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  • Lemuel Tan

I was asked to do an IQ test….

“What happens if I have a low IQ score? Is there something wrong with my brain? Will I be labeled as an idiot if I have a low enough score? What is an IQ test anyway?”

Believe it or not, the concept of the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test has its roots in the early 1900s! Alfred Binet first used a standardised test to identify learning-impaired French children. It was later used in World War I to assess a trainee soldier’s capacity to follow orders. It gave trainers an idea of where to position these new soldiers based on their skills and abilities. After World War I, the IQ test was used to screen migrants entering America. The tests made sweeping statements about those from non-Anglo-Saxon cultures. Some historians and psychologists have suggested that the IQ test influenced the government of America to form the Immigration Act that set quotas on the number of immigrants from Eastern Hemisphere and prevented immigration from Asia. The IQ test was not the sole reason for this as there was a strong eugenics* movement during that period. As you can imagine, the IQ test during its early years attracted a fair amount of controversy, often being accused for discriminating race, gender, social class and culture. Some have noted its deficiency in measuring a person’s creativity, character and specific skill set.

During the post-World War II era, psychologists wanted to maintain the IQ test’s usefulness but at the same time, addressed some of its problems. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, intelligence researchers started updating these assessments. They were able to reduce certain biases and discriminations of cultural, linguistic backgrounds, gender and improve administrative and data interpretation as new psychological theories were adopted.

We now have IQ tests that can be engaged in a non-verbal format such as the Leiter-3 (evaluates nonverbal cognitive, attention and neuropsychological abilities), Raven’s Progressive Matrices (evaluates observational skills, problem-solving and general learning abilities), Test of Nonverbal Intelligence 4 (TONI-4 evaluates cognitive abilities, aptitude, abstract reasoning, and problem solving) and others. These IQ tests are great as they remove language and sometimes cultural barriers and can be administered to those with language capacity problems or those who are struggling with hearing.

The most commonly prescribed IQ test in Australia is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV) and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Fifth Edition (WISC-V).

I personally do not like the idea of it being called an IQ test as it has several unhelpful connotations:

  1. It has a feeling that you will be graded! For example: pass, fail, “B student” and others;

  2. With a grade, there is a perception that there is a single test result;

  3. The result(s) may potentially define who you are as a person. For example: I have an IQ score of 120, therefore I am a ..….

  4. It has the potential to be misused and misinterpreted (not necessary out of malice).

I would personally prefer to call an IQ test, a ‘Cognitive Capacity Assessment’. Take the example of the WAIS-IV, it technically measures 4 components: Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, Working Memory and Processing Speed. These four parts are then averaged out into a single Full Scale IQ (Total IQ Score), which is basically how we get the typical popular response of “Your IQ score is….”.

How I personally view an IQ test such as a WAIS-IV is pretty much the same as how I would view a functioning car. For example: If all four tyres are faulty while the rest of the car is functioning well, I would not call the car a lemon! I would say that we would need to make some changes to the tyres as the other parts of the car is functioning. However, if we were required to put a score on the car, it would give me a huge headache! What sort of total score can we give that adequately describes just poor tyres? Thus we can quite understand why the authors of the WAIS-IV decided to use averages based on the four different components to create a single score. Naturally the philosophical question then presents itself - is it useful then to have a single score? As you can imagine, most clinicians are usually interested in the four components rather than the Full Scale IQ, unlike the expectations of popular culture.

However is there even such a thing as a Full Scale IQ, a General Intelligence (sometimes called a “G factor”)? This is not a new philosophical question. In fact, Charles Spearman first described the idea of a G factor in 1904.

Other divisions in psychology do not only challenge the G factor but have confronted the supremacy of cognitive abilities. Daniel Goldman suggested that Emotional Intelligence (EI) may be more important than IQ. Howard Gardner suggested that there are multiple intelligences! He proposed eight abilities: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. He even further suggested the possibility of moral and existential intelligence! Gardner’s challenge to cognitive superiority may not be incorrect, after all, I would not want to be in a boxing match with a professional boxer (bodily-kinaesthetic) while challenging him with my superior Full Scale IQ (not that my IQ is superior in real life!). Angela Duckworth (2016), suggested that the idea of grit – an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with passion for a long term goal, may actually be equally or more important than intelligence. Her research suggests that successful people shared “Grit” outside the concept of intelligence. Being “IQ test” intelligent does not mean someone will be successful and just because someone is less “IQ test” intelligent does not mean that person will fail. If anything, without grit, talent may be nothing more than unmet potential!

So why do an IQ test? As per my personal and professional take on the concepts of an IQ test, it is less about the Full Scale IQ but the various parts that make up the Full Scale IQ. If a person had a recent head trauma from a car accident

and started experiencing memory loss, the WAIS-IV test can tease apart which part of the four domains (Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, Working Memory and Processing Speed) have been impacted. This would allow the clinician to work with the client to develop ways to improve certain parts of the deficit.

In conclusion, I believe the IQ test has its place in our current arsenal of testing. It is best accompanied with clinical interviews, reports, and other assessments as it helps build a more robust and comprehensive picture of the problem. I would not do an IQ test just for the sake of knowing my IQ score and would only reserve it for a really good reason such as to assess my cognitive capacity after a brain injury. You do not want to familiarise yourself with these tests in anyway as it will lose its measuring accuracy or power. Similarly you do not practice reading the words on an eye-chart just before you go see an optometrist.

Fun fact - The terms idiot, imbecile and morons have its roots in psychology. They were initially used as clinical terms for those scoring within a certain range in an IQ test: 0 to 25 - idiot, 26 to 50 - imbecile and 51 to 70 – moron. The psychology community decided to pull the plug on these terms as it started gaining popularity as a means of insulting others. We now use range descriptors such as Very High, Extremely Low, Average and others.

*Eugenics - Practice or advocacy of improving the human species by selectively mating people with specific desirable hereditary traits. The goal is to reduce human suffering by “breeding out” disease, disabilities and “undesirable characteristics” from the human population)

Disclaimer: The material on this blog is not to be used by any commercial or personal entity without expressed written consent of the blog's author. The article above is an opinion of an individual clinician and should not be taken as full clinical advice. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any mental health or mental illnesses. Always consult your doctor for medical advice or seek professional therapy.

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