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Chapter: Psychology: Intelligence

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The Roots of Intelligence: Group Differences in IQ

So far, we’ve focused on the intelligence scores of specific individuals—for example, we’ve compared the IQ scores of particular twins and compared a specific child’s IQ with the IQs of her biological parents.

Group Differences in IQ

 

So far, we’ve focused on the intelligence scores of specific individuals—for example, we’ve compared the IQ scores of particular twins and compared a specific child’s IQ with the IQs of her biological parents. But these person-by-person comparisons aren’t the focus of the controversy over the roots of intelligence. The real fury is over another issue: the differences in average IQ , and the differences in academic achievement, that are found between groups. In particular, debate has focused on two comparisons: the possible difference between men and women in their intellectual skills, and the differ-ence between American whites and American blacks.

 

Before examining these comparisons, we need to emphasize that what’s at stake here are the differences between averages—the average test score (for example) for men and the average for women. This point is crucial, because—of course—men differ from each other in their intellectual prowess, and so do women. Likewise, the scores of European American test takers vary enormously, as do the scores of African American test takers. Indeed, this variation within each group (within each sex, or within a racially defined group) is much, much larger than any between-group variations researchers have detected. We therefore learn little about any individual’s abilities simply by knowing his or her group membership, and so it would be wrong (and in most settings, illegal) to use group membership as a basis for making decisions about that individual. Nonetheless, the differences between the averages remain, so let’s take a closer look at the research scrutinizing these differences.

 


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