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Intelligence Essay

The subject of intelligence is a very controversial area of psychology, resulting in a heated debate over the factors and reasons for the range of different levels of intelligence. Even the way in which people are tested is discussed and argued as being either a good way to measure the ability of individuals or a biased way, favouring those of different social backgrounds. So to start this discussion off we must look at a controversial topic and explore both sides of the issue, and the question that we will begin with is: Why does the definition and measurement of intelligence create problems?

The idea that we can measure the intelligence of an individual through the process of an exam was commonly regarded to have been first introduced by two psychologists in 1904, Binet and Simon, who were commissioned to create the tests in order to help to identify those children who may need extra support from the school system because of a lower intelligence quotient (I.Q.). By 1905 the first test was created and ready for completion by a small sample of students. The tests were then revised over a few years and much larger samples were selected to participate in the standardization process (SP). The SP was initially designed to measure the intelligence of children up to the age of 16, however, when news of the test reached America, psychologists at Stanford University began to revise and adapt the questions in the test so that by 1960, they could not only test American students but also test subjects who were up to 18 years old.

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The tests were furthered even more in the ’70s and ’80s, and continue to be adapted, and now the I.Q. a test can be used to test the so-called intelligence of individuals who range from 2years old to 23 years and 11months old, which coincidentally is my age at the time of writing this. Because of the involvement of Stanford University in the development of these tests, the test is now commonly known as the Stanford-Binet test. However, there are a lot of issues of debate that surround these, as well as any other types of intelligence/aptitude tests, taking their validity, reliability and neutrality into question. In the past, IQ tests have been seen as a way to distinguish who might be the ‘right man for the job’ by employers, however, it has been proven that they can only really help to find employees for a certain job if that job entails a lot of academic work and that of which is learnt in school.

A study conducted on the validity of IQ test scores (Ghiselli, 1966), showed that there was a mild correlation between test scores and job ability/success among stockbrokers (as it requires better academic ability), whereas there was little to no correlation for those applying to the police force (which requires less academic ability). The IQ tests, therefore, remain better indicators of how academic an individual is, which is basically what they were initially designed for anyway. Perhaps the most common criticism of the IQ tests, is that most only test two or three different areas of intellectual qualities, such as mathematical, spatial awareness (to a certain degree), and grammar skills, however as there is no accurate or certain definition of intelligence, it begs the question: How can you have an intelligence test when you don’t know specifically what to test for? Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences backs up this criticism, and he identified 8 areas in which a person could have a certain amount of ability, which does explain individual difference quite well.

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He suggests that each individual has a certain amount of Linguistic intelligence, musical intelligence, mathematical/logical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, and the recently added naturalistic intelligence (the recognition and categorization of natural objects). If Gardner’s theory is correct then the intelligence tests are obviously flawed because they can’t test for abilities such as dexterity of movement or linguistic ability. It is also worth noting that the Intelligence tests ignore the existence of idiot savants and those who are exceptionally able in certain areas, but who are not deemed to be ‘smart’, whereas Gardner’s theory accepts those as intelligent in those specific areas. He states that those who disagree with his ideas of multiple intelligences are simply scared about moving away from the idea of standardized tests and that linguistic, musical, and kinaesthetic abilities are just talents.

Gardner agrees with the notion that these areas may be ‘just talents’ as long as the exceptional logical or mathematical ability is also acknowledged as ‘just a talent’. In short theories such as Gardner’s have questioned the ultimate validity of standardized intelligence tests. It is not just the validity that is questionable about IQ tests, as the reliability must also be taken into consideration. For example, some IQ tests are timed in order to test the speed at which a person can look at and solve a problem, however, this begs the question, can the inability to complete a test in time affect a person’s IQ? And what if it is a physical, rather than psychological problem that hinders a person’s test speed? The elderly for instance may be suffering from age-related problems such as arthritis, or heart problems, which generally slow the movement of an individual down, but does not necessarily affect the mind, but if they were asked to take a timed IQ test, they might not get a result which reflects their intellectual ability.

