Multicultural Issues in Intelligence Testing

If it were possible to hold a world cup competition between all of the concepts investigated in psychology based on importance, then intelligence would surely be the winner. It has been researched far more than any other concept and is seen as having far-reaching implications for everyone. Personal definitions of intelligence by ordinary people are called implicit theories.

Studies around the world suggest these can be influenced by cultural factors. They have been investigated by, for example, Demetriou and Papadopoulous (2004), Baral and Das (2004), Sternberg (2001), Sternberg et al. 1981) and Berry (1984), indicate some differences found. Western cultures emphasize mental processing speed and efficient management of information, whilst those in the East also include social and spiritual aspects, although some research indicates the two viewpoints are converging (Lim, Plucker and Im, 2002). Specific to India, Baral and Das (2004) foind that implicit definitions of intelligence included terms like Emotions, Modesty, Politeness, Self-awareness, Judging, Thinking, Decision-making and Interest in others.

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Ever since the first intelligence measures were developed, psychologists have struggled to agree. Binet suggested intelligence related to judgement, understanding and reasoning. Others thought that it depends on the number of connections, their complexity, and the organization of cells in the cerebral cortex (Jensen and Sinah, 1993), although this doesn’t provide an adequate operational definition. One definition has been: ‘Intelligence is what intelligence tests measure’ (Boring, 1923).

The definition by Boring has given a lot of emphasis on Intelligence Testing.Historically, in designing the intelligence scales, psychometricians have been working with a common aim: to identify individual differences derived from common experiences. They assume that, given similar experiences, people having higher intelligence will gain more from them than do others. Despite this common aim, test designs have not always been the same. One of the major reasons behind this has been cultural difference. The term culture is defined as a concept, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be attributed to genetic inheritance.

Intelligence tests have for a long time been accused of having a cultural bias in favour of middle-class Western societies. For example, Wechsler provided a compromise between those who saw intelligence as a unified attribute of general intelligence, ‘g’, and other theorists who believed it was made up of many distinct abilities. However, one problem relates to the sub-tests of vocabulary and general knowledge where tasks are culturally dependent. Because different cultural groups value and promote different types of abilities, test-takers from bring to the test situation differential levels of ability, motivation and achievement.For example, an individual born and brought up in a tribal culture, solving a test item requiring him/her to use spacial intelligence, will have a difficulty in solving problem relating to vertical concrete bulidings. On the other hand, an individual living in a metropolitan city will probably fair better on such an item.

The test items in which the “correct” answer may vary from culture to culture, or items that are highly academic in nature, and items highly verbal are more likely to be regarded as being culturally biased.The study of behavioural genetics, the nature-nuture controversy, the evidence for the Flynn Effect etc. have provided support to the fact that the individual’s intelligence measures do not exist in a vaccuum, but rather the environment and culture are to a large extent bringing variations. Because of this a number of test-makers have tried to create tests which are ‘culture-free’, i.

e. independent of cultural influences. But efforts to do this came to nothing and it was realized there could be no complete success in creating culture-free tests.This was because of the assumption underlying the concept of culture free test, which was that if cultural factors on the test were controlled then differences between the cultural groups will be lessened. Also, another assumption was that performance tests were a true measure of culturally free scales. However, performance tests exclusively have not been able to yeild as high a predictive validity as would the verbally loaded tests would do. Also, Patricia Greenfield, argues that nonverbal intelligence tests are based on cultural constructs, such as the matrix, that are ubiquitous in some cultures but almost nonexistent in others.In societies where formal schooling is common, she says, students gain an early familiarity with organizing items into rows and columns, which gives them an advantage over test-takers in cultures where formal schooling is rare.

As a result the aim was modified to the design of tests which are ‘culture-fair’. This meant that items possessing particular characteristics seeming to reflect knowledge, experiences and and skills common to all different cultures can only be included.One of the first tests to meet the criteria was the Goodenough Harris Drawing Test (Goodenough, 1926; Harris, 1963) which asks individuals to complete the task of drawing a human figure. Ignoring any artistic merit, it is scored for body and clothing details, correct proportions among body parts, and other features.

Another culture-fair test is Raven’s Progressive Matrices developed by John Raven (1938), who sought to test the abstract ability inherent in Spearman’s ‘g’ in a way which would be free from cultural influences and from language.He aimed to minimize both through a focus upon non-verbal tasks measuring abstract reasoning and it is, therefore, more a measure of fluid intelligence. This makes it useful in assessment of people having different backgrounds, although it is less predictive of academic success than a crystallized intelligence measure would be. Hence, the use of oral or pantomime instructions, performance tests, power tests etc. began in the effort to have a culture fair measure of intelligence. However, this was too not a smooth sailing.

Still minority group memebers scored lower on these tests than did the majority members.Thus, some argue that rather than labelling a test ‘culture-fair’ or ‘culture-free’ , it is more productive to locate thetest on a continuum which ranges from heavily ‘culturally-loaded’ to highly ‘culturally-reduced’. The former is the one which deals with objects, situations,beliefs, or lore. For example, Black Intelligence test of Cultural Homogeneity.

The latter deals with universal objects, information or symbols. For example, Cattell’s Culture Fair Test of Intelligence. Another section of psychometricians suggest that simply translating a Western test into the local language or making a test common to all cultures is not enough.Instead, it is critical to tailor each test to the needs and values of the culture in which it is to be used.

This debate seems to never ending. The issue of culture and its effect on testing, specially intelligence testing has been and shall remain to be a highly researchable topic in the field of psychology. Probably at present, it can be concluded that having an intelligence test that culturally universal across cultures of the world and still yeild a high satisfactory validity and reliability, is a idealized situation.REFERENCES: Coaley, K.

An Introduction to Psychological Assessment and Psychometrics. Cohen, R. J.

; Swerlik, M. Psychological Testing and Assessment: An Introduction to Tests and Measurement. Gregory, R. J. (2006). Psychological Testing: History, Principles and Applications, 4th Ed. Pearson Education.

Groth, G. Handbook Of Psychological Assessment, 4th Ed. Murphy, K.

R. ; Charles, D. Psychological Testing: Principles and Applications. Prentice Hall.