Study Guide

A Question of Intelligence

by Daniel Seligman

A Question of Intelligence Analysis

A Question of Intelligence (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Daniel Seligman, a journalist, here presents a summary of expertopinion regarding IQ testing. Contrary to most media portrayals,he finds that the consensus of experts is that IQ tests generallyare not culturally biased, that they do reflect differences acrosssocial and ethnic groups, and that intelligence is partlyhereditary. Seligman presents persuasive results of scientificexperiments as well as the results of surveys of scientists tosupport these opinions, which he recognizes are politicallyunpopular.

Debate in the media commonly accepts that IQ tests are biased orunfair because they typically find that African Americans as agroup score lower than white test takers. The debate then moves onto why the tests are biased and how they can be corrected. Opponents of IQ tests argue that there are different types ofintelligence and that test taking is artificial.

Seligman argues that group differences in IQ are real ratherthan a result of cultural bias in tests. African Americans dorelatively better on the verbal portions of IQ tests than on theanalytical portions, exactly the opposite of what would bepredicted by cultural bias in tests. Various groups, including theeconomically disadvantaged, African Americans, Jewish Americans,and East Asians, taking either tests in their own language ornonverbal tests, have different profiles of intelligence, scoringdifferently on different subtests.

Seligman states that many experts believe that IQ tests cannotbe used for meaningful comparisons across different groups exactlybecause profiles of intelligence are different. Evidence thatSeligman presents suggests that the tests do accurately measuresomething that can be termed generalized intelligence and that theydo predict outcomes such as earnings and college grades. Evidenceparticularly damaging to those who do not believe in heritabilityof intelligence includes sets of data from twins showing thatidentical twins raised apart from each other have IQs that are moreclosely correlated than those of fraternal twins who are raised inthe same household.

In the end, some measure of ability will be used for such tasksas assessment of applicants for employment. Even though IQ testingis politically unpopular—to the point of being banned in LosAngeles schools—Seligman suggests that it be used ratherthan some other less accurate measurement. He cites studiespredicting that the gross national product of the United Statescould rise by 1 percent if IQ testing were used to identify themost suited applicant for each job and suggests that IQ testing beused to assess individuals rather than groups.