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Intelligence is Subjective

Schools and education systems often use standardised or IQ tests to identify children who are struggling (or gifted) as a way to offer extra support. Scientists try to find links between IQ results and genetics, socio-economic status, academic achievement and even race. But there are SO many issues with these kinds of tests.

In the early 1900s, dozens of intelligence tests were developed in Europe and America claiming to offer unbiased ways to measure a person’s intellectual ability. The first of these tests was developed by French psychologist Alfred Binet, who was commissioned by the French government to identify students who would face the most difficulty in school.

The resulting 1905 Binet-Simon Scale became the basis for modern IQ testing. Ironically, Binet thought that IQ tests were inadequate measures for intelligence, pointing to the test’s inability to properly measure creativity or emotional intelligence.

This is because intelligence is subjective. What may be considered intelligent in one environment, might not in others. For example, knowledge about medicinal herbs is seen as a form of intelligence in certain communities in Africa, but does not correlate with high performance on traditional Western academic intelligence tests.

There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that our culture and environments shape our development, thinking & our ‘intelligence’. Researchers have found huge culturally-based discrepancies among children on measures of verbal ability, problem-solving and mathematical ability.

The “cultural specificity” of intelligence is what makes IQ tests biased towards the environments in which they were developed – namely white, Western society.

These tests assume there is one kind of intelligence which makes them problematic in culturally diverse settings. The application of the same test among different communities fails to recognise the cultural values that shape what different communities values as intelligent behaviour.

What's a different or unusual way your child has shown you how intelligent they are?

References: Heath 1998; Chen, Mo & Honomichi 2004; Carraher, Carraher & Shieemann 1998

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