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Race, Intelligence and IQ: Are Blacks Smarter than Whites?

The information presented above suggests that African born blacks residing in western countries as a group possess IQs that are between 5 points and a full standard deviation (15 IQ points) above that of whites living in these countries. So that the median IQ for African blacks residing in the west should be about 110, if one accepts that research suggesting direct casual relationships between academic attainment levels and IQ (e.g. Gottfredson, 1998; Ostrowsky, 1999)!

Research also shows that when African Americans are matched as to linguistic behavior (e.g. black vs. standard English), literacy levels and to the comprehension of sayings requiring specific knowledge, that African Americans perform as well or better than do Whites on IQ tests.

By Bernie Douglas (April 10, 2008), Revised February 17, 2009

What are IQ Tests?

IQ is a culturally and ideologically rooted construct; an index intended to predict success or outcomes that are valued as success by some people, in western societies. The items on these tests are largely measures of achievement at various levels of competency (Sternberg et al, 1998a, 1999, 2003a) and are devised impressionistically by psychologists to simply mimic the psycholinguistic structures of schooling and middle class clerical/administrative occupations (Richardson, 2000, 2002). Alfred Binet, the inventor of the first intelligence test devised this instrument more than 100 years ago to screen “children” for educational difficulties, and made clear its conceptual foundations (See Richardson, 2002). His interest was in the educational development of children, and argued that his test could not be used for children over the age of seventeen. He also believed that scores on his test could be radically improved through learning and instruction. Stern (1914) would devise what is known today as the concept of “I.Q.,” which stands simply for “Intelligence Quotient.” Stern’s quotient system was, too, like Binet’s test, devised for use exclusively with children, and was not intended for use with adults.

IQ tests were originally intended to be little more than devices for generating numbers that are useful in assessing academic aptitude with in a given culture, and for use mainly with children. IQ tests sample some elements of intelligent behavior and these elements are associated with academic performance (Capron et al, 1999). Traditional IQ tests do not measure the many forms of intelligence that are beyond more academically specific skills, such as music, creativity, art, interpersonal and intrapersonal abilities (Braaten and Norman, 2006; Gardner, 2000; Armstrong, 1993). The processes associated with schooling influence performance on IQ tests through a combination of direct instruction and indirect inculcation of modes of thinking, and the values associated with standardized testing (Ceci and Williams 1997; Ceci, 1991; Richardson, 2000, 2002). Tests have a narrow focus on skills and tasks which are acquired and rehearsed through the processes of formal or informal schooling (Ceci and Williams, 1997; Ceci, 1991: Kamin, 1974).

IQ and similar tests are also unable to measure one' s potential, are not independent from what is measured by achievement tests and are not powerful predictors of low reading performance (Siegel, 1989, 1992; Bradshaw, 2001; Naglieri and Reardon, 1993; Rispens et al 1991). Test results in one child can vary according to mood, motivation, and fatigue, while the tests themselves show prominent rehearsal/learning effects, generally assume a degree of literacy, and are largely framed to suit mainstream Western cultural requirements (Ceci & Williams, 1997; Ceci, 1991; O' Brien, 2001; Richardson 2000, 2002; Sternberg, 2004). For these reasons and others many believe that the use of IQ tests should be abandoned (Siegel, 1989, 1992; Vellutino et al, 2000, Bradshaw, 2001; Schonemann, 1997c). In addition, no tests except dynamic tests (see Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2002a) that require learning at the time of the test directly measure ability to learn. Traditional IQ tests focus on measuring past learning, typical of the kind acquired through the processes of formal schooling and cultural exchange. While these things are known to be heavily influenced by accessibility, motivation and available opportunities to learn (see Fagan and Holland, 2002, 2007).

Heritability and IQ:

Despite what some have argued in the past, there is no serious evidence which has demonstrated IQ tests to measure either an inborn property or what is commonly understood to mean  intelligence (see Hirsch 1970, 1997, 2004; Schonemann, 1997c, 2005; Schonemann and Schonemann, 1994; Kempthorne 1978, 1997; Capron et al, 1999; Vetta, 2002; Wahlsten, 1981, 1990; Capron and Vetta, 2001).  Intelligence is a highly subjective and culturally confound concept which remains largely undefined (Schonemann, 1997c; Sternberg, 2007; Cole et al, 1971; Guttman, 1992). The twin and adoption studies commonly used to report heritability estimates in relationship to IQ tests have also been shown to be suspicious in nature. The biometrical school of scientists who fit models to IQ data traces their history to R. Fisher (1918), but their genetic models have been shown to have virtually no predictive value (Vetta, 2002; Vetta, 1976; Capron and Vetta, 2001; Capron et al, 1999; Schonemann, 1997c). For example, statistical models used in twin studies and inferences from them relating to IQ tests lack statistical validity, and are thus of dubious value (Capron et al., 1999; Kempthorne, 1997; Schonemann, 1997c; Schonemann and Schonemann, 1994).

