Do IQ Tests Measure Intelligence?

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IQ scores have been rising, and although the average black IQ score is lower than the average white score, black scores have been rising at a faster rate than whites’. The rapid rate of increase shows that there are societal factors driving this change. Additionally, the fact that IQ scores correlate with the quantity and quality of schooling a person has received also points to nurture and not nature.

Ultimately, however, the nature-nurture dichotomy does not make sense. For humans, nature and nurture cannot exist without each other. Intelligence cannot be developed without biological capacity and biological capacity cannot be realized without a hospitable social environment. There is only nature and nurture. There is no nature or nurture.

A good argument can be made that standard intelligence tests measure, at best, only two of seven or more intelligences. Howard Gardner has developed a theory of multiple intelligences. He defines intelligence as
a biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture. … intelligences are not things that can be seen or counted. Instead, they are potentials—presumably, neural ones—that will or will not be activated depending upon the values of a particular culture, the opportunities available in that culture, and the personal decisions made by individuals and/or their families, schoolteachers, and others.

Gardner argues that there are at least 7 intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical; musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal. Linguistic intelligence and logical-mathematical intelligence are the ones emphasized in school and captured by IQ tests.

Just as formal education appears to improve linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, all of the other intelligences can be improved with training.
Even people who seem gifted in a particular intelligence or domain will accomplish little if they are not exposed to materials that engage the intelligence. By the same token, as demonstrated vividly by such programs as the Suzuki Music Talent Education Program, shrewd environmental interventions can convert ordinary people into highly proficient performers or experts. Indeed, the ‘smarter’ the environment and the more powerful the interventions and the available resources, the more proficient people will become, and the less important will be their particular genetic inheritance.

It is clear that we value the intelligences not measured by IQ tests. For example, our politicians, salespeople, and therapists draw on interpersonal intelligence to inspire, persuade and guide others. We spend great amounts of money and time admiring exemplars of bodily-kinesthetic and musical intelligences—our athletes, dancers and musicians. Our pilots as well as architects draw on spatial intelligence. It seems that we would be better off if we officially acknowledged the value of these multiple intelligences and the benefits of having people who are multiply talented.

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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