Since their creation by Alfred Binet in 1905, intelligence tests have been considered as tools to be used in a diagnostic setting by trained practitioners. Subsequently, they were unfortunately taken out of this framework for inappropriate uses. The intelligence quotient (IQ), which is the most common measure of intelligence, is now part of everyday language.
On the Internet, many sites offer to measure your IQ, in the same way as you measure your weight on a bathroom scale. During his presidency, Trump was quick to proclaim that he possessed an exceptional IQ, while considering his opponents as unintelligent. For their part, controversial authors have used the IQ to rank individuals according to their ethnic origin and justify inegalitarian policies.
The tool and the use
Faced with the misuse of IQ, some authors have recommended the abandonment of intelligence tests. That would be to confuse a tool and its use. Although people have been killed by hammer blows, it wouldn’t occur to us to ban hammers, as we know their usefulness.
The same reasoning can be held about intelligence tests. Their misuse should not lead to their abandonment, because they have a real utility in the clinical setting for which they were created. But, to grasp this usefulness, it is necessary to understand what an intelligence test is and what IQ really represents. These are the prerequisites for using intelligence tests intelligently.
For David Wechsler, creator of the intelligence scales most used today, a good intelligence test must assess “an individual’s ability to understand the world around him and his resources to face the challenges are presented “. Intelligence thus conceived can only be evaluated through a variety of tests calling on a wide range of cognitive abilities. From this perspective, intelligence is not just one skill among others, but the efficient organization of the set of skills in order to solve various problems.
To measure this global intelligence, the question is to choose the tests to include in the tests. The current scales are built with reference to a model of the structure of intelligence, known by the acronym CHC, which makes it possible to carry out a good sampling of tests. Tests built on this basis show strong evidence of validity.
IQ depends on others
Unlike the measurement of height, that of intelligence is relative. While an individual’s height is independent of that of other human beings, IQ is not. We cannot determine an absolute zero on an intelligence scale. Therefore, this scale is not graduated from 0, but on either side of 100, which corresponds to the average performance of the reference population.
When we measure a person’s IQ, we therefore determine their position in relation to the average of the population, identified when establishing the standards for the test. Without standards, an intelligence test is useless. However, many tests on the Internet do not have serious standards. The scores they provide are therefore worthless.
The validity of the tests is limited to the population in which the norms have been determined. It is not possible to establish universal standards that would assume that we have tests that are independent of culture and education or, at a minimum, that are fair to all peoples of the globe. In the 1940s, Raymond Cattell suggested that such ordeals were conceivable.
This claim is contested today, because it neglects the impact of culture and education on intellectual development. There is no intelligence free from cultural influence or intellectual trials without reference to a specific culture, as the American psychologist Jerome Bruner wrote in 1974, “Culture free means intelligence free”.
The role of emotions
Moreover, when a person passes an intelligence test, he engages much more than his intelligence. His performance is inevitably influenced by his motivation, his emotions and other variables. Some individuals may achieve an IQ significantly lower than their actual skills because their performance has been disrupted by stress or other emotional issues.
Other people’s results may be biased by lack of language, writing or computer skills. Therefore, the results of an intelligence test do not have meaning on their own, they must be interpreted by a professional who appreciates their validity and brings the necessary nuances to the numerical values.
If the IQ, correctly measured and interpreted, is useful information in the context of a clinical examination, we must beware of reducing the individual to this value alone. Some important cognitive skills elude measurement of intelligence. This is the case of creativity which is only partially influenced by intelligence. It is also the case of wisdom which is the fruit of experience. Moreover, intelligence does not protect against errors of judgment or impulsive decisions, because it does not exist autonomously. It is a component of a being of flesh and blood that can make good or bad use of it.
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