Wahlsten (1981) argues that errors are so wide spread in the heritability literature that the critical reader has good reason to doubt every article published on the topic in relationship to IQ. He goes further stating that it is necessary to check the arithmetic, algebra and original references before seriously considering any conclusions. For example, the most widely used heritability method, now, is based on a paper by Jinks and Fulker (1970). However, this method contains an algebraic error that renders its application in most instances,  worthless (See: Capron et al, 1999; Schonemann, 1997c, 1990). Schonemann (1997c) shows that conventional heritability estimates often produce absurdly high values for variables that cannot possibly be genetic. He found that if one applies the traditional heritability arithmetic to the twin data collected by Loehlin and Nichols (1976), that the answer to the question  Did you take a bubble bath last year is 90% genetic (Schonemann, 1997c)! Kempthorne (1978, 1997) argues that the concept of heritability is important for plant and animal breeding because it is possible to design and carry out experiments to estimate variance components, but that data on humans is observational and individuals are not randomly assigned to environments, and should, for these reasons, be ignored.

A psychologist administering an IQ test to different kinships (e.g. twins) is not manipulating either the genetic or environmental factors, as is done in animal experiments (Capron et al, 1999; Kempthorne, 1997), thus their estimates tend to be speculation in absence of any definitive proof. Many well regarded statistical and biometrical experts have argued that the true heritability of IQ is probably closer to zero (see: Schonemann, 1997c, 1990; Schonemann and Schonemann, 1994; Capron et al, 1999; Vetta, 2002; Wahlsten, 1981, 1990; Vetta and Coureau, 2003; Taylor, 1980; Hirsch 1970, 1997, 2004; Kempthorne 1978, 1997)! Indeed, literacy and  acculturation have been shown to predict IQ score differences between groups and individuals better than any other variables (Boone, 2007; Manly et al, 1998; Fagan and Holland, 2002, 2007; Ryan et al, 2005).

Why the Racial Controversy?

While one will find many flaws and inconsistencies associated with the concept of IQ, this has not managed to sway some hard nosed advocates from continuing to promote the test’s practical merits for predicting academic success and occupational status within western market based societies – This is in spite of the test’s predictive value in these areas also having been roundly challenged (Schonemann, 1997c, 2005; Siegel, 1989; Bradshaw, 2001; Sternberg, 2001; Frank, 1983).

Some of the more ardent IQ advocates have even gone so far as to argue that the possible reason many blacks and other minorities do not achieve in areas relating to academic attainment and occupational status, particularly in the US, is not due to historical racism or negative societal factors, but instead because of factors that relate to low IQ scores.  Ignoring historical events (e.g. slavery and Jim Crow) economic and educational biases (Pattillo,1999; Diamond and Spillane 2004; Roscigno, 1998), the affects of culture and cultural differences (Valsiner, 2000; Cole et al. 1971; Serpell R., 1979; Ogbu and Simons, 1998), the questionable methodology and theory involved in IQ tests (Schonemann, 1997c, 2005; Guttman, 1955, 1992; Hirsch, 1970, 1997, 2004), poor test validity and predictive value (Schonemann, 1997c, Bradshaw, 2001; Sternberg, 1997), test bias (Manly, 1998; Helms, 1992; Helms, 1997; Kwate, 2001; Baldwin and Bell, 1985; Borsboom, 2006) and overwhelming criticism leveled against heritability estimates (Capron et al, 1999; Schonemann, 1994, 1997c; Hirsh, 1970, 2004 ; Kempthorn; 1978, 1997; Lidz and Blatt, 1983; Joseph, 2004, 2006; Vetta, 1976, 2002), these advocates tend to proceed with their arguments, unaltered.     

For example, in 1994 authors Herrnstein and Murray in their controversial book “The Bell Curve” argued that a dysgenic trend exists in western societies that foresee the establishment of a “cognitive elite.” Although their work was subject to wide and often scathing criticism, the authors managed to generate a substantial amount of media attention, which helped to perpetuate negative ethnic stereotypes in the formal literature and in public discourse for a number of years.

Many IQ advocates argue that a general index of cognitive ability is the single best predictor of virtually all criteria considered necessary for success in life in the Western part of the developed world (Schmidt, Ones & Hunter, 1992), and maintain that the average undergraduate, “those who graduate from college or university”, must possess an IQ that is on average no lower than 115 (Ostrowsky, 1999; Gottfredson, 1998), while individuals who are able to obtain a graduate level degree must on average possess an IQ in the range of 125 (Gottfredson, 1998). This often serves the implied purpose of suggesting that blacks and other minorities do not go on to, or graduate from institutions of higher learning, and ultimately move on to professional careers and economic success, not because of matters relating to personal interest, financial ability, or the quality of schooling received in the past; but instead because of factors relating to IQ scores (e.g. Jensen, 1980; Gottfredson, 1998). Arguments such as these tend also to base themselves within the shaky framework that is, “nature vs. nurture.” In this case, does more school develop high IQ, or does a high IQ equal more school and greater socio-economic success (Jensen, 1980; Gottfredson, 1998)? Others have pointed out, simply, that the correlation between IQ scores and school performance is one deliberately built into tests and that processes associated with schooling directly influence tests performance (Richardson, 2002).

