I’m Smart, yet I have a Low iq

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I’m Smart, yet I Have a Low IQ

Imagine you are a mathematical wonder going in to take an IQ test. Understandably, when presented with the math portion of the test, you feel calm and confident. How would you feel when you received your results to discover you had only performed at an average level for the math portion instead of at a high level, which you expected?

This exact thing happened to a woman named Shakuntala Devi, described by psychologist Daniel Seligman as a “calculating prodigy.” Devi holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for accurately “multiply[ing] two thirteen-digit numbers . . . in only twenty-eight seconds.” Devi is also known to have accomplished similar problems, such as “giving the eighth root of a fourteen-digit number in ten seconds, never making an error” (Seligman 4-5). Devi demonstrates brilliance when it comes to mathematical abilities. However, when she went in to take an IQ test, the test placed her at an average level. She was asked to say in reverse order a list of numbers that was recited to her, and could only correctly call back four, “which is roughly average for adults” (Seligman 5).

If the public uses IQ tests to determine intelligence, and yet the IQ test did not even recognize Shakuntala Devi’s exceptional abilities, is there something wrong with IQ tests?

According to Howard Gardner, there is. Howard Gardner is a psychologist born in 1943. He attended Harvard University where he began his career in psychology studying under renowned Erik Erikson. At Harvard, Gardner became interested in discovering how humans think. He graduated summa cum laude in 1965 and later went back to earn his PhD. He began working with Project Zero in 1967, which is a “research team in arts education.” With this team, Gardner could fully investigate “human cognition,” or human thinking. A direct result of this investigation is his book Frames of Mind which describes his theory on human intelligence. Gardner still spends his time with Project Zero, and he also teaches at Harvard. (Smith)

Gardner’s theory of intelligence is called Multiple Intelligence where he lists eight different areas in which humans show intellectual capacity. The IQ test, he contends, does not even account for the majority of them. His intelligences are linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. (“Intelligence” http://search.eb.com/eb/article?tocId=13344) He discovered these intelligences by studying the cognitive processing of people with brain damage, examining exceptional individuals, and observing the cognition styles between cultures.

Gardner was one of the first men to go against the normal views of intelligence. Until Gardner, most people had a “narrow view of intelligence” (McKenzie). He shook this idea when he introduced eight different areas of intelligence. His intelligences are described as follows:

  • Linguistic: the capacity to use words effectively, in writing or in speech, to persuade, to remember information, to explain.

  • Logical-mathematical: the ability to use numbers effectively and to reason well, to recognize and solve problems using logical patterns to categorize, infer, make generalizations and test hypotheses.

  • Spatial: the capacity to perceive the visual world accurately, to transform and recreate visual perceptions.

  • Musical: the capacities to perceive, express, transform or discern musical forms.

  • Bodily-kinesthetic: expertise in using one’s body to express ideas and feelings, often goal-oriented, as in the fine motor ability of a sculptor or the flexibility and grace of a dancer.

  • Interpersonal: the ability to notice and make distinctions among other individuals, being attuned to their moods, temperaments and intentions.

  • Intrapersonal: the capacity for self-knowledge—to detect and discern among one’s own feelings—and the ability to use that knowledge for personal understanding.

  • Naturalist: the capacity to recognize and classify plants and animals characteristic of a region or environment. (Woo)

Gardner complains that because IQ tests don’t acknowledge all eight areas of intelligence, people may get falsely labeled as stupid or incapable if their strengths do not lie in the areas the IQ test measures. An example showing these false labels is seen in the story of a young boy who did not find comfort in the school systems and their present day view of knowledge.

Consider one 17-year-old boy who twice failed grade 10. This student's IQ score, at barely 100, allowed him to squeak into the public school's regular program, but his school's testing practice prevented the boy from rising past the bottom scores in his class. For a while, in spite of his difficulties to pass most tests, the student desperately tried to succeed at school. Life on a farm taught him the value of hard consistent work, and the boy's easy-going nature splashed color on classroom activities. His infectious laughter made him a sought-after friend to both peers and staff. The shop teacher told how he frequently hung around to help out after class, and how, when volunteers were requested, he was first to respond.

Although the boy mastered few skills championed in traditional Western curricula, he clearly possessed his own unique array of talents. While he showed higher than average inter-communication ability, however, he withdrew and often grew noticeably quiet when tests were handed back...

"One principal suggested that the boy came to school with the 'wrong abilities.' Other educators, like his science and music teachers, suggested that the school issued this student the 'wrong tests.' … Unfortunately, however, the boy failed grade 10. Already stung by two previous failures and rather than repeat again, eventually he simply dropped out of the high-school system (McKenzie).

This boy may not have performed well on his IQ test, but Howard Gardner would see him as an accomplished interpersonal being. If this young man would have only been allowed to show his intelligence in other areas then he may have gone on to do great things. But instead, the schools saw him as a below-average kid who would not go very far because of his IQ.

