IQ Tests

The basis of the Intelligence or IQ test was developed, in 1904, by the French psychologist Alfred Binet. The original purpose being to find  a method of evaluating children who required, and would benefits from, special tutoring. This work was to lead to the Binet Scale, which only later became known as the `intelligence quotient` or IQ test. As a general description, IQ is the ratio of a person's `mental age` in comparison to their `chronological age`, so an 8 year old who passes the 10-year-old’s test would have an IQ of 10/8 x 100, or 125, where a score of 100 represents the average.

Bell Curve

Over the last 100 years, the implications of trying to measure and interpret meaning from the IQ score have raise much debate. In fairness to Binet, he was one of the first to caution against reading too much into the score in isolation and highlighted that the scale was only designed to serve as a guide that helped identify children who could benefit from additional tutoring. Even so, Binet's scale has had a profound impact on educational development around the world and many interpretations have failed to heed Binet's concerns about its limitations. In particular, its potential use in the emotive area of eugenics has been the source of much argument.

The Flynn Effect

In the 1980's , a political scientist named James Flynn observed that the IQ scores appeared to be rising at an approximate rate of 3 points per decade. In his study of IQ test scores for different populations over a period of sixty years, Flynn discovered that IQ scores were increasing from one generation to the next across all geographies for which data existed. This phenomenon has been called `the Flynn Effect`.  As yet, there is not any accepted consensus as to underlying cause, although there are a number of theories. Naturally, this effect has raised many questions:

  • What do intelligence tests really measure?
  • To what extent do they measure learning rather than intelligence?
  • Are there other factors which might be correlated with intelligence?

Flynn himself believed that IQ tests do not measure intelligence, but reflect more of causal link to intelligence. He apparently based this conclusion on the fact that non-verbal tests indicated an increase in abstract problem solving rather than intelligence and therefore he favoured an environmental explanation for the increase in IQ scores. However, it should be noted that there is a correlation in IQ scores to the level of education which has increased in almost all countries. Equally, an increasing majority of people now spend a much larger amount of their formative years in structured education. Other hypotheses are based on the beneficial changes in society and/or quality and quantity of nutrition. While speculation on my part, the following ideas are currently being considered:

  • Anatomy and genetics suggests that there has been no appreciable change in human brain capacity for, at least, the last 10,000 years.

  • However, we known that the underlying physical structure of the brain is analogous to a neural network.

  • As such, the brain is malleable, especially in its early development, and capable of creating new connectivity in response to stimulus.

  • This potential adaptability of the brain could possibly be described as a 'use it or lose it' mechanism.

  • When Maslow's hierarchy of needs are met, it leads to an environment more conducive to learning.
  • Education and nutrition are natural side-effects of a society better able to meet Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.

  • Overall, average IQ scores are raising because the needs of a larger % of the population is being met.

If this were the case, then there is no contradiction between the statement that the basic capacity of the brain is unchanged over the period of recorded history, but that on average, its potential is now being better realised. However, it is important to realise that an increase in the average IQ does not imply an overall increase in human intelligence. This point is highlighted because, if true, humans are not becoming smarter and the problems facing humanity will not become easier for future generations to solve. If this is the case, it raises a question central to this discussion

If information is growing in breadth and depth at a rate that is outpacing human intelligence by orders of magnitude, how is humanity to process this information into knowledge and wisdom?