IQ tests have seemingly been around forever, but recently there’s been a lot more interest in these kinds of examinations – especially as more and more modern research shines a light on just how inconsistent and inaccurate the traditional IQ tests of years past really are.
Modern researchers have been learning so much more about intelligence, about the genesis of thought in our minds, and about how the brain works in general over the past few decades that the IQ tests that used to be given out in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s (particularly to young men looking to enter the military) have started to look more than a little bit antiquated.
For example, researchers today understand that there’s a lot more to overall intelligence than what those tests used to look for. Book smarts is just one small piece of the puzzle, and today researchers firmly believe that intelligence is the sum of many moving parts – including your verbal, nonverbal, or emotional, and recall “intelligence” capabilities.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the first few IQ tests that were pioneered more than 100 years ago aren’t anywhere near as accurate as science believed them to be for the past 80 years. New methodologies have unveiled a new window into testing and tracking intelligence, and the findings of these modern-day researchers are very exciting.
The Realities of Testing for Intelligence
It’s impossible to argue with the fact that taking an IQ test online – any one of those “pop quizzes” you can find on any different number of websites today – is always a lot of fun, but that’s exactly what you should consider these kinds of tests. A fun distraction, a bit of a gimmick, and nothing close to the legitimate intelligence testing and examination protocols that real hard scientists and researchers are taking advantage of and perfecting every single day.
Many of these tests continue to follow in the footsteps of the first few IQ tests that were pioneered in the early 1900s, the same kinds of tests that continued to be used by some society organizations, educational facilities, and “smart clubs” that use these kinds of tests to determine whether or not prospective members may join.
All across Europe and in the United States these examinations were used to figure out just how intelligent someone was, and the initial impact of these early IQ tests was nothing short of incredible.
The first tests to be publicized was the examination conducted by a French psychologist by the name of Alfred Binet. He had been hired by the French government to come up with some sort of standardised examination that would be able to determine which students (young students) were going to have the most challenging time in school as they got older.
His IQ test became the “gold standard” for these kinds of examinations, garnering widespread adaptation in 1905 across France before rapidly spreading across the rest of Europe. Later, the protocols used to form the backbone of this IQ examination would be co-opted by researchers in the United States, and today many of the “standard” IQ tests continue to follow these same protocols.
Unsurprisingly, however, later research into the formation of this examination discovered that the concept and execution of this French IQ test was incredibly flawed right from the beginning. Binet himself would (later in life) question whether or not his test would stand up to closer scrutiny, recognizing that it didn’t account at all for creativity, imagination, or emotional intelligence – three big pieces of the “intelligence puzzle” to be sure.
In the lead up to World War I, and especially in the lead up to World War II, the United States military used IQ testing protocols based off of the French methodology to quickly determine whether or not particular enlistees or draftees were better suited to specific jobs and military occupational specialties before they moved through basic training.
According to declassified information, the U.S. Army conducted Alpha and Beta tests that screened more than 1.75 million US soldiers in the lead up to World War I alone. These IQ tests weren’t only administered to better evaluate the intellectual capacity of new soldiers, but it was also used to try and evaluate the emotional temperament of soldiers before they were to be put into combat arms positions.
Later, between World War I and World War II, the US military pioneered a series of examinations that was designed to separate “gifted and talented” students from the rest of the pack starting as early as middle school, helping to then push and foster those young students into a military career and (hopefully) into officer candidate training positions.
This test is still used in US military today, though the weight of this test is nowhere near as significant as it used to be in the past. Researchers in the US military have recognized that there are better ways to test for military aptitude, which is a large part of why they created the US Military ASVAB testing protocols.
Unsurprisingly, the private sector was pretty quick to jump on board the testing protocols that were pioneered by the US military in the follow-up to World War II. As a lot of veterans returned home and started to build their own lives and their own businesses they remembered taking IQ examinations and how pivotal a role they played in their own military careers, and began installing these kinds of approaches in their own private operations.
These tests also later spread to police departments around the United States, with quite a few police departments in America still taking advantage of these kinds of protocols. Interestingly enough, however, a lot of these police forces that still administer these kinds of examinations have a cutoff for the MAXIMUM IQ score an applicant is allowed to get. Any applicant that exceeds that maximum score will not be admitted to the force, if only because they might become bored with the position and leave a lot sooner than other applicants might.
If that sounds backwards to you, you certainly wouldn’t be alone. But these police forces justify this decision by highlighting just how much time and money they pour into training police recruits and they do not want to find their return on investment falling into the negative side of the balance sheet.
IQ Tests Have Always Had A Less Than Perfect Reputation
As we learn more and more about the shortcomings and pitfalls of traditional IQ testing we also are becoming a lot more aware of the dangers of these kinds of exams, the biases that they reinforced, and the way that some people and organizations utilized these kinds of protocols to perpetrate stereotypes that science just will not bear out.
For example, throughout the early and middle 20th century the major scientific argument put forth regarding intelligence was that it was dictated entirely by genetics and biology. Ethnocentric and eugenic scientists and researchers both viewed intelligence as well as other social behaviors as being hardcoded directly into the DNA of certain individuals and races, latching onto IQ tests and propping them up as a gold standard to prove their beliefs.
A fair share of these radical groups propped up tests that showed a significant disparity in results between ethnic minorities and Caucasians, as well as significant disparity in results between low and high income groups.
