Thursday, 5 February 2015

Generalisations About IQ Tests

There's a lot of debate (or at least there once was) on the value and even “the meaning” of IQ tests.

To be facetious, one could say that the people who are good at IQ tests are the people who are good at IQ tests. Or, more clearly, the people who are good at IQ tests are often those who've simply done lots of IQ tests! In other words, they've picked up a particular skill through much practice – and that skill is being successful at IQ tests!

There will be many people with high IQs who offer nothing to the world. (They may be non-entities.) Similarly, people with fairly low IQs (within reason!) may achieve a lot in this world – even intellectually or academically.

I even once heard someone say that Albert Einstein had a low IQ. Perhaps he didn't mean in the sense of Einstein actually having been tested as such. He might have meant that had he been tested, he might not have scored very highly. Anyway, I later found out the Einstein had an IQ of 160+ - at least according to the image above. (That shows how little I know about IQ tests. Would that make me a bad candidate for an IQ test?)

I do know that Einstein did very badly at school. The teachers, as far as I can recall, didn't rate him very highly.

So perhaps IQ tests aren't good for geniuses in the sense that some geniuses are extremely specialised. And IQ tests test a lot of things which talented or creative people may not be good at. (How would Mozart, for one, have faired had he been tested by a 18th-century IQ test?)

To be honest, I know next to nothing about IQ tests. One, I've never had one. Two, I've never felt the need to have one.

What Do IQ Tests Prove?

Many people also rhetorically ask: “What do IQ tests prove?”

Well, IQ tests do “prove” at least one thing: they prove that you are good at the individual tests which are found within IQ tests. Since I don't know much about IQ tests, I can only guess that IQ mathematical tests can prove that some people are good at those areas of mathematics. Similarly with IQ spatial tests or puzzles.

However, the word “prove” should only really be used, strictly speaking, in maths and logic. (It isn't even used that much in science, except in a loose sense.) Perhaps 'demonstrate' or 'show' would be a better word, as in:

IQ test A demonstrates that Person X is good at Test A.

What follows from all that? It seems perfectly acceptable to conclude that if it's been shown that someone is good at certain areas of maths, “spatial awareness”, puzzles or whatever, then it may very well follow that they'll also be good at things that are very distant from such IQ tests. And that seems like a fair conclusion.

The Limitations of IQ Tests

One person said to me:

IQ tests only help estimate a persons problem solving and rationalisation abilities. There's so many forms of intelligence that (again) IQ tests can't even assess.”

Yes, though do supporters (or defenders) of IQ tests necessarily deny all that? Won't they – or some of them – admit that IQ tests have their limitations? Surely IQ fans won't claim that they test everything. And if they don't claim that, then what's the big problem with them?

It all depends on how much importance people place on IQ tests. That's the issue. And of course it's precisely because of that that the issue has become politicised.

However, to test “a person's problem solving and rationalisation abilities” is to test a quite a lot. And it's also to test important things. That's not to say there's nothing else to test. The remaining question would be:

How effectively do IQ tests test a person's problem-solving and reasoning abilities?

My adversary then went on to say:

Many psychologists dismiss the point of IQ testing because it's limited and research hasn't been furthered for its development.”

Of course IQ tests are limited! By definition they're limited. Though why would that automatically be a problem? All psychological and cognitive tests are limited. And perhaps “research hasn't been furthered” because of the political controversy associated with IQ tests. In fact I bet that's the primary reason.

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