Black African Immigrants Significantly Exceed Whites in Level of Education:

African-born blacks comprise about 16 percent of the U.S. foreign-born black population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000), and are “considerably” more educated than other immigrants. The vast majority of these immigrants come from minority white countries in East and West Africa (e.g. Kenya and Nigeria). While less than 2 percent originate from North or South Africa (CIA World Factbook, 2004; Yearbook of immigration Statistics, 2003). An analysis of Census Bureau data by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (1999-2000) and the “Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research” (2003) find that Black African immigrants to the United States are more likely to be college educated than ‘any’ other immigrant group, which included those from Europe, North America and Asia (see also Nisbett, 2002; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). African immigrants have also been shown to be more highly educated than any native-born ethnic group including white and Asian Americans (Logan & Deane, 2003; Williams, 2005; The Economist, 1996; Arthur, 2000; Selassie, 1998; Nisbett, 2002).

Most research suggests that between 43.8 and 49.3 percent of “all” African immigrants in the United States hold a college diploma (Nisbett, 2002; Charles, 2007; U.S. Census, 2000). This is slightly more than the percentage of Asian immigrants to the U.S., substantially greater than the percentage of European immigrants, nearly “double” that of native-born white Americans, nearly four times the rate of native-born African Americans, and more than “8 times” that of some Hispanic groups (Williams, 2005; Nisbett, 2002; Kent, 2007; The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 1999-2000; U.S. Census, 2000)! Black immigrants from Africa have also been shown to have rates of college graduation that are “more” than double that of the U.S. born population, in general (Williams, 2005). For example, in 1997, 19.4 percent of all adult African immigrants in the United States held a “graduate degree”, compared to 8.1 percent of adult whites (a difference of “more than” double) and 3.8 percent of adult blacks in the United States, respectively (The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 1999-2000). This shows that America has an equally large achievement gap between white Americans and African born immigrants as between native born white and black Americans.

In the UK, 1988, the Commission for Racial Equality conducted an investigation on the admissions practices of St. George's, and other medical colleges, who set aside a certain number of places for minority students. This informal quota system reflected the percentage of minorities in the general population. It was discovered that minority students with Chinese, Indian, or black African heritage had higher academic qualifications for university admission than did whites (Blacks in Britain from the West Indies had lower academic credentials than did whites). In fact, blacks with African origins over the age of 30 had the highest educational qualifications of any ethnic group in the British Isles (Cross, 1994). According to the 1991 British Census, 26.5 percent of black Britons who were born in Africa had at least some college education. In contrast, only 13.4 percent of white Britons had gone to college.Thus, the evidence pointed to the fact that minority quotas for university admissions were actually working against students from these ethnic groups who were on average more qualified for higher education than their white peers (Cross, 1994; Also see, Dustmann and Theodoropoulos, 2006). 

Dustmann and Theodoropoulos (2006) provided the first thorough investigation of educational attainment and economic behavior of ethnic minority immigrants and their children in Britain. This study investigated how British born minorities performed in terms of education, employment and wages when compared to their parent’s generation, as well as to comparable groups of white natives using 27 years of “LFS data” (Labour Force Survey). In both generations Black Africans topped the list in both years of schooling/educational qualifications and wages/employment followed by Indian and Chinese immigrants. This study generally found a strong educational background for Britain’s ethnic minority immigrant population; with second generation ethnic minorities, ‘on average’, doing better than their parents, and “substantially better” than their white peers in most socio-economic indicators and outcomes.

Again, when comparing immigrants in the United States one quickly finds that the racialist models adopted by many Psychologists do not always predict outcomes in the way one might expect. For example, it has been shown that black immigrants born from Zimbabwe (96.7 percent), Botswana (95.5 percent) have high school graduation rates that far exceed all white immigrant and native born groups. While the average Nigerian immigrant (58.6 percent) living in the United States is “eight times” more likely to have obtained a bachelors degree than the average Portuguese born (7.3 percent) (Dixon D, 2006; Dixon D, 2005)!

