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University of Wyoming

During this session we will explore what intelligence is and how the definition has changed over the past 90 years.

As with many of the topics we discuss in this course, there is no one definition of intelligence. For many years we looked at it from a purely psychometric viewpoint. That is we worked from the assumption that it was something that could and should be measured. We talked of IQ measures. We talked of IQ scores. We took "tests" to measure intelligence. Most of the testing was done with children but once you were "labeled" it was pretty much assumed you were not going to change, that you really couldn't change.

The first use of intelligence testing with adults came out of World War I - the Army Alpha tests. Robert Yerks, a Harvard professor of psychology, is credited with administering mental tests to 1.7 million recruits during WWI. He even proclaimed that the tests helped win the war. The Alpha and later Beta Army tests were notoriously culturally biased.

The following are sample questions from the Alpha test of WWI.

  • Disarranged Sentence: property floods life and destroy (True or False)
  • If you save $7 a month for 4 months, how much will you save?
  • Revolvers are made by: Smith & Wesson Armor & Co. Ingersol Anheuser-Busch
  • Why is tennis good exercise?
  • The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in: 1863 1813 1778 1812

Psychometrics measure IQ (Intelligence Quotient). IQ was introduced in the early 1900s by Alfred Binet, a French psychologist, to identify children who might not benefit from regular classroom instruction. It was designed to measure student's aptitude for school learning - a prediction IQ was a ratio of chronological age to mental age. Over the years that comparison has been dropped and IQ is now defined as having a mean of 100 with a standard deviation of 15.

There are many so called "IQ" tests online. See if you can find one.

Out of all this exploration came Edward Thorndike's classic work proving for the first time that learning does NOT peak in early life. We can learn well beyond our 20s!

Since these early times the debate has concerned the validity and use of these instruments. There is no doubt that they have been used and misused and have important social and policy implications.

The controversial Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray promoted racial discrimination. A number of well-known scientists have refuted the Bell Curve. You may want to read The Bell Curve Wars edited by Steven Fraser.

Another work I highly recommend is Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man. (It is on our doctoral reading list. In 1992, psychologist Carol Tauris published Mismeasure of Woman looking at gender.

Be sure you understand the difference between fluid and crystallized intelligence as discussed in your text.

The good news is that over the past two decades, we have begun to change our ideas and attitudes about intelligence. The psychometricians are going away. Two of the leading theorists who are promoting new ideas and new definitions about intelligence are Robert Sternberg and Howard Gardner.

In addition to the introduction to Sternberg and Gardner in your text, you may want to look at some of their books, articles and web sites.