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The IQ-Test Quandary

November 01, 1987|Edwin Chen

CONTROVERSY has raged for years over just what is indicated by IQ-test results, if anything. Despite attempts to discredit standardized intelligence tests as culturally biased, they are still widely used. The most common one, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, was introduced in the United States in 1916 and revised in 1937 and 1960.

Most psychologists concede that IQ scores are of no use in predicting future success even if they are good predictors of how well a child will do in school. Says David Feldman, a psychologist in the Tufts University Department of Child Study: "If your criterion is success or fulfillment or how well you do in a job or marriage, success in school is only poorly correlated." Robert Sternberg of the Yale University Department of Psychology, perhaps the country's leading expert on IQ tests, agrees. "We have gotten so hung up on IQ that we have forgotten that it isn't very predictive of life success."

New research shows that visual-attentiveness tests can measure how babies process information in the first six months of life, and such information appears to correlate with their performance on intelligence tests when they reach school age. Marc Bornstein of New York University and Susan Rose of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York reported on their independent research on the topic at a child-development conference last spring. The two also said that the predictive value of the visual-attentiveness tests seems to be independent of other factors that appear to be related to intelligence, such as parents' socioeconomic and educational status.

The most enduring conundrum of intelligence is the relative influence of the environment and heredity on IQ--the age-old nature-vs.-nurture puzzle. Many people, notably Robert K. Graham and William B. Shockley, believe that genes play the dominant role. But there is increasing evidence to suggest the contrary--that environment is the major determinant.

The importance of environmental influences on intelligence is underscored by recent data showing that average IQ scores in 13 developed countries (including the United States) have gained five to 25 points in the past 30 years. And that period--one generation--is far too short a time for genetic changes to boost IQ scores. Professor James R. Flynn of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, believes that most of these increases in IQ scores are caused by yet-unknown environmental influences.

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