Types of Intelligence and Controversies Associated with IQ Testing

What defines intelligence? Who can say who is or is not a smart, well equipped, creative and logical person?

The following is from my personal essay collection from one of my classes in Psychology. 

What defines intelligence? Who can say who is or is not a smart person, well equipped, creative, and logical? The debate goes on and on. There are eight types of intelligence, according to Howard Gardner, and a considerable number of tests that can be used to measure one’s intelligence, whether it is a traditional, standardized IQ (intelligence quotient) test, a culture-fair IQ test, or one of the many tests to measure verbal and/or performance abilities. With these tests though, comes controversy. With so many differences in intelligence amidst social and racial classes, many have condemned intelligence testing, calling it “ideologically motivated” (The IQ Controversy, 1996). Amongst the mentally disabled and/or learning-disabled population, negative stereotypes keep them from being accepted into societal norms, when some are perfectly capable of being productive members of a community.

Howard Gardner contends that there are 8 multidimensional types of intelligence: linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical/rhythmic, bodily/kinesthetic, spatial, naturalist, and intrapersonal (Feldman, 2010). Psychologists further elaborate on practical intelligence that relates to an individual’s overall success in life, emotional intelligence that represents a set of skills that are the foundation of regulating and expressing emotions, fluid intelligence that translates how well we process information, and crystallized intelligence which is the lifetime collection of learned skills and strategies to problem solving (Feldman, 2010).

Originally adapted for testing children, Alfred Binet created the first IQ test in 1904 (Van Wagner, 2009). Since that time, Stanford-Binet Intelligence testing lives on as a popular test that can be given to people from age 2 to 90. The test most often used in the United States was developed by David Wechsler, Psychologist, and is called the WAIS-IV, or the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. A children’s version is also available and is called the WISC-IV, or the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Feldman, 2010). According to the majority of IQ tests, 100 is the most common score, and anyone scoring over 140 is considered gifted (Van Wagner, 2009). Anyone falling under a score of 70 or struggles with basic skills such as dressing and eating are considered mentally retarded or disabled (Mental Retardation, 2007); however, there are a multitude of other degrees of learning disabilities, and the stereotypes that consume these individual lives are extensive.

With varying stages of LD (learning disability), SL (slow learner) and LV-HP (low verbal – high performance), studies have shown that there is very little cognitive difference between SL and LD children in respect to performance at 79.96 and 80.15 and a moderate difference relating to verbal skills at 79.96 and 80.15 (Humphries and Bone, 1993). In keeping with studies like this, the range of disabilities between people considered mentally retarded, slow to learn, or mentally disabled is vast, and to put all disabled people into one category would be a substantial misapplication.

Individual success in life is highly related to the fortune of developing warm relationships with people of similar background and also blending into productive relationships with people of differing status and creed. Controversy arises when a measure of IQ in number doesn’t correlate with a person’s actual disability. How often have people scoffed at someone of less than average intelligence and referred to him or her as “retard” or “stupid”? Such generalizations lump everyone of any kind of disability into one group, and once in that group, it is very hard to be removed from that generalization. Sometimes, the perceived success of a person in livelihood and happiness can become confused with their esteemed IQ, which continues to be the most important criteria for measuring “group membership” of learning disabled people whether slightly slow, or with Down’s Syndrome (Harris, 1995). In 1989, a study was done that asked 25 people with learning disabilities what they perceived the term “mental handicap” to mean. The most common response related to a physical illness or disability. Only 2 of those 25 people considered that the label would apply to them (Harris, 1995).

Many disabled people and their caretakers believe that IQ tests that once categorized people by level of intelligence, now actually function as a way to segregate intelligent people from unintelligent people, ignoring the remarkable gray area between the two. These individuals believe that beginning a process of abandonment from these stereotypes and preconceived notions will help to soften the boundaries between people of all intelligence levels (Harris, 1995).

It is clear that social, environmental and biological variations, including heredity, play a role in our individual intelligence (The IQ Controversy, 1996), but the understanding of intelligence as a whole is still greatly in need of more investigation and study. Even with Gardner’s suggestion of the 8 types of intelligence and the standardized IQ tests used across the globe, it’s still impossible to stake a claim on who can infinitely determine overall intelligence, when so many other factors come into play. The most important responsibility that we all hold as human beings is to come to the realization that each person deserves the unfailing right to respect according to their individuality, and that IQ should not be the determining factor of their whole persona.


(1996). The IQ Controversy. Wilson Quarterly, 20(2), 133. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Feldman, R.S. (2010). Psychology and your life. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Harris, P. (1995). Who am I? Concepts of disability and their implications for people with learning difficulties. Disability & Society, 10(3), 341-351. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Humphries, T., & Bone, J. (1993). Use of IQ Criteria for Evaluating the Uniqueness of the Learning Disability Profile. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26(5), Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Mental retardation. (2007) Retrieved July 16th, 2010 from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/mental-retardation/overview.html.

Van Wagner, K. (2009). History of intelligence testing. Retrieved July 16th, 2010 from http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologicaltesting/a/int-history.htm.

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Ryan Teves December 08, 2011 at 10:37 PM
I have always felt that we, especially in our schools, have be been too narrow in our definition of intelligence. Because of this type of testing, we classify kids as either special ed or normal. This is cruel and wrong, as we are all good at something. Thanks for the essay. Ryan Teves www.in_defense_of_the_american_teen.com


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