Are IQ tests fundamentally flawed?

The issue is not measurement – for measurements made properly do not lie.

But the interpretation of what they measure and how they may be related to what we choose to call “intelligence” is controversial. The uncertainty is exacerbated by the varying definitions of what “intelligence” is. Where is the boundary between native intelligence and that dependent upon some measure of knowledge? Is there intelligence without memory or artificial intelligence without data storage? Is intelligence just processing power or is it processing with purpose? Does judgement matter? Or the speed of learning? Can there be wisdom without intelligence?

Nevertheless “well-constructed IQ tests are generally accepted as an accurate measure of intelligence by the scientific community”.

IQ scores are used as predictors of educational achievement, special needs, job performance and income. They are also used to study IQ distributions in populations and the correlations between IQ and other variables. The average IQ scores for many populations have been rising at an average rate of three points per decade since the early 20th century, a phenomenon called the Flynn effect. It is disputed whether these changes in scores reflect real changes in intellectual abilities.

Science Daily reports on a new paper : “After conducting the largest online intelligence study on record, a Western University-led research team has concluded that the notion of measuring one’s intelligence quotient or IQ by a singular, standardized test is highly misleading.”

Fractionating Human Intelligence by Adam Hampshire, Roger R. Highfield, Beth L. Parkin and Adrian M. Owen,

(A pdf version of the paper is available here).


What makes one person more intellectually able than another? Can the entire distribution of human intelligence be accounted for by just one general factor? Is intelligence supported by a single neural system? Here, we provide a perspective on human intelligence that takes into account how general abilities or “factors” reflect the functional organization of the brain. By comparing factor models of individual differences in performance with factor models of brain functional organization, we demonstrate that different components of intelligence have their analogs in distinct brain networks. Using simulations based on neuroimaging data, we show that the higher-order factor “g” is accounted for by cognitive tasks corecruiting multiple networks. Finally, we confirm the independence of these components of intelligence by dissociating them using questionnaire variables. We propose that intelligence is an emergent property of anatomically distinct cognitive systems, each of which has its own capacity. 


  •  We propose that human intelligence is composed of multiple independent components
  •  Each behavioral component is associated with a distinct functional brain network
  •  The higher-order “g” factor is an artifact of tasks recruiting multiple networks
  •  The components of intelligence dissociate when correlated with demographic variables
While this paper adds weight to the view that the standard IQ test is much too simplistic, I tend to accept that IQ tests do measure some diffuse thing which is connected to whatever can be said to constitute intelligence. But in over 30 years of recruiting I have never found it particularly decisive as a selection criterion. While it has been sometimes helpful in screening a large number of applicants, I cannot recall a single instance where an IQ score has been the deciding factor for my making a selection.

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One Response to “Are IQ tests fundamentally flawed?”

  1. pamelaness Says:

    Reblogged this on pamelaness.

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