Gardner studied the cognitive capacities of the human brain and felt that his diverse intelligences truly describe the mind. “A conception of different intelligences…has emerged as the most appropriate and comprehensive way of conceptualizing the human cognitive capacities whose development and breakdown I have been studying.” (Gardner X) Gardner determined that all people have each of these eight abilities to some extent, but different individuals are better in different areas. The degree to which an individual has a specific intelligence depends on several factors, such as home or family background, the amount of schooling a person has had, and the opportunities each individual faces that inevitably increases their knowledge or understanding of the things surrounding them. Many other intelligences may exist, but Gardner focused on these main types as part of his theory to show that knowledge is all encompassing and not just focused on finding a specific answer to a specific question.

Many psychologists have come to agree with Gardner. They are discovering that having a high IQ score doesn't necessarily mean that a person demonstrates high intelligence in all aspects of his or her life.  In fact, another psychologist named David Stipp would agree that "IQ tests ignore many important mental abilities." He also agreed that a person's score on the IQ test "isn't very predictive of life success."  A person has many additional areas to be smart in than what an IQ test measures.

Since the IQ test does not give us an accurate view of a person’s entire intelligence, Gardner suggests administering other tests in addition that would measure the other intelligences.  He does not believe the IQ test needs to be done away with, but rather that other tests should be administered as well.  This way, all types of intelligences would be accounted for and significant, enabling a person to have a more accurate view of how intelligent they really are (Stipp).

IQ Testing

The first IQ test was developed in 1905 by Alfred Binet in France to see whether mentally handicapped children could be mainstreamed with normal children and if they should be expected to perform at the same level (Guilford 2). The idea of an intelligence test spread to the United States by Lewis M. Terman and today several intelligence tests exist. Later, a psychologist named David Wechsler developed his own intelligence test and called it the Wechsler Adult Intelligent Scale (WAIS). Since then the test has been revised and is now called the WAIS-R.

Gardner was concerned that intelligence tests seem to favor people whose schooling gave them an advantage with “paper-and-pencil tests,” and that they do not take into account people’s different backgrounds or all the areas a person is intelligent in (Gardner, 4).

However, it may be unfair to bash intelligence tests without looking at what comprises one. In his book A Question of Intelligence, psychologist Daniel Seligman sets out to describe, explain, and understand intelligence tests. He relays his experience of taking the WAIS-R, and discovered that intelligence tests are not as horrible as everybody thinks. Despite the fact that the tests are not so horrible, Gardner was correct in saying that they do not measure all areas of intelligence.

When looking at the WAIS-R, you can see that only a few areas of intelligence are measured: areas such as memory, attention to detail, and abstract thinking. Almost none of the intelligences Gardner proposed get tested.

Seligman said the WAIS-R comprises eleven smaller tests. After a person completes all eleven subtests, they receive three scores: the first score describes verbal ability, the second performance ability, and the third averages the two and becomes the intelligent quotient, or IQ (Seligman 9).

The eleven subtests within the WAIS-R are Information, Picture Completion, Digit Span, Picture Arrangement, Vocabulary, Block Designs, Arithmetic, Comprehension, Object Assembly, Digit Symbol, and Similarities (Seligman 10).

In his book, Seligman describes each subtest in order to provide people with an accurate picture of what an intelligence test entails. The first subtest is Information, which measures a person’s memory. Seligman said it “checks out your general fund of information and your ability to retrieve it in a reasonable time” (3). As an example, Seligman said the tester asked him questions referring to the sun, its position in the sky, and where the shadows were likely to fall (3).

Following Information comes Picture Completion. In this subtest, the tester presents roughly twenty pictures of a common scene or object, then asks that you find the object missing from each picture. This measures how well you notice details, your “visual alertness,” and also memory (3-4).

Digit Span tests short-term memory. This is a test in which the examiner calls out three numbers and asks you to repeat them. As you go along, the examiner adds a number to the list each time, until a total of nine numbers makes up the list to be repeated. You can only miss two numbers before being penalized. After assessing your ability to repeat numbers forward, you then receive another set of numbers which you must repeat backward. The examiner begins with two numbers and progresses to eight (4). (This is the portion of the subtest in which Shakuntala Devi, the mathematic prodigy, received only an average score.)

The next subtest, Picture Arrangement, gives a set of pictures and asks that you arrange them to make a convincing story. By determining what is most likely happening in each picture and creating an entire story tests your “ability to anticipate and engage in ‘social planning’” (5). Or in other words, it tests your skills at interpreting social cues. (An equivalent to Gardner’s interpersonal intelligence.)

The Vocabulary subtest is rather straight-forward: you receive words and must define them. You accumulate two points if your definition is “superior,” reflecting the “heart of the meaning.” You collect one point if your definition demonstrates “general understanding.” The reason for including Vocabulary and Information in the IQ test is because the way in which you acquire your vocabulary and facts greatly predicts your IQ score. Both put to use your reasoning ability (5-6).

