How should we measure intelligence?

For years one of the methods used to measure a person’s intelligence has been the Terman Stanford-Binet IQ test. Our IQ or “intelligence quotient” was introduced to score children’s ability. We still use the term IQ test, though nowadays the Wechsler Adult Intelligence scale is often used to give a score of the subject’s rank order on the test item content with the median score set to 100 and a standard deviation of 15.

The IQ test has been used as predictors of educational achievement and job performance.

However it is now recognised that there are a number of other intelligences that we all have, which also play a significant role in determining our likelihood of success in dealing with the world at large, including emotional and social intelligence.

A recent article in Scientific American looks at the need to recognise another ability: that of spatial intelligence.

Traditional IQ tests measure verbal and quantitative strengths: reading, writing and mathematics. Spatial ability is having the capacity to mentally generate, rotate and transform visual images, which is very important in engineering and scientific work. It is likely that a number of extremely gifted people who have remarkable spatial ability are currently being overlooked in the traditional IQ scoring system.

The authors of the article gave the example of Terman who 90 years ago, sought to find the brightest children in California. He administered his tests, looking for those who scored as having an IQ above 135 (approximately the top 1% of scores). Two boys, Luis Alvarez and William Shockley undertook the tests, failed to reach the cut-off point and be included in his group of "geniuses", yet both went on to study physics, gain PhD’s and win the Nobel prize. Their spatial intelligence had not been recognised.

Because schools tend to focus on the 3 “R’s”, then those kids with unique spatial ability who are very good with their hands, building, constructing, manipulating and working with objects may not be recognised within the school system. Of those who persist in following their passion and ability after school, many end up in engineering, physical science, computer science and mathematics.

The point the article was making was that those with spatial ability are currently often underserved in the education system. Yet their talents are vital to the scientific and technical workforce. The question is how many other individuals with high spatial ability are missing out from the “gifted” and “extension” programs in schools? Society is continuing to seek ever greater scientific understanding and new technologies, so shouldn’t we be looking to ensure those endowed with spatial intelligence have their particular ability recognised, encouraged and be guided to continue to work in the scientific and technical workforce?

And how should we be going about this?

Reference: 1 Scientific American: Recognizing Spatial Intelligence Our schools, and our society, must do more to recognize spatial reasoning, a key kind of intelligence By Gregory Park , David Lubinski and Camilla P. Benbow November 2, 2010 2 Wikipedia