A lot of these radical organizations maintained that IQ tests proved and provided significant evidence that different socioeconomic and racial groups were hardwired genetically to be diametrically opposite one another, and that any of the systemic inequalities that individuals might have faced were nothing more than a byproduct of natural evolution and something that they – or we, as a society – wouldn’t be able to change no matter what.
Today we understand and fully recognize that NOTHING could be further from the truth.
IQ tests were used throughout the 1900 to identify individuals described as “idiots and imbeciles”, as well as those that were described as “feebleminded” by the eugenicists. These people, the eugenicists, were looking for ways to hold back individuals that they felt were going to dilute the “stock of America” and they used IQ tests as a means to try and hold back the opportunity individuals would have had to improve their minds by labelling them as too stupid to function.
Unbelievably, in the early 1900s, a fair share of American citizens were actually chemically sterilized. In 1927, a ruling by the US Supreme Court made forced chemical sterilization of certain citizens with low intelligence 100% legal, offering a new record low for the medical community.
More than 65,000 people were sterilized against their will just because they were thought to have a low IQ, even though the overwhelming majority of these individuals were never put through IQ testing protocols or had their IQ testing results manipulated to fall in line with the numbers needed for illegal sterilization.
And while we look back at the early 1900s in the medical community that existed just after the turn-of-the-century as a bit of a “Wild West” aspect of US history, the uncomfortable truth about these kinds of procedures – particularly compulsory sterilization – is that they continued to be legal and continued to exist right up until the mid-1970s.
It wasn’t until a flood of lawsuits from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center were being filed in district and federal courts around America that the laws were changed and people that were charged with having a low IQ, having a long criminal history, or were considered sexual deviance were no longer forced to go through chemical sterilization any longer.
Modern Research Is Diving Deep into Better Understanding Intelligence
While modern research agrees that there are some merits to testing for intelligence, and that if a 100% reliable examination existed it would be a major boon to society, the cold reality of the situation is that most researchers cannot agree on what a test like that would look like. Almost all of them agree that the standardized IQ test is more than a little bit lacking.
A lot of researchers today believe that the entire concept of “intelligence” is specific to only a handful of cultures, and that trying to define it across the board of the human race is next to impossible. One culture values certain aspects of the human mind and the capacity for thought more than others, and trying to come up with some standardized figure that could effectively identify “intelligent” individuals across the board is an impossibility.
For example, concrete knowledge about medicinal herbs and natural medications is seen as one of the highest forms of intelligence across certain communities in the African subcontinent. At the same time, those same qualities would have next to no impact on a standardized IQ test and aren’t held in that wide regard as far as intelligence is concerned across the Western world.
Coming up with a standardized test that could account for all of this cultural diversity would be next to impossible, and eliminating any kind of bias from these kinds of standardized tests (which would be necessary for it to work across the board) is patently impossible as well.
Combine all of that with the unsavory history of IQ tests being used to further more than a little bit nefarious purposes and some questionable motives and it’s easy to understand why so many modern researchers have little to no interest in coming up with the next widely used test to measure intelligence today.
Of course, that’s not to say that IQ tests are all bad or that they have only ever been used to hold people down.
Some modern IQ tests and examinations, particularly those that test for emotional intelligence, are used by educational organizations throughout the United States to identify students that could use a little bit of extra help picking up new subject material while at the same time giving gifted and exceptional students an opportunity to stretch their mind with more challenging material.
These kinds of examinations would do a great deal of good for the standardized educational track established in the Western world. A massive approach to educating so many different students is obviously going to be lacking no matter what, and trying to dilute material for students that are having a tough time at the exclusion of gifted students (or raising the bar for gifted students while ignoring those that need a little more help) is obviously creating an inefficient system that’s leaving more and more children behind.
Universal IQ screening research is being conducted today in the United States as well as across most of Europe, specifically looking for ways to identify structural inequalities that have in any way negatively impacted a child’s development. This is all being done in an effort to improve the quality of life of children in the developed world today, looking to give them an edge and an advantage while at the same time protecting them from dangers that would have gone completely ignored or unnoticed previously.
These kinds of tests are also being implemented to identify gifted students that might have gone unnoticed by parents and teachers in the past. This kind of screening will make sure to give students that deserve every opportunity to stretch and grow their developing mind the chance to do so while at the same time fostering the intellectual hunger of students yearning to get a little more out of standardized education than they would have previously.
Are You Born Smart or Can You Learn to Be Brighter?
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to say what kind of impact your overall genetics have as far as your intelligence is concerned.
Obviously, there’s going to be some kind of baseline impact on how your DNA influences the growth and capacity of your brain but there’s also going to be a myriad of environmental factors – many of them “invisible” to the naked eye and unconscious in nature – that will have an impact on your ability to think, your ability to grow, and your ability to process new concepts and thoughts.
Modern IQ tests are constantly being evaluated, reshaped, and restructured to try and take into account as many of these environmental factors as possible. So far, researchers haven’t found any kind of “genius gene” that will act as a genetic marker to conclusively prove someone has more intelligence than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t looking for those kinds of genetic markers, either.
Brain training games are not far behind with their claim to improve your intelligence.
All things considered, even though the IQ test as it exists today – and as it existed in the past – is anything but perfect, it may be as close to perfect as we get to standardizing protocols to test and track intelligence. This may just be one of those mysteries of the mind that cannot be fully understood or appreciated by modern science and research right now, and it may not ever be a puzzle that we are able to put the pieces together to.M
IQ tests say more about those conducting them then they do those that are taking them. Learn more about IQ tests and their history right here.