Week 20 (19 – 23 March): Testing & Individual Differences

Social & Environmental Influences on IQ

Even though I find IQ testing to be less than helpful and a little less than interesting, there are certain aspects of it that I find fascinating. When a general psychology class does this unit, I spend a lot of time on the self-fulling prophecy and the effect of expectations on performance, especially IQ. While there is a genetic effect concerning IQ which defines the boundaries of the IQ, where the individual falls, especially in determining whether the individual will maximize their intellectual skills within those genetic boundaries, is dependent on the environment.

From these findings, I assume that what we do in school everyday, can have a large effect on how my students perform. When I look at the studies that form the basis of the “Psychology In Your Life” sections: “Test Scores & The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” (p. 468) and “Helping Others Think Critically About Group Differences” (p. 476), I am struck by how great of an effect the environment and social expectations have on IQ and performance.

Nothing is more telling to me than a study that Steele & Aronson (1995) did that they called stereotype threat. They looked at two factors priming students with their race and priming students with intelligence testing. They gave Stanford University students a standardized test. In one test condition, they had students identify their race on a demographic questionnaire. Black students who were primed with their race — thought explicitly about their race —  did significantly worse than black students who did not have to identify their race. In the other test condition, one group was told that the standardized test was an intelligence test and the other was not. The black students who were primed with intelligence — told before hand about the test — did worse than white students but in the other group (not primed with intelligence), there was no difference in the test scores between black and white students.

The stereotypes and views that we live with can effect our performance sometimes significantly.

Photo: Charlotte Button

Another stunning study was Jane Elliott‘s Blue Eye-Brown Eye study. Shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, Elliott, then a grade school teacher, decided to do a demonstration with her students. She decided to tell them that blue eyed people were smarter, nicer, and better in every way than brown eyed people. She put a special collar on the brown eyed children, separated the groups at recess (play time during the school day), called on the blue eyed children first, denigrated the brown eyed children for wrong answers but helped the blue eyed children when they were wrong, and allowed the blue eyed children to go first to lunch, recess, and get water.

The results were immediate and astounding. The blue eyed children treated the brown eyed children very badly almost from the very beginning, and the brown eyed children were filled with remorse, hurt-feelings, and self-loathing. Every time I see the footage of those brown eyed children crying because of how bad they feel, it breaks my heart.

So what’s in a label? Apparently a lot. Could it be that constantly reinforcing the idea that a student is ignorant or can’t perform up to expectations encourages them not to try? Could it be that constant feelings of failure, whether factual or created by the social environment, causes a person to under perform, try less, and give up much more easily?


Expectations & Their Influence on IQ

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy or Pygmalion Effect cycle. from http://sujenman.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/self-fulfilling-prophecy/

Another pernicious effect that teachers can have on students is revealed in studies cited in “Test Scores & the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” (p. 468). Zimbardo describes a study by Rosenthal & Jacobson in which psychology students — presumably graduate students — were given rats to maze train. Half of the students were told that their rats were “dull,” a common synonym for a slow learner or dumb, and half were told that their rats were “bright,” a common synonym for fast learner or smart. When the times of the rats maze runs were compared, the “bright” rats did significantly better than the “dull” rats. Why? Was it because the students recorded the wrong times? Was it because the students tended to round up the times of the “bright” rats and round down the times of the “dull” rats? Was it because the students with the “bright” rats helped their rats some how? Treated them better?

Well, Rosenthal & Jacobson’s next study may help us understand what was happening. They went to a school and told teachers that some of their students had been identified as “spurters.” Apparently, a spurter is a student who is on the verge of making big gains. These students had been identified through an IQ test that all of the students had taken, but in reality had been chosen at random. When the teachers were asked to describe their these students,

IQ score change of "spurters" and controls from http://madon.public.iastate.edu/201_PRESENTATION/201.sfp.slides.htm

they were uniformly described as being more curious, having more potential, happier, more interesting, better adjusted, more affectionate, and more independent than other students.

A year later the students were all given the original IQ test that had “identified” the “spurters.” These randomly chosen students made statistically significant IQ gains over their peers. Here it is easy to imagine that having been predicted to do better had changed the way the teachers and their peers had treated them. Did the teachers give them more attention? Did the teachers call on them first, give them help when they were wrong? Did the “spurters” have more confidence? Try harder? Study longer? Did the other students feel discouraged? Pursue other interests? Help the “spurters” in some way?

Obviously something beyond just native intelligence happened to the subjects of both of these studies. Something that occurred in the social context and possibly within the subjects themselves.



One thought on “Week 20 (19 – 23 March): Testing & Individual Differences

  1. […] Week 20 (19 – 23 March): Testing & Individual Differences (ptzapblog.wordpress.com) […]

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