Another area of disapproval over IQ tests is the culture-fair testing debate, which takes into account the types of questions that are put into the tests. Any verbal style questions, even if they are translated into different languages tend to be culturally biased and so the best way to remedy this situation is to create questions that use shapes and self-explanatory style tasks, however even they will sometimes favour one type of culture over another, and it is virtually impossible to create a totally culture-free test. The next area of criticism is the famous nature debate that runs alongside almost every area of psychology, and which always has strong support from both sides and the idea of stability of intelligence in particular. It has been said that the natural intelligence of an individual cannot be changed and that we must simply utilize what we are born with.

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If we look at both Binet’s IQ testing, and Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, we can see that both of these theories tend to support the nature side of the debate, and although Gardner does look at different bits of intelligence or ‘talents’, he does not suggest that a person can learn intelligence. Sternberg (1985), and his ‘Triarchic Theory of Intelligence’ (TTI) disagree with this, and whilst he accepts that there might be different types of intelligence, he suggests that there are only really three; componential intelligence, contextual intelligence, and the experiential intelligence. The componential is used to explain the academic side of the brain, the cognitive problem solving, and the information processing ability of a person. The contextual tries to explain the ability to adapt to different situations, either cultural or environmental, and is often referred to as ‘street-smart’ and the experiential intelligence of an individual is their ability to acquire a skill and make it routine.

Sternberg considers intelligence to be a series of skills that can be nurtured rather than a set of inbuilt abilities which cannot be changed. He also devised a different sort of test which utilizes his theory and accounts for the speed in which a person can acquire and use a new skill called: the Sternberg Multidimensional Abilities Test. Results from this test will help individuals to look at where they require improvement and can be much more helpful to participants than IQ tests. Sternberg ultimately suggests that Intelligence can be improved, and there are a number of findings to support his theory. There have been 2 very controversial pieces of research and publications however which not only disagree with the main principles of Sternberg’s theory but have also provoked uproar since they have been released. The first publication which was to cause huge heated debate all over the world was that published by Jenson (1969), who said that those of Black origin scored on average 15 points below that of White people.

He suggested that this was mainly due to the genetic makeup of Black people and that although environment may have been a factor; the main reason is the hereditability of intelligence. The next piece of literature which caused so much commotion when it was released was the ‘Bell Curve’ by Herrnstein and Murray (1994), which agrees with Jenson’s research, and also points out that those of low intellectual ability will generally lead difficult lives, are more likely to be inadequate parents themselves and are also more likely to turn to drink, drugs and crime. Although these comments are highly controversial and politically incorrect, some of the points made are more than likely to be true and can go some way to explaining why people find themselves in that position, however, it would only be accurate if two factors did not play huge parts in the intelligence levels of individuals, the culture that individuals are exposed to, and the fact that intelligence is not fixed, and that there are plenty of studies that give evidence to back this up.

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The test that Jenson gave to the Black and White subjects in 1969 was no doubt culturally biased towards the white subjects, due to the levels of prosperity and education that each group was subjected to previously. Further studies have shown that Black children who were adopted by prosperous white families and were subjected to the same level of schooling demonstrated improved levels of intelligence over children who had a similar genetic background. Adoption studies like these have often proven to be strong evidence for the nurture side of the debate; however one final area of concern in nature/nurture debate is the topic of eugenics. Eugenics is the idea created by Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), who was interested in the success of English dog breeders, who bred the strongest and best dogs together and created many different varieties.

He decided to start a movement that looked at the possibility of weeding out the bad individuals from the ‘good stock’ by getting humans to breed with those who have good properties and attributes, a fairly sick proposition even for the 19th century, and it was soon shut down because people decided to breed for love rather than genes. But nonetheless, the term eugenics was created, and perhaps the most relevant example of eugenics in history is the Immigration Restrictions Act (1924) which was passed in America by President Coolidge, who was said to have proclaimed ‘America must be kept American’ as he signed the bill. On that day eugenicists are known to have won one of the greatest scientific racist battles in American history.


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  • Handouts – T. Kearns

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Intelligence Essay. (2021, May 16). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from