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?

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