How intelligence is measured

Pretend for a minute that:

  • The kid who sits on your right at school is a whiz at math.
  • The kid on your left is bad at math but writes great stories.
  • Then there's you. You are just OK at math and writing but are very talented at dancing.

Whom would you consider to be the smartest? Why?

The subject of intelligence is one that human beings have wrestled with since ancient times.

Yet today there is still no single definition of what it means to be intelligent. Experts on the subject don't agree on whether there is one kind of "intelligence" or lots of different ones.

Over the years there have been different tests created that are supposed to measure intelligence.

But no single test really can tell, experts say.

The earliest test was done by a French scientist named Alfred Binet in 1905. Binet was trying to fix a situation in which kids who were not mentally retarded were being placed into class with kids who were. His test included tasks such as vocabulary questions and solving specific problems.

Over time other tests were developed that resulted in a score known as an "intelligence quotient," or IQ.

It used to be calculated this way: Take a person's "mental age" (as decided by a test score), then divide it by their actual age and multiply by 100.

So if a 10-year-old tested out as a 12-year-old, the IQ would be 12 divided by 10 times 100. IQ: 120.

Today nobody uses mental age. Now a test is given with tasks involving short-term memory, reasoning, analyzing and the recall of facts. The score is then compared with the scores of other people the same age, and an IQ is assigned.

IQ scores can change over time, and they are affected by where and how you live. Also, the tests don't measure such things as creativity and leadership skills.

The average IQ is 100, experts say. One of the most popular modern theories was created by Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner. His theory of multiple intelligences says that there are a lot of different ways of being smart.

They include being really good at music or with words and language. Gardner even thinks there is a "kinesthetic" intelligence, referring to people who can control their bodies, such as dancers and mimes.

Critics of the theory say those are just traits, or qualities that people possess, not intelligences. What do you think?

In the end, experts say, the smartest people are probably not those who can simply ace a test. The most intelligent are those who can understand the world around them, make changes to adapt to it and respond in a sensible way.

Sources: "The Handy Anatomy Answer Book" by Naomi E. Balaban and James E. Bobick, Visible Ink Press;

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