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IQ tests, a historical tool for discrimination

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Anuj Narkhede
Anuj Narkhede
I am a student pursuing an MBA from the Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur. I have a background in Civil engineering with masters in urban planning from CEPT, University, Ahmedabad

In the year 1905, Psychologist Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon designed a test for children who were struggling in France. The test was created for the purpose to identify which children need special attention in their academics. The hypothesis of various researchers found out cognitive abilities like working memory, verbal reasoning, visual and spatial skills reflected an underlying general intelligence or GE factor of a person. Psychologist Simon and Binet design a test that together measures these abilities and generates a score that is divided by age group known as IQ score. The questions were adjusted based on the age group, and the evaluation was on a relative basis. This was the base for designing and conducting IQ tests during the early 20th century.

Psychologists thought this assessment test would reflect the general Intelligence of a person, but still, there is no single agreed-upon definition of general Intelligence even today. On the other hand, this open door open for people to use this assessment for their preconceived assumptions about Intelligence.

The IQ test, which was started as a way to help students struggling in academics later, became a tool to segregate people in other ways based on deeply flawed ideologies. During those times, most people used to believe that the desirable and undesirable genetic trends should be controlled in humans by using the selective breeding technique. The major flaw of this idea is that not only Intelligence is fixed and hereditary from generations, but also it depends upon individual ability, hence it cannot be controlled.

During World War 1, the USA military used IQ tests to sort recruits and screen them for officer training. During that time, scientists had created the erroneous intelligence hierarchy of ethnic groups. Scientists used IQ test results of military experiments to make erroneous claims that certain racial groups are superior to others in intelligence quotient without even considering that the majority of recruits tested were immigrants to the United States and lacked formal education or English language exposure.

The integration of Intelligence and genetics has not only influenced science but government policies too. In 1924, some states in the USA ordered forced sterilization of people with a low IQ score, which later upheld by the Supreme Court. In Nazi Germany government authorize the murder of schoolchildren who have lower intelligence quotient.

In the middle of twentieth-century psychologists also used IQ tests to evaluate things other than general Intelligence such as depression, schizophrenia, and psychiatric conditions.

This discrimination based on IQ test results were later challenged on both moral and scientific ground. Scientists began to gather information regarding the impacts of other environmental factors on IQ. They have discovered that as IQ tests periodically recalibrated throughout the 20th century, the younger generation always scored higher than the previous generation. This phenomenon is known as ‘Flynn effect’ caused by environmental factors such as improved education, better health facilities, and better nutrition.

Today, even though the IQ test components are similar to those in the 20th century, now we have better technology to evaluate the results of IQ tests. They are not used to assess psychiatric problems today, but researchers are still using it as a tool that diagnoses learning disability against the advice of many experts. Scientists around the world still use IQ test scores to study learning disabilities, and the results can be useful to determine appropriate educational support, job training and assisted living.

Even though historically, IQ tests have been used as justification to support horrific governmental policies and baseless scientific ideologies that don’t mean this test itself is worthless it has been discovered that IQ test is a useful tool to measure the reasoning and problem solving skills of a person. Companies during college campus placements use IQ tests as one of the criteria for selection for these reasons. But IQ test doesn’t measure abilities such as a person’s potential to work hard and to overcome challenges in work.

Therefore, even though there were many political, historical, scientific and cultural issues were wrapped up in IQ testing, still, more and more researcher disagree on the notion that individuals can be categorized based on the scores of IQ test.

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Anuj Narkhede
Anuj Narkhede
I am a student pursuing an MBA from the Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur. I have a background in Civil engineering with masters in urban planning from CEPT, University, Ahmedabad
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