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Do Standard Intelligence Tests Actually Measure Intelligence?

Essay by   •  February 11, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,302 Words (10 Pages)  •  2,167 Views

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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 вЂ" 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

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