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The Multifaceted Nature of Human Intelligence

 

Emily H. brings up an interesting point by asking questions about our “biological disadvantage” and its interplay with our motivation and early environment. This question references the difficulty in parsing out the different components of human intelligence, which educators are constantly assessing and trying to improve (i.e., who passes a course, who graduates high school, who gets into college). A topic I’ve been interested in exploring is the biological underpinnings of human intelligence. In defining intelligence, my question pertains to inherent versus acquired aspects of “being smart”. As I mentioned last week, many institutions rely on standardized intelligence tests to decide a person’s subsequent function. Early IQ tests (Terman 1911, Wechsler, 1944) were developed for placing military officers. Schools also use the WAIS and Raven’s Matrices to decide which students are eligible for special intensive or “honors” courses. But are these tests accurate in defining intelligence?

IQ testing is based on the fundamental belief that there is a single, unitary measure of intelligence. Furthermore, proponents of IQ and standardized (i.e., SAT or GRE) point to converging, independent criteria as indicators that the tests are accurate. I have trouble buying this argument, however, based on some points that people have mentioned. First, Jessica K. points out that taking a test is like any other task. Some people are better at sitting still, or are more motivated, or less intimidated to take a 2-3 hour exam. Furthermore, the “independent evidence” is iffy. While researchers have found that IQ score are more accurate in predicting an individual’s future job performance than references or an interview, correlations are still only .15. This is not an overtly strong correlation! The correlation also breaks down further when the jobs are not high-powered or require college education. Finally, Stephanie brings up Gardner’s research. If multiple intelligences do in fact exist, I believe it is the responsibility of educators to strengthen all of these diverse skills.

This evidence calls into question the relevance of standardized intelligence testing. Specifically, it is important to understand that the correlates measured by IQ evaluations is not “intelligence” in its complete and literal form, but is rather a sample of several components of the complex set of criteria we refer to as intellect. Thus, while institutions will no doubt continue to use IQ tests (after all, the evidence linking college retention or salary in high-level jobs is relatively strong), educators must not rely solely on universal benchmark tests to direct learning in the classroom. Rather, it is important to understand the multifaceted nature of human intelligence and cater to individual differences.

 

~Alex Tuttle

Haverford '08

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