IQ & Cultural Bias IQ essay

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The researchers found that the student's minimum performance rate correlated more closely with their IQ scores than any other single variable. High and low IQ scores were predicted on the basis of the worst performance (minimum recall) and the best performance (maximum recall). When compared, those that were predicted on the basis of the worst performance were more accurate, indicating that "worst performance reveals more about intelligence than best performance" (p. 9). The study was significant because it measured preparatory strategies which earlier research did not. It was also the first time the Worst Performance rule was tested on children rather than adults. The findings suggested "developmental invariance," that is, no difference between people of different ages. But this should be tested in a project that puts adults and children together and gives them the same task. The researcher points out that low-IQ participants sometimes do well, but they dip much lower than high IQ subjects dip, making the lower minimum scores more revealing of intelligence.

Nature vs. Nurture

While psychologists who believe in IQ as something reveal conduct research on how to develop better, more accurate IQ tests, the question of nature vs. nurture remains. Are we born with a certain finite amount of intelligence and brain power, or do the circumstances of our life and environment influence how we go about learning? Take black people, for instance. Only a generation ago, blacks were routinely denied education (and berated for their "stupidity"). In America the treatment of blacks was crippling for some 200 years. Is it any wonder they generally tested some 15 points lower than whites did during the 20th century? Women are another example of how IQ can be distorted by discrimination. Even today, "although IQ correlates highly with job status, job performance, and income among white males and working women, the correlation becomes meaningless with the inclusion of women throughout the range of IQ who are unemployed or denied employment" (Shipman, 1994). Discrimination against blacks has been far greater than against women, and probably their IQ scores reflect that.

Gould (1995) argues IQ today is viewed primarily as "the chief determiner of human conduct...a unitary mental process which we call intelligence: that this process is conditioned by a nervous mechanism which is inborn: that the degree of efficiency to be attained by that nervous mechanism and the consequent grade of intellectual or mental level for each individual is determined by the kind of chromosomes that come together with the union of the germ cells: that it is but little affected by any later influences except such serious accidents as may destroy part of the mechanism" (p. 11). This is the popular hereditary view of intelligence. It is the not at all what Stephen Binet had in mind when he invented the IQ test.

Binet defined intelligence as "the capacity to learn and to assimilate instruction," which could improve and increase. He did not see intelligence as a fixed quantity. In fact, Benet said that view was "founded upon nothing" (p. 10). Binet worried that IQ score could function as a self-fulfilling prophecy -- if a student was labeled "low IQ" for example, the teacher's treatment of the student could send the message that the student was too stupid to learn, so why try? A low IQ score could cause the teacher to look for signs to confirm it (and who doesn't act stupidly sometimes?). The lower expectations of the teacher would produce a poorer quality of work from the student. The original aim of the testing was to identify children with special needs so that teachers could make special efforts to meet them. Thus, when Binet invented the IQ test, the score was not intended to denote basic mental ability that is inborn. It was simply to guide teachers to those students that needed help.

IQ testing and scores seem to lead to the idea that human beings possess in-bred differences. Some people are superior to others. This idea leads to using IQ as "evidence" to support racism and other forms of unfair discrimination. The Bell Curve, for example, by Herrenstein and Murray, tries to argue that whites have higher IQs than blacks and other minorities because they are genetically superior. Nunley (1995) analyzes the book and shows it to be a fraud, "a deliberate, self-conscious misrepresentation of the evidence" (p. 74) in which research findings are manipulated, perverted, ignored, or highlighted in order to make the argument convincing. He argues that culture produces IQ and describes research studies that support that. For instance, Woodard (1992, cited in Nunley, 1995) found black children that were adopted by upper income level families scored 21 points higher than black children that lived with their mothers. Moore showed similar findings for the influence of culture on IQ. He found that black children that were adopted by white families "ended up with higher IQs than black children adopted into middle class black families..." (p. 79).

Intelligence is more than an IQ score. As Gardner suggests there are different kinds of intelligence, and IQ tests look only at two of them. When Georgia public schools implemented a new system for identification of gifted and talented students, one which included but was not limited to IQ scores, they discovered plenty of intelligence and talent among minorities that had formerly been overlooked (Krisel & Cowan, 1997). As a result of a research project conducted by the National Research Center on Gifted & Talented, the State of Georgia passed a law requiring public schools to consider Multiple Criteria when assessing students for giftedness, not just the IQ score which formerly was the sole criteria. The new rule keeps IQ and achievement tests but adds other categories of intelligence, some of which require professional judgment rather than a score on a standardized test. IQ seems to be an important predictor of success, yes, but other considerations are important too. By expanding the process of identification to include Multiple Criteria, the problem of cultural bias in IQ testing can be controlled, at least, to some extent. A child that has musical-intelligence, for example, will be easily identified, and that talent will show independent of IQ. IQ is important, but it isn't everything.


Coyle, T.R. (2001). IQ is related to the worst performance rule in a memory task involving children. Ablex Publishing Corporation, 29 (2), 117. Retrieved 3 December 2008 from Expanded Academic ASAP database via Gale.

Hogan, R. (2002). Might outdoor education help develop intelligence? Outdoor Council of Australia, 6 (2), 2. Retrieved 3 December 2008 from Expanded Academic ASAP database via Gale.

Holden, C. (2003). The practical benefits of general intelligence. American Association for the Advancement of Science,…[continue]

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