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Chapter: Psychology: Intelligence

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What Is Intelligence? The Psychometric Approach

Apparently, then, IQ tests are measuring something that helps people do better in both academic and work settings, something that helps them lead healthier, wealthier, and more productive lives.

WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE ? THE PSYCHOMETRIC APPROACH

Apparently, then, IQ tests are measuring something that helps people do better in both academic and work settings, something that helps them lead healthier, wealthier, and more productive lives. But can we be more precise about what this “something” is? Put differently, if the IQ test is in fact measuring intelligence, what exactly is intelligence?

For more than a century, these questions have been framed in terms of two broad options. One proposal comes from Binet himself: He and his collaborators assumed that the test measured a singular ability that can apply to virtually any content. In their view, someone’s score on the IQ test revealed their general intelligence, a capacity that would provide an advantage on any mental task—whether it’s solving a puzzle, writing a paper, or learning a new mathematical technique.

Many authors have offered an alternative view—namely, that there’s really no such thing as being intelligent in a general way. Instead, each person’s score on the IQ test represents a level of achievement produced by that person’s collection of more specific talents, and each talent is relevant to some portions of the test but not others. In thisview, if we look closely at the test scores, we’re unlikely to find people who are success-ful in every aspect of the test or people who are inept in every mental task. Instead, each person will be strong on the tasks for which he has the relevant talents and somewhat weaker on the tasks that rely on talents he lacks. As a result, each person would have an individualized profile of strengths and weaknesses. If we then represent that profile with a single number—an IQ score—this is actually just a crude summary of the per-son’s abilities because it averages together the things a person is good at and the things they’re not.

Which of these proposals is correct? Is the IQ score a reflection of intelligence in general, so that it measures a capacity useful for all tasks? Or is the score just an aver-age created by summing together diverse components?

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