Chapter 8. Higher order cognition: Language and Intelligence

8.5. Intelligence

This module is heavily influenced by Dr. Robert Guthrie’s work:
Guthrie, R.V. (1998). Even the rat was white, 2nd edition. Allyn & Bacon.

Learn more about Dr. Guthrie here

Some of this content comes from the following open source materials:

Biswas-Diener, R. (2018). Intelligence. In: R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds.), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF Publishers.

Stangor, C., & Walinga, J. (2014). Intelligence. Introduction to Psychology (1st Canadian Edition).

Psychology 2e.

What is intelligence?

Defining intelligence is highly controversial. The conceptualization of intelligence varies widely across the world and is heavily influenced by cultural values (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2004). Some cultures emphasize practical skills and the ability to adapt to the challenges of everyday life, and so place particular value on the ability to communicate and empathize with others. Collectivistic cultures value collective intelligence: the ability to contribute to group cohesion by work collaboratively and communicating effectively. Other cultures (e.g., Native Americans and people from Africa) particularly respect the elders in their community because they believe that wisdom comes from life experiences. Anglo-European/American cultures commonly emphasize cognitive abilities that are related to academic achievement, such as rapid information processing, memory, language skills, mathematical aptitude, and logical reasoning (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2004). However, even Western psychologists disagree on a single definition of intelligence. In this chapter we will discuss how different psychologists conceptualize intelligence, but we will particularly emphasize how psychology has contributed to the oppression of large groups of people (especially people of color), through the misuse and misinterpretation of intelligence tests.

There is a long history of unfounded prejudicial attitudes about the intelligence of people of color. Africans were engaging in sophisticated practices, such as bronze casting, iron making, and pyramid building, long before the Europeans did. However, Europeans arriving in the continent of Africa assumed that Black and Brown people were uncivilized and had low levels of intelligence (Guthrie, 1998). These dehumanizing views were used to justify a long history of colonization and the enslavement of African people in Europe and the United States. Even after slavery was abolished, psychologists in the United States used questionable “scientific evidence” to perpetuate racist beliefs (Guthrie, 1998). As you will read in this chapter, their “science” was based on poorly designed studies and biased tests (Guthrie, 1998). Even today, modern intelligence tests and other cognitive aptitude tests (including the SAT) are frequently criticized as being culturally unfair, and their continued use excludes many people from marginalized groups from multiple educational and career opportunities (Helms, 2012; Washington et al., 2016).


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Introduction to Psychology (A critical approach) Copyright © 2021 by Jill Grose-Fifer; Rose M. Spielman; Kathryn Dumper; William Jenkins; Arlene Lacombe; Marilyn Lovett; and Marion Perlmutter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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