The African born in the United States are concentrated in management or professional and sales or office-related occupations. Of the employed population age 16 and older in the civilian labor force, the African born are much more likely than the foreign born in general to work in management and professional occupations as well as sales and office occupations (i.e. clerical/administrative). Additionally, the African born are less likely to work in service, production, transportation, material moving, construction, and maintenance occupations than the foreign born in general (Dixon D, 2006). In the UK a study by Li and Heath, from Birmingham University and Oxford University (respectively), found that Africans are more likely to be in professional and managerial jobs than white British men, with a large proportion, about 40%, holding these positions (Li and Heath, 2006; Cassidy, 2006).

Black African Educational Attainment and their Implications for IQ:

The information presented above suggests that African born blacks residing in western countries as a group possess IQs that are between 5 points and a full standard deviation (15 IQ points) above that of whites living in these countries (see, Gottfredson, 1998; Ostrowsky, 1999; Richardson, 2002; Cross, 1994; Williams, 2005; Nisbett, 2002). So that if one accepts the research suggesting direct casual relationships between academic attainment and IQ (Gottfredson, 1998; Ostrowsky, 1999) the median IQ for African blacks residing in the west should be about 110! This is especially true for those living in the United States and in the UK. One may also expect to find, according to much of the “corroborative” literature that relates IQ with education, approximately twice the number of African born immigrants with IQs in the 115 range, than among the general white American population (Gottfredson, 1998; Ostrowsky, 1999; Williams, 2005; Nisbett, 2002); and more than twice the number of African immigrants in the 125 IQ range (see Gottfredson, 1998; Nisbett, 2002; The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 1999-2000). For example, in the United States, African born blacks and their offspring have been reported to exceed American born whites in several of the most cognitive socio-economic indicators – ‘the areas of educational attainment and occupational status’ -- in ways that are virtually identical to the gaps observed between native born white and black Americans (Nisbett, 2002; Charles, 2007; Le, 2007; Le, 2007; US Census Bureau, Census 2000. "5% Public Use Microdata Sample.").

Some advantages to using academic attainment comparisons for the analysis of major group differences in IQ in Western industrialized nations are that they provide very big numbers, sample sizes often in the hundreds of thousands, that are genuinely random; and consequently specific ethnicities can be compared with statistical confidence. Evidence shows that the differences in overall educational attainment observed between African born blacks in the United States and UK and native born whites are quite spectacular! Indeed, if one chooses to adopt the racial hereditarian thinking of Jensen (1980), Herrnstein and Murray (1994) or Gottfredson (1998), these disparities become suggestive of underlying intelligence differences between the two populations; with these differences in “strong favor” of African born blacks! Though higher cognitive indices are said by some to be predictive of more educational achievements and more education predictive of higher intellectual outcomes (e.g., Brody, 1997; Ceci & Williams, 1997), so that there are reciprocal relationships. Most who study African immigrants attribute their inclination toward academic attainment to be the result of positive cultural factors (Arthur, 2000; Selassie, 1998).

In the United States today, most claims regarding differences between ethnic ‘populations’ in relationship to IQ test performance are based on statistically derived data that relate to scholastic aptitude tests (e.g. Flynn, 2006). With this in mind, and acknowledging the superior educational attainment of African blacks in the United States (and elsewhere) it can thus be argued, because of their superior educational attainment levels, that they must also surmount far more in number and more difficult scholastic aptitude tests, in general, which in turn would require higher level IQs (see Gottfredson, 1998; Ostrowsky, 1999). As whites on average do not, or are unable to attain the same levels of academic achievement within these (their own!) academic institutional frameworks, they must also by the racialist thinking employed by some, possess significantly lower cogitative indices on the group level (e.g. Jensen, 1980; Gottfredson, 1986, 1998). In fact, attainment differences of these ‘grand’ magnitudes would suggest that American whites, in particular, are at a significant intellectual handicap when matched against immigrants of black African, East Indian, and East Asian descent. Incidentally, most American whites themselves are the children or grandchildren of “self-selected,” voluntary immigrants from Europe (Ogbu and Simons, 1998), and thus these trends can not be said to result from immigrant selectivity.

African born blacks residing in Western countries tend also to be concentrated in higher level professional occupations, which are considered (by some) to be more intellectually demanding; requiring greater cognitive ability (Jensen, 1980; Gottfredson, 1986; Herrnstein and Murray, 1994), than the average occupations of either American or British born whites (Nisbett, 2002; Dixon, 2006; Li and Heath, 2006; Dustmann and Theodoropoulos, 2006). According to IQ advocates and social Darwinists, alike, these occupational differences should also be indicative of higher levels of intelligence among black African immigrants than among whites (e.g. Gottfredson, 1986; Jensen 1980). Cole (1990), argues that the relevance of school-based skills, such as those found on IQ and scholastic aptitude tests, will grow as the outside-of-school contexts becomes more like that of school itself. While demand for these kinds of school based skills are found most frequently among the clerical/administrative occupations (Richardson, 2002) which African born blacks residing in western countries tend to be found overrepresented (Nisbett, 2002; Dixon, 2006). In fact, as virtually all IQ tests in popular use today were designed specifically for the purposes of predicting academic success and occupational status, it could thus be argued that the west’s hereditarian “Cognitive Elite” (discussed in “The Bell Curve”) could be best described as black men and women from Africa.  

