IQ Tests: Measure of Prestige or Scam?

The concept of IQ has long been synonymous with intelligence. However, in recent decades, this misconception has slowly been revealed.

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Have you ever taken an IQ test before? Or have you ever been guilty of spending hours on “free” IQ tests only to be deterred by the formerly undisclosed price tag at the end? If so, you are not alone. The internet is filled with hundreds of such tests, each with varying degrees of accuracy and taken by millions of people. The immense popularity of online IQ tests makes sense. According to Merriam-Webster, intelligence is the ability to learn, understand, and apply knowledge to manipulate the environment. Despite the complicated skill sets that must be analyzed in order to measure such a nuanced trait, these tests have been advertised as quick and simple ways of obtaining a concise measure of one’s “intelligence.” More importantly, they provide identifiable quantitative values that are comparable and can serve to distinguish oneself from the average person.

In 1905, French psychologist Alfred Binet published the first-ever IQ, or intelligence quotient test, which was later standardized and adapted into the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale in 1916. It was labeled as a quotient since the scores received were subsequently divided by the examinee’s age. Since then, a variety of tests have been formulated, the most popular being the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. Generally, these tests follow the same format, often being split into mental math and verbal categories designed to measure a person’s cognitive abilities. The tests themselves gauge both a person’s fluid intelligence—sheer problem-solving abilities through reasoning—as well as crystallized intelligence—knowledge accumulated through experience—through a series of mental and memory-based questions. Higher IQs have been suggested to stem from the larger magnitude and faster communication of neural processing in the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain.

Since its inception, America’s obsession with IQ rapidly grew. In the early 1900s, the number was so prestigious that the government made it legal to forcefully sterilize American citizens with IQ scores low enough to indicate mental disabilities. Throughout the 1900s, it was used to explain socio-economic issues such as income gaps and racial inequality. Even now, IQ is used to determine the capability of soldiers in the U.S. Army, the eligibility of potential workers in various industries, and even to predict academic success. The intelligence quotient clearly has long been synonymous with intelligence itself.

However, in recent years, psychologists have begun to question the validity of such a benchmark, labeling it as misleading and incapable of encapsulating a person’s true ability to learn, understand, and apply knowledge to manipulate their surroundings.

For starters, IQ is one of four quotients, the others being the Emotional Quotient (EQ), Social Quotient, and Adversity Quotient (AQ). The most common quotient following IQ is EQ, which is analogous to a person’s nature and stems from one’s interpersonal abilities in five key areas: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation. Closely tied to EQ is Social Intelligence. Having a high social intelligence requires mastery in verbal fluency, or “social expressiveness skills,” understanding social norms, and having a firm grasp on the behavior of others. Finally, the AQ is a person’s control and reaction to setbacks and obstacles. While serving to fill the missing pieces, these quotients have also demonstrated how IQ is insufficient in determening one’s full range of intelligence.

Since the introduction of these quotients, psychologists have grown increasingly aware of the aspects of intelligence unaccounted for by IQ tests. As an alternative, they have started formulating and creating new indexes. In 1983, Howard Gardner, a developmental psychology professor at Harvard, formulated the theory of multiple intelligences. He proposed that there are a total of nine metrics for measuring intelligence. Unsurprisingly, IQ is only related to the first three bits of intelligence mentioned by Gardner, consisting of the Linguistic-Verbal, Logical-Mathematical, and Visual-Spatial components. While Gardner’s theory has faced criticism for its broad categorization and theoretical basis, it provides insights into a person’s strengths and weaknesses. The misconceptions surrounding IQ have been further clarified through various metrics composed by other psychologists, such as Spearman’s General Intelligence (1904), which has been popularized and edited due to its unique two-factor approach. The creator, Charles Spearman, suggested that there are both general intelligence factors and specific intelligence factors that combine to create the full picture.

The intelligence quotient, while not exactly flawed, fails to recognize some of the more nuanced aspects of intelligence, such as communication, adapting to situations, and attitude. Due to its name and former prestige, the misconception of IQ being equated with intelligence has persisted. However, IQ tests still have applicable purposes. Firstly, these scores provide a way for many people, especially children, to become diagnosed with mental illnesses or neurological disorders. For example, they can help psychologists recognize otherwise missed concussions or birth defects that compromise brain function, leading to further investigation into contributing genetic and environmental factors. IQ is also an effective way to determine potential career paths. Some careers, such as those in the medical profession or professorship, require significantly higher comprehension and reasoning. So the next time you come across an online IQ test, take it if you have the time! Just don’t let the results get to your head.