After Vocabulary comes Block Designs. Seligman said he was given several cubes, each containing two red sides, two white sides, and two sides that were diagonally divided between the two colors. The tester arranged the cubes (sometimes nine cubes, sometimes four) into designs, unarranged them, and had Seligman rearrange them to recreate the initial design. This is a timed test, and it measures your ability to “see the component parts of visual patterns” or a person’s awareness of the different pieces which make up a pattern (6-7). (An example of Gardner’s spatial intelligence.)

In the Arithmetic portion of the WAIS-R, Seligman said it was similar to the math he learned in 6th grade. In the Comprehension portion he said he was tested on his ability to gather and understand information about society. One question, for example, dealt with “labor relations” and had him explain why laws are needed for it (7). This is different from Picture Arrangement in that in Picture Arrangement you interpreted social expressions and in Comprehension you decipher why your society does what it does.

Object Assembly is a test where you are given shapes and told to successfully fit them together. Seligman said it was basically like “doing a jigsaw puzzle” but without knowing “what the finished project will look like” (7). (Also a test measuring Gardner’s spatial intelligence.)

Digit Symbol tests memory again as it associates nine symbols with a number and gives a key matching the symbol to its corresponding number. The examiner gave a list of digits and had Seligman draw the corresponding symbol. He only had ninety seconds to finish as many as he could. He said he was allowed to look at the key as he went, but you go much faster if you memorize the symbols (8).

The last subtest is called Similarities and in it you receive two words and have to identify the relationship between them. Seligman gave as an example the words chicken and pigeon. The answer, obviously, is that they are both birds. This test “measures your abstract reasoning ability” (8).

Although two or three of Gardner’s intelligences got examined in the IQ test, it is clear that the things intelligence tests focus on are memory, abstract thinking, mathematic skills, and the amount of attention a person gives to detail. These skills, though important, do not encompass all the abilities a person has. Which means that intelligence tests do not look at all types of intelligence. The creators of intelligence tests admit there is more to intelligence than what the tests measure, but despite this, the test does not account for them. So while a person may not be especially gifted in memory, abstract thinking, math, or details, they are probably gifted in other areas, but the test won’t show it. As a result the person will receive a low IQ score, and will be incorrectly labeled as stupid.

J. P. Guilford, in his book Way Beyond the IQ says “that tests of aptitude for college [intelligent tests] do not accurately predict a person’s success after college because success in positions after college depends upon still other abilities and other traits of personality.” He says additional abilities exist other than the abilities intelligence tests measure that predict if you will do well in life. As an example, he says:

Let us take the case of predicting how well a person will learn to become an airplane pilot. Success in learning to fly a small airplane depends mostly on abilities that are quite different from those measured by IQ tests. For one thing, a student pilot must have a keen appreciation of where he is with reference to his surroundings. He must also be able to imagine what his airplane is doing in space and what he should do next. (2)

A person’s score on an IQ test really predicts little of the achievements they will make in the future. The problem is the IQ score only accounts for the here and now. It does not take into account hard work and the amazing things that can be accomplished through determination. Many people actually feel that human beings are born with a particular amount of knowledge and thus they rank people in different degrees of brilliance, like bright or dense. Gardner disagreed with these theories and felt that there really must be “more to intelligence than short answers to short questions” (Gardner 4).

People, in general, have all different varieties of intelligence which are shown in the lives that they lead. The problem present in the world today is that many people do not consider their own progression, instead they give in to the idea that things will not change. Individuals do not try to get out of their dead-end jobs because they cannot see the many opportunities out there just waiting for them. Many people underestimate their own potential and a lot of this lack of confidence begins at a young age. Adults take their experiences from childhood grading in school, IQ tests, and their personal cultural background as the basis of how far they will actually go in life. These assumptions are totally inaccurate and yet they come from the set focus in schools. Reform in testing is needed to show individuals that scores/grades should not really matter because there are many factors that reveal true intelligence.

So if intelligence tests do not measure exactly how well a person can do in life, and yet they are used to measure this, maybe we should be looking at other ways to predict intelligence that will take into account all intelligence.

Guilford, J. P. “Way Beyond the IQ.”

McKenzie, Walter. Multiple Intelligences: It’s Not How Smart You Are, It’s How You’re Smart! (2002): Education World. <http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr207.shtml>.

Seligman, Daniel. A Question of Intelligence: The IQ Debate in America. New York: Carol Pub. Group, 1992.

Smith, Mark C. “Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligences and Education.” 28 Jan. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. 16 Mar. 2005. .

Sternberg, Robert J. “Beyond IQ.” New York: Cambridge UP, 1985.

Stipp, David.  "New Intelligence Tests Emphasize Abilities Overlooked by IQ Exams."  Wall Street Journal. (1987): Proquest, McKay Library.  Key words: Gardner and IQ tests.  <http://proquest.umi.com>.

Woo, Elaine. “Teaching That Goes Beyond IQ.” Los Angeles Times. (1995) Sirs, Gardner and IQ tests.

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