Something else to note, according to the New York Times (Roberts, 2005), for the first time in history more blacks are coming to the United States from Africa than during the entire span of the transatlantic slave trade: “Immigration figures show that since 1990 more Africans have arrived voluntarily than the total who disembarked in chains before the United States outlawed international slave trafficking in 1807. “ For example, research shows that around 15% of Ghana’s 20million citizens live aboard (Owusu-Ankomah 2006). Similar trends can be observed among other African states. The U.S. Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey counted 114,000 black African immigrants in the Washington metropolitan area, alone, accounting for about 11 percent of the area’s total immigrant population. Less than 6 percent arrived before 1980. In other words: black African achievement can not simply be dismissed as that of a “small group” of elites entirely unrepresentative of the greater continent. Moreover, the academic attainment and occupational achievements of black Africans are not only documented in the United States, but also the UK (Li and Heath, 2006; Dustmann, Theodoropoulos, 2006) and Canada (Guppy and Davies, 1998; Boyd, 2002; The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2008).

Culture, Race and Intelligence Testing:

It is taken for granted by many in the West that children who do well on standardized tests are intelligent. However, different cultures have their on views of what intelligence is and often these views do not resemble western notions (Sternberg, 2007; Cole, 1990; Cole et al. 1971; Greenfield, 1997). In this respect, people that are considered intelligent may vary from one culture to another, along with the acts that constitute intelligent behavior (Sternberg, 2007). It has been said, for example, that the comparison of IQ scores of different nationalities or cultural groups is, at best, a hazardous enterprise and at worst a nonsensical and mischievous waste of time (Mackintosh, 1998).

In addition, few researchers ever apply standardized measures that are either preferred by or normed in favor of those whose livelihoods or day to day lives are more closely associated with the informal sectors and/or economically disparaged segments of society to those from more affluent or formal society, in order to provide some kind of balance. It has been shown, for example, that tests which are highly novel in one culture or subculture may be quite familiar in the next (Valsiner, 2000), so that, for instance, unschooled subjects may fail at classification tasks characteristic of school learning contexts and succeed with classification relevant to their own everyday practical experiences (Cole, 1990; Cole et al. 1971). That is, even if components of information processing are the same, the experiential novelty to which they are applied may be different (Valsiner, 2000; Sternberg, 2004). Thus, the structure of thought depends upon the structure of the dominant types of activity in different cultures. In other words, people will be good at doing those things that are important to them and that they have opportunities to do often. 

A study by Serpell (1979) highlighted this well. Zambian and English children were asked to reproduce patterns using three media alternatives (wire, clay, or pencil and paper). It was found that the Zambian children excelled in the wire medium with which they were most familiar, exceeding the English children in that task; while the English children were best with pencil and paper. Both groups were found to perform equally well with clay. Thus, children performed better with the materials that were more familiar to them from their own environments. A study by Carraher et al (1985) also demonstrated examples of this effect, this time in a group of Brazilian children. The study found that the same children who were able to do the mathematics needed to run their street businesses were often unable to do “the same” mathematics when presented in a more formal (grade schooling) context.

Cole et al (1971) studied a tribe in Africa called the “Kpelle” in which culture was shown to have a rather humorous effect on interpretations of intelligence.  In this study adult participants were asked to sort items into categories. However, rather than producing the kind of taxonomic categories (e.g. "fruit" for apple) typically done in the west, the Kpelle participants sorted items into functional groups (e.g. "eat" for apple). After trying and “failing” to teach them to categorize items taxonomically, the Kpelle were asked as a last resort how a “stupid” person would do the task. At that point, according to the researchers, without any hesitation, the Kpelle sorted items into taxonomic categories (Cole et al., 1971)! Demonstrating that not only where these individuals able to do the presented tasks, but in their own culture, what was considered intelligent by western views was thought to be “stupid.”

Education, Literacy, Culture and Standardized Tests --When Blacks Exceed Whites!

Crawford-Nutt (1976) found that African black students enrolled in westernized schools scored higher on progressive matrix tests than did American white students. The study was meant to examine perceptual/cultural differences between groups, and demonstrated that one’s performance on western standardized tests may actually correspond more closely with the quality and style of schooling that one receives more so than other factors. These findings closely support research suggesting that the forms of recognition and reasoning found on Progressive Matrixes tests are exercised and maintained within a western style educational setting (Ceci & Williams, 1997; Ceci, 1991; Richardson, 2000, 2002). Buj (1981) also showed Ghanaian adults in another study to score higher on the same supposedly ‘culture fair’ intelligence test than did Irish adults; scores were 80 (Ghanaian) and 78 (Irish), respectively. While Shuttleworth-Edwards et al (2004) in a study with black South Africans between the ages of 19–30, showed highly significant effects for both level and quality of education within groups whose first language was an indigenous black African language. For example, black African first language groups (as well as white English speaking groups) with “advantaged education” were comparable with the US standardization in IQ test scores (e.g. WAIS-III).  

