Intelligence – Um, what?

I remember learning about intelligence during my under-grad psychology course at uni back in the 80s. The definition of intelligence in my text book was something like “intelligence is the thing that intelligence tests measure”. And, well, despite having used or looked at an IQ test most weeks of my working life, that is still pretty much my understanding of them.

Intelligence is one of those things that you can’t really hold or visualise. We all kind of have a sense of what it means, but is it really even a thing?

Over the years there have been lots of theories about intelligence. There have been many different legends of psychology who have posed different theories about what intelligence is and most have agreed that it is made up of lots of different parts all working together to let us do the things to solve problems – to learn and adapt.

The earliest measure of intelligence, or IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests, was designed by Mr Binet and Mr Simon in France in the early 1900s. Simon and Binet were given the job by the French rulers at the time to work out which children should go to which school. In earlier times in France, only the rich children got to go to school and when it was declared that all children should be able to access education, it was decided that a test was needed to help work out which children should go to which schools and get what amount of help to learn.

So, the first intelligence tests did just that and after all of these years, intelligence tests are still used to determine the fate of many children and the sorts of education that they can access. Modern day IQ tests are used as part of the process to determine which children should get to go to Special schools, which ones get to have an aide and which ones get to have extra help because their IQ is so low that it effects their ability to get along and do the day to day things that everybody else does. For older children and adults, IQ tests might be used as part of recruiting processes to see which people have the right sort of skills for a job or even which children might get a scholarship at a certain school or institution. Also, IQ tests are used during the process of assessing people who may have had a head injury to determine the strengths and weaknesses and what sort of rehabilitation they may need to assist them.

In essence, an IQ test correlates with how well someone is going to do at their academic subjects at school. An IQ test does not measure creativity, happiness, getting along skills, street-wisdom or any other traits that come in handy in life.

Usually, if people are measuring intelligence using an IQ test, it will involve some word or verbal problems, some visual or shape-based problems and some memory tasks. Some of these might be pencil and paper (or these days computer tablet) based tasks and some might be Eddie McGuire or Quiz Master type questions and answers. All of the scores on lots of different little tests gat analysed and combined in certain special ways to give an overall score that is usually referred to as an IQ Score (Intelligence Quotient). All of the smaller bits that go in to the test can show us a person’s strengths and weaknesses. Some may be really good at words and not so great at memory. Some might be really fast at doing things, but not so great at patterns. This information can be handy, especially if someone is having problems with learning.

Unless you are an administrator responsible for keeping the gates for some extra funding, an IQ test is rarely used alone, because, let’s face it, people are more than their IQ score.

Sadly, however, in the cold hard light of day, someone has to make a decision about who gets to go whee and who gets additional funding and sometimes this boils down to the scores on an individual test on an individual day.

So, it is vitally important that the IQ tests that they are using are the best that they can be, as scientifically accurate as they can be and administered as carefully as possible by people who are properly trained and who understand the limits of the information that an IQ test can give.

There is a lot of research and mathematics that go into developing a modern day IQ test. In essence, the people developing the tests have to make sure that the test is measuring what it’s supposed to measure (that’s called validity) and that it measures things reliably and consistently across lots of different sorts of people (we call that reliability). An IQ test compares one person’s score with the average of a whole lot of other people of the same age (we call this the norm). Every few years (around every 10 years), the people who make IQ tests have to revise the test to make sure that the test is still measuring the things it is supposed to measure and sometimes they have to adjust it for the times. For instance, some IQ tests have had to remove things like pictures of telephones because phones do not look the way they did ten years ago. They also try harder each time to make the tests work across different cultures (which is always very tricky). An IQ test has to be given the same way to every person who takes the test and so there is a lot of training that psychologist have to do to understand the maths and science behind the test, but to also make sure they are not making it easier for some children than others by the way they set out each task or ask questions. IQ tests also have to be kept locked up and secret so that no one can see what the questions are before they take the test. We wouldn’t want anyone to cheat, now! Psychologists also have lots of rules and ethics they need to know before they can administer IQ tests to people.

At the moment, there is a group of researchers in Australia trying to collect new averages/norms for the latest version of a child’s IQ test. They are most of the way through it but to make sure that they test the same sort of people that actually live in Australia, there are certain subgroups they have to try to test, too. One of the subgroups that this particular group of researchers is short on are children who have parents who left school at year 12 or earlier. If you are interested in having your children contribute to finding out what the new averages/norms are, you can contact me .  I want to make sure that you get all of the information about the study and the ethics of it all before you nominate your child.




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