The Klutzy Professor: Is He Smart or Stupid?

November 04, 1994|By ROBERT H. DELUTY

Considering the outcry stirred by Herrnstein and Murray's ''The Bell Curve,'' it is remarkable that two questions have received so little attention: What is intelligence, and what do current IQ tests actually measure?

David Wechsler, the developer of the most commonly used intelligence scales for adults and school-aged children, defined intelligence as ''the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment.'' So defined, intelligence can be demonstrated in an infinite number of ways and situations. Thus, all IQ tests provide only a sample of a person's total repertoire of intelligent behaviors.

But can any test generate a single number (i.e., an IQ score) that summarizes a person's ''true'' intelligence? For centuries, philosophers and psychologists have asserted that it is inaccurate to speak of a single ''intelligence.''

In his book, ''Frames of Mind,'' Harvard University's Howard Gardner makes a compelling case for the existence of multiple intelligences, including linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal. Researchers in cognitive psychology and the neurosciences have provided ample evidence that these intelligences are relatively independent, even working in isolation from each other. This should come as no surprise to those of us who have known brilliant scientists who are physically and socially inept.

Whereas logical-mathematical and linguistic skills are well tapped on standard IQ tests, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences are sampled minimally, if at all. Sensory-motor mastery, artistic accomplishment and the capacity to understand ourselves as well as others no doubt reflect ''intelligence,'' yet they receive practically no attention from assessors of intelligence and are rarely incorporated into IQ scores.

Psychologists, educators and lay persons place inordinate emphasis on the ''full-scale'' (or global) score generated from IQ tests. Yet these single scores can be highly misleading. For example, a child who does extraordinarily well on subtests measuring verbal expression and comprehension, but extremely poorly on subtests tapping perceptual organization and computational skill, could wind up with a full-scale IQ of 100, or ''average.'' Clearly, a child with such exceptional intellectual strengths and weaknesses is hardly ''average.''

As noted by the psychologist Alan Kaufman, the key in intelligence testing should be to understand why people scored the way they did, and not to stress how well (or poorly) they performed.

Perhaps an unintended consequence of the controversy swirling around ''The Bell Curve'' will be to draw attention to some truly important issues in the study of intelligence, including: Why are only some intelligences valued in our society? What are the costs and benefits of such differential valuation?

And, most important, how can the multiple intelligences be fostered so that individuals and societies achieve a greater array of goals and fulfill a wider range of potentialities?

Robert H. Deluty is director of the clinical psychology doctoral program at UMBC.

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