Major Movements in Psychology

Intelligence Testing

Is there agreement on what intelligence means?

There is some agreement that general intelligence does exist and that people vary in how much of it they have. Nonetheless, there is considerable disagreement as to the exact way to define intelligence. Loosely, we can define intelligence to refer to the ability to process information in a way that allows individuals to adapt to their environment. This definition suggests, however, that intelligence may vary according to the environment. If you live in a hunting and gathering society, your intelligence will have nothing to do with your ability to read abstract philosophy texts and much more to do with your ability to interpret your natural surroundings. In fact, someone who scores very highly on the WAIS would probably perform very poorly if he or she had been dropped into the Australian bush in the middle of the nineteenth century. Likewise, an aboriginal Australian from the nineteenth century with no formal education would perform extremely poorly on the WAIS, but would have an enormous store of knowledge and skills about surviving in the bush. Because the nature of intelligence is inherently dependent on an individual’s environment, there are chronic problems with cultural bias in intelligence tests. It is arguably impossible to design an intelligence test completely free from cultural bias.


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