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Intelligence theory and validity in minority groups

Intelligence is one of the most widely debated, researched, and studied concepts in the field of psychology and psychological testing. Some of the early pioneers of mental testing and intelligence testing were Francis Galton, Alfred Binet, Henry Goodard, Lewis Teman, and Robert Yerkes. Modern intelligence testing has relatively recently been associated with names such as David Wechsler linked to the development of the Wechsler Intelligent Scales for both children and adults. In addition, Howard Gardner introduced modern psychology and the field of education to the theory of multiple intelligences. Furthermore, the implications of early testing bias as well as current difficulties and strategies for reducing testing bias in psychometrics have been addressed by the field of psychology. Intelligence testing as a sampling a single dimension of human psychology will continue to be debated amongst psychologists.

Intelligence Defined and Undefined

Intelligence is one of the most widely debated, researched, and studied concepts in the field of psychology and psychological testing. Despite all of the attention that the psychological construct of intelligence receives, to date a widely accepted definition of intelligence has remained rather elusive. The American Psychological Association’s Concise Dictionary of Psychology (2009) defines intelligence as “the ability to derive information, learn from experience, adapt to the environment, understand, and correctly utilized thought and reason (p. 252). In addition, at the end of the definition it is even stated that there could many different types of intelligence and much debate over the exact nature of intelligence. In fact, the definition or terms used to describe intelligence often differ in respect to the area of psychology in which psychologists practice in the field. For example social psychologist may interpret intelligence in terms of social competence, behavioral psychologists in terms of life functioning, and educational psychologists in terms of academic progression. According to Cohen & Swerdlik (2002), in a symposium in 1921 a group of 17 of the leading psychologists in America attempted to identify what intelligence is; no two psychologists could agree and it was recorded that the term intelligence had grown to such an extent as to have too many meanings that eventually it would not have any meaning at all.

Origins of Intelligence Theory and Intelligence Testing

Mental testing origins can be traced back to Francis Galton in his attempts to measure individual differences (Goodwin, 2008). Galton contended that intelligence was inherited while siding with the debate that nature had the greatest influence on the development of intelligence. In addition, Galton also believed that those who were intelligent were people who had the best sensory abilities.

Alfred Binet launched the first intelligence test known as the Binet-Simon Scales in a response to identifying and diagnosing intellectually limited school children from normal school children for appropriate educational placement drawing upon his concepts of individual psychology (Cohen & Swerdlik (2002). Binet theorized intelligence to be definable in functional terms in regards to adaptation, understanding, reasoning, and understanding (Goodwin, 2008).

Next, Henry Goodard brought Binets intelligence test to America and began translating it for testing of children (Goodwin, 2008). Later, Goodard would redefine Binet’s term mental level to mental age, which was a report in years regarding a child’s mental ability. Goodard would be one of the first intelligence testers to use intelligence testing for use of diagnostic classifications systems of mental ages and at the time he identified these classifications as idiots, imbeciles, and morons. In the 117 page book The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeblemindedness, Goodard reported on a genealogical study that investigated the heredity component of two different bloodlines in which a soldier first had children with an intellectually limited or feebleminded girl producing a genealogy of intellectually limited family members and second had children with a girl described as being of a respectable family in addition to not being reported as being intellectually limited (Goodwin, 2008). The study implicated heredity as playing a major role in the development intelligence.

Lewis Terman extended Goodard’s translation of the Binet-Simon scales and added a new concept known as the intelligence quotient. Intelligence quotient or IQ could be defined as “equaling mental age divided by chronological age with the rest multiplied by 100” (Goodwin, 2008, p. 548). Terman’s extension of the intelligence test to include the concept of IQ would later expand intelligence testing to a continuum that could be used to not only identified intellectually limited students, but also intellectually gifted students.

Robert Yerkes would come to play a part in the testing of intelligence in response to the World War I and the American Psychological Association’s desire to lend aid to the need of the US Army (Goodwin, 2008). Yerkes aspired to develop tests that could be used by the Army to identify special skills in recruits so that those recruits could be placed in the most appropriate areas in which to serve. An Army Alpha test and Army Beta test were created to test those who were literate and for those who had reduced literacy respectfully. Soldiers were often tested in groups and those tested in the Alpha group were told they were being tested to see how well they could think, remember, and carry out orders while members of the Beta group were told not to ask questions.