Other programs have shown dramatic improvement in test scores for socially disadvantaged adolescents as a result of short-term cognitive training, so that "…three months later their performance was indistinguishable from that of middle class students” (Feuerstein & Kozulin, 1995, p. 74). Studies done with Ethiopian immigrant students coming from extraordinarily poor rural circumstances tested in Israel by different IQ tests had, in pre-intervention tests, demonstrated lower test scores than the Israeli norm. However, after a short but intensive teaching process the Ethiopian immigrant children performed at about the same level as the Israeli norm (Tzuriel & Kaufman, 1999; Kozulin, 1998).

Bond (1924) early last century pointed out that the average IQ scores of African Americans from several northern states were higher than those for whites from many southern states (Bond, 1924a, p. 63). He argued that African Americans who migrated to the North must have left their "duller and less accomplished White fellows in the South." Bond also believed that IQ test scores reflected social and educational training. Inline with this belief, Jenkins's (1936) reported the results of IQ tests given to Black and White children in Illinois, and found that the proportion of students with scores over 130 was the same among Black and White children when environmental influences were comparable. A later study, involving Caribbean children, would in essence replicate these findings. The results from that study showed that when raised in the same enriched institutional environments as white children, black children demonstrated superior IQ test scores. IQs were: Black children 108, Mixed children 106, and White children 103 (Tizard et al, 1972).

Studies also show that upward of 99% of group IQ score differences between healthy black and white Americans are eliminated after controlling for cultural factors. Manly et al (1998) found that after cultural factors such as linguistic behavior (e.g. black vs. standard English) are controlled between healthy black and white Americans that IQ score differences between these populations virtually disappear; becoming insignificant in all but only one area (a reading section)! Some argue that because those who construct standardized tests come from a narrow social group that it follows that test items will contain information and structures that match the background knowledge of some people more than others (Richardson, 2000). This may explain why “acculturation” is found to predict IQ score differences better than virtually any other variable, aside from literacy levels (which is essentially another mediator of culture). Other studies have shown similar results, after controlling for cultural factors. Fagan and Holland (2002) found that where exposure to specific information was required; whites knew more about the meanings of different sayings than did Blacks, due to exposure. But, when comprehension was based on generally available information, Whites and Blacks did not differ (Fagan and Holland, 2002; see also, Fagan and Holland, 2007). This study also found that when Blacks and Whites are matched as to the comprehension of sayings requiring specific knowledge that Blacks were superior to Whites on intelligence tests (ibid).  

Teng and Manly (2005) argue that tests developed for members of the majority culture are often inappropriate for ethnic minorities, especially those who speak a different language, have little or no formal education, and grow up in vastly different circumstances (see also, Williams, 1972; Boone et al, 2007). These researchers further argue that variables that directly affect test performance, such as education and acculturation instead of race or ethnicity, should be considered as explanatory variables for test performance (Teng and Manly, 2005). Boone et al (2007) obtained findings that further supported this line, as not ethnic differences, but the effects of acculturation directly and significantly influenced IQ test performance. The authors cautioned that normative data derived on Caucasian samples may not be appropriate for use with other ethnic groups (Boone et al, 2007). Ryan et al (2005) found that discrepancy in reading and education level was associated with worse psychological test performance (e.g. IQ and other tests), while racial/ethnic minority status was not.

Educational Bias:

In the United States, when matched for IQ with Whites, American Blacks have been shown to demonstrate superior “Working Memory” (Nijenhuis et al., 2004). This is a particularly interesting finding as African Americans tend to be taught by less qualified teachers (e.g. non-certified teachers and teachers with limited experience) than their white counterparts, and are provided with less challenging school work (Hallinan 1994; Diamond et al., 2004; Uhlenberg and Brown 2004). In Chicago, for example, the vast majority of schools placed on academic probation as part of the district accountability efforts were majority African-American and low-income (Diamond and Spillane 2004). Thus, it is somewhat of a surprise that African Americans should outperform white Americans on any portion of a paper and pencil test designed to mimic the structures of western style schooling and culture (Richardson, 2000, 2002).

Educational inequality in the U.S. is a pervasive part of the social system and is primarily a consequence of housing. Since the majority of states determine school funding based on property taxes, schools in wealthier neighborhoods receive more funding per student. As home values in white neighborhoods are higher than minority neighborhoods, local schools receive more funding via property taxes (Kelly, 1995). In addition, there has been a history of social policy which has limited African American’s access to avenues of wealth accumulation (e.g. purchasing suburban homes); so that black families also have far fewer assets than their white counterparts who earn the same incomes (Oliver and Shapiro, 1995). Parents with greater assets are free to use them for things like tutors, purchasing educational materials (e.g. computers), and to pay for private schools and more expensive colleges.  

In a study which helped to highlight the need for better education for African American children, Serpell et al. (2006) took 162 low-income African American and white fourth graders and assigned them, randomly, to ethnically homogeneous groups of three to work on a motion acceleration task, using computer simulation or physical tools. Or to a control group that did not participate in the learning activities. It was shown that both African American and White students performed equally well on the test of initial learning, with both groups scoring significantly higher than the control group. However, it was also found that African American children’s transfer outcomes were superior to those of their White counterparts (see Serpell et al., 2006). The study demonstrated, empirically, that not only do African American children learn as well as white children, but that they may actually exceed their white counterparts in their ability to transfer learned abilities to real tasks.

A Closer Look at Culturally Bias Testing:

Barnes (1972) noted that the Stanford-Binet, and the Wisc IQ tests are examples of “Culture specific tests,” and that the culture in this instance is what is referred to as “white middle class” culture. Lyman (1970) designed a cross cultural test called the “American Cross Culture Ethnic Nomenclature Test”, or “ACCENT.” The instrument contained 20 black biased and 20 white biased items. In one experiment this test was administered to 110 undergraduates (91 whites and 19 blacks) where it was found that the black participants out performed the white participants. Blacks obtained a mean of 15.3 on the black items and 11.1 on the white items, while white subjects obtained a mean of 12.7 on the white items and 8.3 on the black items. The results of this study indicated that when blacks and whites are tested cross-culturally that blacks may outperform whites on standardized tests.

Williams and Rivers (1972b) showed that test instructions in Standard English penalize the black child and that if the language of the test is put in familiar labels, without training or coaching, the black child’s performance on the tests increase significantly. Ideally a child’s language development should be evaluated in terms of his progress toward the norms for his own particular speech community (Cadzen, 1966); however, this kind of evaluation is rarely, if ever, done with respect to African Americans. Studies using sentence repetition tasks have found that at both third and fifth grades white subjects repeated Standard English sentences significantly more accurately than black subjects, while black subjects repeated nonstandard English sentences significantly more accurately than did white subjects (Marwit et al, 1977). Students in American schools are usually taught and tested only in Standard English, which can put African American students at a disadvantage. In fact, this issue was at the center debates concerning the use of Ebonics in the American school system during the 1990s.

Researchers provide considerable evidence showing that traditional psychological assessment is based on skills that are considered important within white, western, middle-class culture, but which may not be salient or valued within African-American culture (Helms, 1992; Helms, 1997; Hilliard, 1995; Boone et al, 2007; Teng and Manly, 2005). Kwate (2001) argues that IQ tests are antagonistic and incompatible with an African centered conception of intelligence and mental health, while a study by Obiakor and Utley (2004) showed that culturally diverse learners are often excluded in educational programs in the U.S. through misidentification, misassessment, miscategorization, misplacement, and misinstruction-misintervention. When test stimuli are more culturally pertinent to the experiences of African Americans, performance improves (Hayles, 1991; Williams and Rivers, 1972b). For example, research shows that “Black Culture” depicts problem solving as an integrative hemispheric endeavor rather than a linear, analytical process (Bell, 1994), and that in this culture "psychological closeness" is necessary for one’s involvement in the phenomena which he seeks to understand.

Studies using empirical methods also find that cultural differences in the provision of information account for racial differences in IQ scores. Fagan and Holland (2007) asked African-Americans and white Americans to solve problems typical of those administered on standard IQ tests. Half of the problems were solvable on the basis of information generally available to either race, or on the basis of information newly learned; while other problems were only solvable on the basis of specific previous knowledge. In this study specific knowledge varied with race and was shown to be subject to test bias (Fagan and Holland, 2007).

Test Design:

IQ tests are not constructed on the basis of any scientific model of intelligence; they are simply created (by statistical manipulation of item content) to identify individuals who have already been deemed to be 'intelligent' by other, more subjective, criteria (Richarson, 2002; Richardson, 2000). These criteria involve what is called, “norm-referencing.” In norm-referenced tests, items which do not discriminate between preselected groups are simply rejected or thrown out (Williams, 1972). So that test factors are no more than a product of the arbitrary way that ability items are devised or selected for inclusion in psychometric tests. Norm referenced measures are by far the most common method used, trying out and discarding items based on item correlations is a major part of the standardized test construction enterprise. In this respect, not only can one expect to find examples of “cultural bias” built into IQ tests, but also, “observer bias.”

