Human Intelligence ‘A Virtual Roundtable’ - Week 5
Three Cambridge University Press authors and leading experts on Intelligence take on our virtual roundtable on 'Human Intelligence'. In week 5 of the six part series asks the question How can current research inform the development of new methods to assess intelligence?
James R. Flynn, University of Otago, New Zealand
Richard Haier, University of California, Irvine
Robert Sternberg, Cornell University, New York
How can current research inform the development of new methods to assess intelligence?
If we mean the kind of intelligence that IQ tests at present measure, the Wechsler tests plus Sternberg, I doubt there will be any new breakthroughs in measuring intelligence on the psychological level, at least in fully modern societies. Measurements on the level of brain physiology are dependent on IQ test results to map what areas of the brains are active in various problem-solving tasks. One suggestion should be set aside: that we use measurements of things like reaction times (how quickly a person can press a button when perceiving a light or hearing a sound) as a substitute for IQ tests. They are subject to differences in temperament between people, stop increasing far too young to capture the maturation of intelligence, and are much subject to practice effects.
I do not know enough about creating tests for pre-industrial societies to comment. However, even the use of “our” tests there can be illuminating. In the Sudan, there was a large gain on Object Assembly and Coding, subtests responsive to modernity’s emphasis on spatial skills and speedy information processing. There were moderate gains on Picture Arrangement and Picture Completion, subtests responsive to modernity’s visual culture. As the “new ways of thinking” subtests, Block Design and Similarities, they actually showed a loss. On the “school-basics” subtests of Information, Arithmetic, and Vocabulary, only a slight gain. Diagnosis: no real progress to modernity. They still have traditional formal schooling based on the Koran, and have not learned to use logic on abstractions and to classify. Their entry into the modern world is superficial: just access to radio, TV, and the internet. However, the profile of other nations (Turkey, Brazil) is more promising. If they continue to develop economically, their average IQs will equal those of the West.
We have developed what we believe to be better tests that measure no only the analytical aspect of intelligence but also the creative, practical, and wisdom-based ones. For example, an analytical item might ask an individual to write an essay on why her favourite book is her favourite book—or perhaps comparing the messages of two books. A creative essay might ask what the world would be like today if the American Revolution had never taken place or if computers had never been invented or if weapons were made illegal throughout the entire world. Another create item might ask people to draw something creative or to design a scientific experiment or to write a creative story. A practical item might ask an individual how he persuaded someone else of an idea he had that the other person initially reacted to sceptically. Or it might ask the individual to say how he would solve a practical problem such as how to move a large bed to a second floor in a house with a winding staircase. A wisdom-based item might ask a person how, in the future, she might make the world a better place; or an item might ask her to resolve a conflict between two neighbours, such as over noise issues.
We have found that, through these tests, it is possible clearly to separate out distinct analytical, creative, and practical factors. These tests increase prediction not only of academic achievement (compared with traditional analytical tests), but also increase prediction of extracurricular success. Moreover, they substantially reduce ethnic/racial group differences. Moreover, students actually like to take the tests, something that cannot be said for traditional tests.
There is research oriented to measuring intelligence based on using brain speed measured by reaction time to solving mental test items.
There are major advances using neuroimaging to predict IQ scores from structural and functional connections in the brain. Just after I finished writing my book detailing these advances and noting that none were yet successful, a new study found a way to create a brain fingerprint based on imaging brain connections. They reported that these brain fingerprints were unique and stable within a person. Amazingly, they also found these brain fingerprints predicted IQ scores—truly a landmark study. Fortunately, I was able to add it to my book in time. One implication of this kind of research is that intelligence can be measured by brain imaging. Interestingly, a brain image now costs less than an IQ test. If a brain imaging method to assess intelligence also turns out to predict academic success (as it should), an MRI scan might replace the SATs at a much cheaper cost than an SAT prep course (and you can sleep during the MRI).
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Week 1 – Can We Define Intelligence?