Is there a test that can actually show how much intelligence a person has? Standardized IQ tests may give some indication of ability, but there are so many outside factors that can slant the results are they really dependable?

Supposedly, intelligence is measured by two criteria: the ability to solve problems and general reasoning (fluid intelligence); and the amount of knowledge accumulated (crystallized intelligence). Fluid intelligence is also referred to as executive function or working memory.

IQ tests results could vary, depending on the test given. Most measure both fluid and crystallized intelligence, but there have been found to be wide variances when gauging crystallized intelligence. It would all depend on the culture, language, educational opportunities, and many outside variables. For instance: white youths from high income families usually score higher on crystallized intelligence portions of the tests than minority youths from depressed areas. Fluid intelligence can be also be significantly affected by emotional and environmental factors.

Does the person who has had the advantages of travel and the best teachers have more intelligence than a child who was born into poor conditions and attends public schools in an area that has a high crime rate? Is intelligence something we are born with, or it is mostly affected by environment?

There are studies that suggest our intelligence is passed down through our mothers, yet others say it comes from our paternal side. Can our environment increase or decrease our intelligence? It seems intelligence is not simply a matter of mind over matter, but a combination of genetics, surroundings and our willingness to push our mental envelope in order to increase our brain cells.

“What constitutes intelligence depends upon what the situation demands” (Tuddenham 1963). One theory sees intelligence in terms of adaptation. It definitely has to do with our analytical and reasoning ability, but is it evaluated according to the culture of the evaluating system, or according to the environment of the person making up and grading the test? It’s all about what society deems to be acceptable forms of intelligence.

People who now are looked at as geniuses were often thought of in their youth as eccentric or inept. Albert Einstein, for instance, was told by one teacher he was “stupid” and would never amount to anything – simply because he was always asking questions (and the teacher probably didn’t know all the answers himself).  Because a person does not adapt to social norms does not make him or her any less intelligent.

I have an amusing antidote that perfectly illustrates my point:

Joe Glick was an anthropologist who was studying the Kpelle tribe in Africa. He tried to give the adults an intelligence test, so asked them to sort items into categories. Instead of sorting them in “taxonomic categories,” such as apples and oranges for fruit they sorted them into functional categories, such as apples as food.

In American our children sort things in the functional way, but adults usually sort them taxonomically. Try as he might Glick could not get them to categorize items the way he thought they should be. After awhile he simply thought they were not mentally capable of doing the task.  As a last resort, he asked them how a stupid person would do this task. Without hesitation, they sorted the items into taxonomic categories!

In their culture taxonomic categories has no practical function, and it was stupid. So, do standardized IQ tests actually test your intelligence, or simply compare what you know about accepted society answers?  The most obvious, and simplest, explanation is that much of what is tested in IQ tests is either directly or indirectly taught in school. But, does that really test your intelligence, or your ability to adapt?

I prefer to think each person has the potential to raise their intelligence level every time they improve their memory. What you get on an IQ test does not define your intelligence, and it certainly doesn’t have to stop you from learning and being able to improve your brain and your memory.

From the desk of Ron White, memory speaker


Mempowered – Working Memory and Intelligence: