Assessment – Intelligence and IQ.

By Pran Patel with thanks to Dr Sarif Alrai

How do we assess intelligence in human beings?

The first time we encounter assessment by what it is by today’s standard could be at the introduction of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test. Alfred Binet initially developed this test, and it was later adapted by US psychologist Henry Herman Goddard 1908 and Lewis Terman in 1916. Terman and Goddard sought a test which measured your ‘innate abilities’ and your ‘theoretical maximum’ through an assessment against a predefined specification. As you can imagine from that day IQ tests, have been used by those seeking to maintain the societal status quo. Goddard himself later propagated the idea that the descendants of marriage produced ‘normal functioning people’ and those outside of marriage sired inferior people and criminals (Benjamin 2001).

Not surprisingly, Goddard’s work attracted interest from eugenicists, well what do we expect considering the above statements? Further to this, he thought that ‘feebleminded’ people should be isolated or sexually sterilised to stop them from passing on their genes. These narratives led to (in 1924) the US state of Virginia developing policies which allowed the forced sterilisation for people with low IQ scores (which was upheld by the US supreme court. It seems that the allies and the Nazis liked this approach equally as around this period the Nazis were using this as propaganda to authorise the murder of children with low IQ scores.

The problems with IQ tests and their like are nothing new, in 1974 Beeghley and Butler cited this factors in an argument for the abolition of their use in schools post desegregation in the USA 1) intrinsic to the tests themselves, 2) characteristics of the testing process, 3) related to the societal and educational connotations 4) the institutional racism as a consequence of their use. 

What are the issues with the tests? IQ scores are calculated relative to a similar aged population (usually with a 3-month banding); in essence, every score is a ranking with the median value being set at 100 (the scores are normalised). If your IQ score is higher than a 100, this means that you rank better than the 50% of people taking the test.

As even the premise of IQ tests and their measure of innate intelligence are relative to the population of the people taking the test, the genetic argument starts to fail. How can innate intelligence be measured against other people? The ‘Flynn effect’ is from the analysis of the (tangible) increase in IQ test scores (around 3 points per decade) this rise is too high for it be explained by evolutionary science, so, this improvement must be caused by something else. It cannot be a coincidence that these gains are occurring at the same time as access to schools is increasing. Naturally, most capitalists will tell you as demand increases so too will supply, and this ‘competition’ propels standards. Therefore, these increased scores are the result of not nature, but nurture.

The Stanford-Binet test is cited as measuring[1] 1. Fluid reasoning, 2. Knowledge 3. Quantitative reasoning, 4. Visual-spatial processing 5. Working memory. IQ tests are a measure of intelligence, just a measure of intelligence.  Like any other assessment, you can prepare for them through practice. In fact, the website states to practice:

Fluid Reasoning: general patterns/puzzles.

Knowledge Test: Getting into the habit of consuming informative media such as science magazines or books on history will help you excel on this section of the assessment.

Quantitative Reasoning: Focuses more on raw mathematical ability than it does on mathematical knowledge, i.e. knowing advanced calculus is not necessarily going to help you, where practising tricky calculations.

Working Memory: Learning memory methods used by memory champions such as memorising 500 number sequence in 5 minutes will drastically improve in this section

Visual Spacing: Although more complicated, there are a wealth of practice tests available.

The idea of measuring innate intelligence has long gone with the concept of practice and development before we get into the history of testing and race. What does the Stanford Binet IQ test measure? Are we actually measuring ‘intelligence’? Are we just measuring against how the broader populations perform in these five discrete areas? Who has decided that these are the areas where the metrics of intelligence lie? Each time we use this, or any similar, test we validate them. That is, by using these assessments we are buying into their definition of intelligence. Given the discussion in this chapter, it is clear that there are flaws to this position. These IQ assessments have evolved to become what they are. Any system whose roots are so deeply entangled with racism and prejudice cannot evolve to a better place – a ground up re-think and re-design is required. IQ tests and the global standard in tests such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) have a reliance on reading and writing in English, equally are ethnocentric and are widely based on western (the global north) standards of ‘intelligence’, that’s the thing with assessments they measure what you want them to. It is also worth noting that the company who publishes the WAIS and the WISC assessments, Pearson Inc., is currently worth around about $4.39 billion.

Who decides what is essential? And different cultures will have various factors which impact upon cognitive functions, neural functions and neuronal structure (Fasfous et al., 2013).

The way people look at, process and the way their brains are structured is impacted on by the culture in which they grew up.  Fasfous et al., 2013 from the University of Granada investigated at Moroccan immigrants to Spain and a group of Spaniards. Researchers accounted for language (non-verbal testing), socio-economic, education level, age and sex in their sample. They found that the immigrant group were more likely to depend on different neuropsychological components (working memory, shifting, attention and decision-making) to native Spanish group (motor coordination and verbal memory) in their overall score.

A person’s culture impacts on way their brain processes information and even in this group where education and monthly income were similar using this as a measure of homogeneity the Moroccan participants and their culture were assessed to be lower. These patterns are equally seen in South African research, where the evidence points towards the growing body of literature that the majority of subtests in the WAIS-III hold cross-cultural biases (Cockcroft et al., 2015). I conclude that not only is intelligence testing tiered through biased assessments methods (verbal and non-verbal) but based on one’s proximity to the dominant culture.

Acculturation is dependent on factors such as the length of time a person is within the dominant culture, socio-economic status, level and quality of educations, home environments, language preference, etc. have all been shown to impact on scores, test-wiseness (“test-taking skill, motivation, and perceptions of test face validity” (Kennepohl et al., 2004; Shuttleworth-Edwards et al., 2004; Perry et al., 2008) Harris et al. (2003), Manly et al., 1998), Nell, 2000, p. 133 in Cockcroft et al., 2015.).

The more westernised or white, your culture is and has become, the higher the likelihood of higher IQ test scores.

Is it that cultures from the global south are inferior to Eurocentric cultures? Or is that the test measures an intelligence based on and designed within that context? This thinking leads to the assertions that ethnocentric traits influence the way we measure intelligence and subsequently, success.

If this is how the system is tiered, is then everything that flows from is the fruit of the poisonous tree? Yes, I am now asking is the whole education system flawed and tiered towards a white European culture?

It is vital to consider the following questions: How valid is our currently accepted definition of intelligence? What are we actually measuring? Why do we measure intelligence? About the tests, how do we use these test scores? And what impact do they have on the lives of people they have been performed upon?

[1]The Stanford-Binet test defined intelligence into these categories. As such, if it cannot be measured/captured by one of these five – the Standford-Binet test does not recognise it as ‘intelligence’. Different IQ tests will conceptualise intelligence in their own way, but overwhelmingly, they all measure something similar to each other.  

References and Further Reading

Benjamin, L. T. J. (2008, January). The birth of American intelligence testing. Monitor on Psychology40(1).

Cockcroft, K., Alloway, T., Copello, E. and Milligan, R., 2015. A cross-cultural comparison between South African and British students on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales Third Edition (WAIS-III). Frontiers in Psychology, 6.

Fasfous, A., Hidalgo-Ruzzante, N., Vilar-Lopez, R., Catena-Martinez, A. and Perez-Garcia, M., 2013. Cultural Differences in Neuropsychological Abilities Required to Perform Intelligence Tasks. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 28(8), pp.784-790.

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