The historical leaders in intelligence testing including Goodard, Terman, and Yerkes believed that:

“mental capacity was primarily the result of genetic inheritance, environment had little if any effect on this overall ability, intelligence might be composed of a variety of skills, but underlying all of them was a single, unitary capability, and this capability was what intelligence tests measured” (Goodwin, 2008, p. 275).

However, shortly thereafter the theories and testing of intelligence during the early history fell under harsh judgment and ridicule where one critical author wrote that “the testing boom of the 1920’s probably did more to retard than to advance the progress of testing” (Anastasi, 1993, p. 17)

A Modern Intelligence Test

One commonly used type of modern intelligence tests are the Wechsler tests. David Wechsler was interested in creating a series of intelligence tests that could be used to assess a wide range of ages from people in preschool to adulthood (Cohen & Swerdlik, 2002). Currently, the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence Revised or the WPPSI-R is used for ages 3 years to 7 years, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Third Edition or the WAIS-III is used for ages 6 through 16, and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale Third Edition or the WAIS-III for the ages of 16 through 89 years. These tests are all similar in structure with each including verbal and performance scales. Wechsler conceptualized intelligence as “the aggregate of global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment…composed of elements or abilities, which though not entirely independent, are qualitatively differentiable” (Cohen & Swerdlik, 2002, p. 227).

A Modern Theory of Intelligence

Intelligence theory and intelligence testing could not be complete without a reference to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence. Howard Gardner contended that intelligence is not a single entity, but rather that intelligence could be expressed in a variety of ways (Gardner, 1993). He described multiple intelligences as the ability "to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings” (Gardner, 1993, p.33). In addition, the theory of multiple intelligence includes several types of expression of intelligence including linguistic, mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, an interpersonal intelligences; eventually Gardner added one more to include naturalistic intelligence. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence introduced a new way for the field of psychology to view intelligence and the theory took into account more of the idea of individual psychology as well as valuing cultural diversity in assessing intelligence.

Intelligence Tests Validity In Minority Groups

Cultural bias in standardized testing, including that of intelligence testing, has been a controversial issue in the field of psychology especially in light of new judicial and legislative occurrences in the educational system (Gregory & Less, 1986). According to Williams (1983) historical research in regards to the IQ controversy observed that intelligence testing in the early years was associated and influenced by the belief of superiority of Anglo-Saxon culture. In fact, many of the early intelligence test developers had publicly set out to make the determination of the genetic link to intelligence in regards to race and social class. Therefore, the concept of test bias or “the tendency of a test to systematically over or underestimate the true scores of individuals to whom that test is administered, for example because they are members of particular groups e.g. ethnic minorities, sexes” was highly visible and confounding in the early intelligence testing development (American Psychological Association, 2009, p. 518). Furthermore, the possibility for standardized testing to contribute to barriers for minorities has been documented as intelligence testing has historically been used to select and screen individuals and deny minorities unfair access to educational and career opportunities (Gregory & Less, 1986). The challenge to modern intelligence test development is to produce tests that are void of testing bias as well as to create tests that produce race blind and class blind results. Today some of the only ways psychologist have found to alleviate some of the intelligence testing bias is to incorporate some of the following strategies to include race norming test scores, report tests scores in only a few broad categories, reduce the cognitive demands, replace with subjective judgments of competence, or switch to personality inventories (Gottfredson & Saklofske, 2009). In regards to intelligence testing used in the educational system, the suggestion that intelligence tests be used in conjunction with clinical observations, teacher observations, cognitive styles, developmental theory, and other sources of information should be utilized to obtain holistic etiology of students has been embraced by some educational psychologists (Gregory & Less, 1986). Lastly, a strong recommendation as been made to psychologists working in intelligence testing to be aware of the influence of eurocentrism in regards to development and interpretations of tests as well as being open minded in acknowledging the performance and contexts of minorities.

In conclusion the field of psychology in regards to intelligence testing must be aware of one of the most confounding elements that seems to exist in psychometrics, which is that intelligence or whatever the construct at hand - is whatever the test tests. Measuring psychological concepts began early in history with bias and extracting all bias shall continue to be a daunting and theoretically impossible task in psychometrics. The current field of psychology and modern psychologists will be tasked with not only developing credible intelligence tests, but also continuing the debate of the meaningfulness of evaluating people against a single dimension of human psychology.

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