005 study stated that “differential validity in prediction suggests that the WAIS-R test may contain cultural influences that reduce the validity of the WAIS-R as a measure of cognitive ability for Mexican American students,” indicating a weaker positive correlation relative to sampled white students. (Basically, Mexican-American students are found to score lower on this type of IQ test due to test questions’ inherent cultural context.)

So, you can stop any IQ-score-elitist dead in his tracks by saying: “I found it difficult to trust my own high IQ scores considering tests are based on outdated methodology as well as a questionable measurement of intelligence and the scientific community still cannot come to an agreement on an interpretation.” And smile.

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