Understand the nature of intelligence and intelligence testing and the methods of psychological research

Understand the nature of intelligence and intelligence testing and the methods of psychological research.



The scientific method reflects an attempt to find evidence to support or refute our beliefs about the world and its nature. This involves a skeptical attitude and an open mind to allow for the possibility that our cherished beliefs are false. Two reliable phenomena – hindsight bias and judgmental overconfidence – illustrate the limits of everyday intuition and our need for scientific inquiry and critical thinking.

Psychological science usually starts with someone observing something interesting and trying to construct a theory about why it happens. Theories are organized sets of ideas and observations that explain and/or predict behavior or events. From those theories, psychologists derive logical and testable statements called hypotheses that can be supported or disputed by research. When enough support is gathered, a theory is accepted. If not, either the theory is revised, or a new one takes its place. Even accepted theories may be revised as more evidence accumulates over time.

In their research, psychologists use case studies, surveys, and naturalistic observation to gather information and describe behavior; correlation to assess the relationship between variables; and experimentation to uncover cause and effect relationships. Researchers use statistics to describe their data, to assess relationships between variables, and to determine whether differences are significant.

There are many questions about psychological research. These include concern over the simplification of reality in laboratory experiments, the generalizabilityof research in terms of culture and gender, the purpose of animal studies, the adequacy of research ethics, and the potential misuse of psychology’s knowledge.


Today, intelligence is generally considered to be the ability to learn from experience, solve problems and adapt to new situations. Psychologists debate whether intelligence is one general ability or several specific abilities. While a certain level of intelligence is necessary for creativity, beyond that level, the correlation is weak. Some theorists have expanded the definition of intelligence to include social intelligence, especially emotional intelligence. Psychologists have linked people’s intelligence to brain anatomy and functioning as well as to cognitive processing speed.

Modern intelligence testing began more than a century ago in France when Alfred Binet developed questions that helped predict children’s future progress in the Paris school system. Lewis Terman of Stanford University used Binet’s ideas to develop the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. German psychologist William Stern derived the formula for the famousintelligence quotient, or IQ.

Modern aptitude and achievement tests are widely accepted only if they are standardized, reliable and valid. Aptitude tests tend to be highly reliable, but they are weak predictors of success in life. One way to test the validity of a test is to compare people who score at the two extremes of the normal curve: the challenged and the gifted.

Studies of twins, family members and adopted children point to significant genetic determinants of intelligence test scores. These and other studies also indicate that environment significantly influences intelligence test scores. Psychologists debate evolutionary and cultural explanations of gender differences in aptitudes and abilities. Environmental differences are perhaps entirely responsible for racial gaps in intelligence.

Aptitude tests, which predict performance in a given situation, are necessarily “biased” in the sense that they are sensitive to performance differences caused by cultural experiences. However, the major tests are not biased in that they predict as accurately for one group as for another. Stereotype threat can adversely affect performance and sometimes appears in intelligence testing among African Americans and women.

By the end of this reading, you will be able to:

  • Understand the nature of intelligence and intelligence testing and the methods of psychological research.

Be sure to read the material thoroughly before attempting to complete related assignments. Please ask any questions that you may have about the reading in the General Question and Answer discussion forum.

Now that you have completed this activity, please proceed to the Discussion Activities.


Although we commonly associate prejudice with minority groups in our own country, almost anyone can be a victim of it. Describe a case of prejudice that you are aware of. It could be prejudice toward you or that you harbor toward others, or an example from the media or your own experience. If this involves others, please disguise their identities.

Using what you have learned in this module and other appropriate sources, explain how you think that the prejudice originated. Was there a stereotype involved? Did the prejudice ultimately lead to discrimination? Be sure to describe each of the concepts and explain how it relates to the others. What might you do to turn this situation around and prevent it from happening in the future? After you have posted your case and answered the questions, take a look at this video: Cultural Competence: Managing Your Prejudices (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..

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