Measure for measure


Much ado about nothing

by Rosie Harrison


Imagine for a moment that you are going for a new job, or enrolling for leadership training, or applying for a position on a new team, or being selected as a life or business partner. Now think about the 'other' person or group in whose hands the selection decision rests.  

What will 'they' be looking for - how will 'they' recognise all your good and exceptional qualities - and will they spot those little eccentricities?  

Nowadays there is the distinct possibility that someone will use a psychometric test to perform the evaluation and the selection.  

Schools use psychometric tests to determine the kind of education that would be best for a child. Assessment centres use them to select people for jobs, and as part of leadership and coaching programmes.  

As aptitude and career tests, their outcomes affects whether you can be a pilot, a computer programmer, an analyst or hairdresser. At their lowest level you can see them in magazines to find the perfect mate, job, career, house etc  

How did testing get to be so popular, prevalent and powerful?  


It's in the Genes

It all started with Sir Francis Galton, a man disappointed by his failure to achieve the highest academic honours.  In 1859 his reading of Darwin's On The Origin of the Species provided him with an explanation - the higher achievers must possess innate and inherited characteristics for superior performance.  

His belief in nature was so strong that he named and founded the eugenics movement, proposing that the state should only permit the intelligent to breed. To do this he needed a way of identifying the underachievers - before they could multiply!  

For Galton intelligence was a matter of neurological efficiency that would be recognised by superior perceptual and physical attributes unfortunately the results of testing 9,000 subjects proved the opposite. 'Bright' and 'Dull' subjects did not differ in their ability to perceive small differences in weight or line lengths.  

Meanwhile in France an alternative approach was being tried.


Pick a child any child

In the early 1900s the French government needed a way to differentiate between the 3 levels of retarded, weak and normal children. Based on previous research Binet got the job.  

Working closely with teachers Binet devised a set of tests that produced the results that teachers expected. Teacher's expectations were biased by such traits as docility, neatness, and social skills so what was measured was not just intelligence.  

To be fair, Binet never described his test as a measure of intelligence and always maintained that a single number could not be used to describe an individual's intelligence he also argued that argued that 'intelligence' ­ whatever else it was ­ could never be isolated from the actual experiences, circumstances, and personal associations of the individual.  

In the US Binet's work was picked up and picked over by  several different psychologists working on different projects.


Message Understood. Sir!

When America entered World War I in 1917 the U.S. Army was faced with the dilemma of quickly sorting huge numbers of draftees into suitable Army posts. Robert Yerkes was selected to chair a committee, which included Henry Goddard, Lewis Terman (coiner of the term "intelligence quotient") and Walter Bingham.  

A new test was quickly devised with significant changes from the Binet style of test. The new test was pencil and paper testing where the recruits were given 25 minutes to work through all the questions. They had to select the correct answer from a set of choices. Points were awarded for correct answers and the points were used to grade the recruit A to E.  

Successful trials convinced the army to start full scale testing in 1918 at a rate of 200,000 recruits per month. By the end of the war approximately two million recruits had been tested.  

After the war a veritable flood of tests became available with over 350 intelligence, achievement, aptitude and personality tests available.  These were used by companies and schools to predict ability and achievement.  

And so began the love affair with testing . . . but all was not well in paradise.  

First Doubts

The massive amount of data from the army testing program was analysed by Yerkes and Carl Brigham and produced three controversial findings. Firstly, they suggested that intelligence was predicted by race, with immigrants behind native Americans. Secondly it appeared as if America was losing its native intelligence. Thirdly it was believed that black people were less intelligent than white people.  

The analysis failed to take into account that the amount of time an immigrant had been in the country influenced his test score. Northern Europeans, on the average, had been in the country much longer than the other two groups. It would be years before the notion that the tests themselves were culturally biased, and hence the results not as clear-cut as they seemed.  

So what exactly were the testers measuring?


The Measure of a Man

The short answer must be "who knows?"  

The basic uncertainty stems from the fact that we have no real agreed definition of what intelligence is and so no real way of judging what should be measured and how.  

There are numerous contenders for an explanation of intelligence:

·        a single unitary level of ability that underlies everything

·        a cluster of related skills

·        a range of independent skill areas or multiple intelligences  

And numerous thoughts:

·        It's inherited  - oh no it's not

·        It's fixed - oh! no its not

·        it decreases with old age  - oh no it doesn't

·        you can't grow it - oh yes you can  

With this amount of dispute over the fundamentals it would be impressive and unlikely for current tests to accurately give the full measure of a person.  

Flynn's recent research and response is that “IQ tests do not measure intelligence but rather correlate with a weak causal link to intelligence." This sounds a note of caution for all tests relying heavily, as they do, on statistical correlation. For those not statistically minded correlations point out potential relationships but do no pinpoint cause and effects.  

Flynn also explains why tests need to be re-standardised. Cultural practices and expectations change. What people need to learn and do in order to be thought of as intelligent changes over time. Effectively what happens is that culturally acceptable normal behaviour changes.  

This may account for why old people are sometimes considered dumber than younger folk. Old people and young people know different things. If you compare old peoples' results with the results of their generation when it was young the differences almost disappear.  

Modern viewpoints of intelligence are much more complicated Wechsler wrote in 1950 "general intelligence cannot be equated with intellectual ability, but must be regarded as a manifestation of the personality as a whole . . . factors other than intellectual enter into our concept of general intelligence, and . . . in everyday practice, we make use of them knowingly or not". He also said that some of the factors are drive, persistence, will, and preservation.  

Howard Gardner wrote in 1985  "An intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings"  

So taking all things into account are tests good and useful? Are they a good indication of people’s abilities and future? Maybe.  And then again, maybe not. It depends very much on the content, the context and the use to which they are put.  

Does it matter? Yes it does if the wrong test is used for the wrong reason. Also if tests are used to label people or put them into restricting boxes. And if it provides people with limiting beliefs about their abilities 'I'm not the creative type' or gives them excuses for poor behaviours 'I can’t be polite / tolerant/ concerned with details because: “I'm an xyz”.    

Remember that tests measure small range of skill sets that the testers are interested in and that the results are graded according to the cultural social and business norms of the time they were created. They do not tell the full story about a person and they are certainly no substitute for getting to know someone. 

That apart, they can be fun. My results vary wildly. I'm too picky yet I don't see the details because I am lost in the big picture. I'm a visionary follower. I'm really empathic but don't like masses of people. I'm best with small or large groups or individuals. I need facts but rely on intuition.  So many choices.  

My favourite tests were the ones that said I had an IQ of 133 (that’s a big improvement!!!) and I loved the inkblots that said I was curious. I hated the one that said I was gifted with numbers.  “Yeuch!” I can't stand numbers.  

Go on have a go. Take some tests, find some answers and have fun.

horizontal rule

And here are some places to visit for pleasure and for profit  

Ansir - a new stlye in relating  

DiSC Personal Profile  


Eyesynck derivative neurotic / stable  extravert/ introvert fanatic / liberal  

trait secrets, personality assessment  


Spiral dynamics / Graphics  

IQ test  

Keirsey temperament sorter  

Discover your Natural genius  


Work performance DNA

target training international mindscreen  :  

test portal  

oodles of test

horizontal rule