Intelligence Testing: Modern Controversies and Racial Differences

The history of using intelligence testing to assist eugenic breeding is a cautionary tale; one that can and has been learned from.  Intelligence tests today are put to much more benevolent uses, as Binet wished.  Like anything, be it a car, gun or savings account, intelligence tests must be used responsibly.  If used responsibly, they can be put to good effect.  Above all, the examiner must thoughtfully reflect on his motivation to test.  Intelligence tests must be used to classify, categorize and diagnose, not discriminate, disparage or subordinate.  Ordinarily, psychological examiners now manage lesser evils. Modern examiners struggle to remain cognizant that the performance on intelligence tests is not exactly intelligence itself.  The numbers are estimates.

However, responsible uses of intelligence tests and responsible interpretation of the date that they produce require one to understand 1) that the intelligence tests imperfectly separate native intelligence from learning and education, 2) that intelligence tests are, to some extent, products of culture that will be more or less consistent with the culture of the examinee, 3) that intelligence test scores are affected by opportunity, stimulation and education throughout development.  Philosopher and psychologist, James Flynn has researched intelligence quotients for decades. Flynn has found cultural grounds for intellectual variation.  That is, the culture, subculture and family shape thought style, which in turn, affects intelligence test scores.  Still, we should not fall into despair or disillusionment about intelligence testing.  What is being measured certainly is strongly related to intelligence for all persons.  These tests correspond with what people think intelligence is, and they measure abilities that are necessary for successful adaptation to family, school and work.  Responsibly using intelligence tests means being aware of potential misuses and prevailing controversies; likewise, it means using the test to generate, not only an estimate of intelligence, but a description of the thinking and process by which that estimate was obtained.

Dr. Steven C. Hertler
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