Psychometric tests are intended to sample performance in some aspect of the test taker's environment. However, popular IQ tests are hardly able to do this outside of the “white middle class,” to whom the tests are typically normed. They are also particularly harsh against those who are unfamiliar with “white middle class’” cultural tools and values, or are simply unable to receive an education that is comparable with this group (Richardson, 2000, 2002; Helms 1992, 1997; Barnes, 1972). For this and other reasons the use of IQ tests can be unfair when comparing people outside of particular social groups.

Psychometric theory states that differences in raw test scores (eg, IQ-scores) of different groups cannot be used to infer group differences in theoretical attributes (e.g. intelligence) unless those test scores accord with a particular set of restrictions. The same attribute must relate to the same set of observations in the same way in each group (Borsboom, 2006; Mellenbergh, 1989). However, Wechsler (1944) “himself” warned that his Wechsler Bellevue test norms were to be used exclusively for the white population, stating: “Our norms cannot be used for the colored population of the United states. Though we have tested a large number of colored persons, our standardization is based upon white subjects only (pg. 107).” Williams (1972) administered an intelligence test which happened to be normed on the African American population to group of white Americans to illustrate the effects of cultural bias, and norm referencing. In this study it was found that black Americans demonstrated a “clear superiority” of white Americans (p. 11).

Do IQ Tests Really Measure…Stupidity?

Research has shown that IQ test scores tend to correlate negatively with scores of practical intelligence (Sternberg, 2001, 2004). Practical intelligence can be described as a person’s ability to apply learned skills and knowledge to everyday, real life tasks; or how to handle challenging situations. There is currently a lot of evidence demonstrating IQ tests to be unable to gauge a person’s overall potential or aptitude for learning (see Bradshaw, 2001; Siegel, 1989; Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2002a). What this means essentially is that a person who scores unusually high on an IQ test may not be an especially great learner (Sternberg, 2001). In fact, high scoring individuals may actually be demonstrating deficits in other areas; particularly in areas involving adaptive behavior or “practical intelligence” (See Sternberg, 2001).

It may also be argued based on the negative correlations observed between Practical Intelligence and IQ scores that those who score moderately or even very poorly on IQ tests may possess important strengths elsewhere. These strengths would relate more closely with adaptive kinds of behaviors and the application of learned skills and knowledge to real life tasks. These practical skills in addition to their full learning capabilities would place people of high Practical intelligence at a distinct advantage over high IQ individuals with respect to most important real life, everyday, tasks. This is because high IQ individuals demonstrate strengths in relationship to the acquisition and retention of knowledge, but are usually weak with respect to putting this knowledge to use in real life practical ways; this is essentially the difference between knowing and doing. Co-incidentally, practical kinds of skills are very similar to the kind of skills and abilities that most Anthropologists and paleoanthropologists credit with helping to make the human species so evolutionarily formidable (Tattersall and Schwartz, 2000; Kuhn and Stiner 1998). 

Empirical research has shown Practical intelligence to be a better predictor of numerous real life outcomes. For example, Chawarski (2002), found that among scientists immigrating to Israel from the USSR those who were rated highest on levels of practical intelligence tended to adapt better than those who were not. This study found that higher practical intelligence also tended to predict overall success in research and development jobs; with correlations at times reaching as high as .60 (Chawarski, 2002). Correlations this high are rarely if ever obtained with IQ tests with respect to any criteria, be they academic or real life (Schonemann, 1997c; Bradshaw, 2001).  Another study found that teachers of high practical intelligence were rated more effective by their school principals and were better able to handle problematic situations (Grigorenko et al, 2006). While Sternberg (2001) reported that among academics, measures of practical intelligence predict productivity, citation rates, and quality ratings of the institution at which one is teaching over and above those obtained from IQ tests.

A study by Bilalić et al (2007) found when an elite subsample of 23 children was tested for IQ that their scores were not a significant factor in chess skill, and that, if anything, IQ tended to correlate negatively with chess skill. Chess is often considered to be a game which puts heavy demands on one’s cognitive abilities and reasoning skills; requiring forward planning, short and long term strategic considerations and the ability to think dynamically. Thus, negative correlations between IQ scores and chess skills should cast some serious doubt on the value of such tests. One may be left asking, since negative correlations have been observed, which is a better measure of one’s intelligence, chess skill or IQ?

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Comments   

#2 Adawale Adjuwa 2011-08-25 12:14
Information show above? Where? Where was this part (very opening part) copied from?
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#1 Adeniyi Andu 2011-03-31 22:18
Quite an informative article. I've read a number of articles related to blacks and intelligence, and it kind of always bothered me, because it was a lot about affirming an idiotic dogma. I'm African, and I tend to do well above average in my studies, yet the size of my head (some scientists believe small sized heads = lower intelligence) is on the small side. Good write up, Bernie
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Last Updated on Friday, 03 January 2014 18:06

Home Sci-Tech & Business Genetics Race, Intelligence and IQ: Are Blacks Smarter than Whites?