Friday, March 13, 2020

Eysenck (1916-1997) - IQ, assessment and personality...

Binet, the man responsible for inventing the IQ (intelligence quotient) test, warned against it being seen as a sound measure for individual intelligence or that it should be seen as ‘fixed’. His warnings were not heeded as education itself became fixated with the search and definition of a single measure of intelligence – IQ. Hans Eysenck was the figure around whom much of the IQ debate figured in the 20th century. What is less well known is his work on personality types and his opposition to psychoanalysis and Freud in particular, explained in The Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire.


A controversial figure, he put forward the proposition that intelligence had a hereditary component and was not wholly, socially determined. Although this area is highly controversial and complex, the fact that genetic heritability has some role has become the scientific orthodoxy. What is still controversial is the definition and variability of ‘intelligence’ and the role that intelligence and other tests have in education and training. The environment has been shown to play an increasing role but the nature/nurture debate is a complex area, now a rather esoteric debate around the relevance of different statistical methods.


IQ theory has come under attack on several fronts. Stephen Jay Gould’s 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man is only one of many that have criticised IQ research as narrow, subject to reification (turns abstract concepts into concrete realities) and linear ranking, when cognition is, in fact, a complex phenomenon. IQ research has also been criticised for repeatedly confusing correlation with cause, not only in heritability, where it is difficult to untangle nature from nurture, but also when comparing scores in tests with future achievement. Class, culture and gender may also play a role and the tests are not adjusted for these variables. Work by Howe and Eriksson and others explains extraordinary achievement as being the result of early specialisation and a focused investment in over 10,000 hours of practice and not measurable IQ.
The focus on IQ, a search for a single unitary measure of the mind, is now seen by many, as narrow and misleading. Most modern theories of mind have moved on to more sophisticated views of the mind as with different but interrelated cognitive abilities. More modular theories and theories of multiple intelligence have come to the fore. Sternberger’s three-part (analytic, creative, practical) was followed by Gardner’s eight intelligences in Frames of Mind. Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (EQ), reflected in other more academic and well researched work, also challenged the unitary theory of intelligence, with its emphasis on the ability to harness emotion in self-awareness, thinking, decision making and in dealing with others. It is not that IQ is the antithesis of EQ, they are merely different. However, even Gardner and Goleman have come under criticism for lacking rigour. In general, however, educational systems in many countries have been criticised for failing to teach this wider set of skills that many now agree are useful in adult life.


Eysenck worked with Cyril Burt at the University of London, the man responsible for the introduction of the standardised 11+ examination in the UK, enshrined in the 1944 Butler Education Act, an examination that, incredibly, still exists in parts of the UK. Burt was subsequently discredited for publishing largely in a journal that he himself edited, falsifying, not only the data upon which he based his work, but also co-workers on the research.
This is just one of many standardised tests that have become common in education but many believe that tests of this type serve little useful purpose and are unnecessary, even socially divisive. On the other hand supporters of test regimes point towards the meritocratic and objective nature of tests. Some, however, argue that standard tests have led to a culture of constant summative testing, which has become a destructive force in education, demotivating and acting as an end-point and filter, rather than a useful mark of success. Narrow academic assessment has become almost an obsession in some countries, fueled by international pressure from PISA.

Personality traits

Eysenck also contributed (with his wife) to the idea that personality can be defined in terms of psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism. This provided the basis for the now widely respected OCEAN model proposed by Costa & McCrae:
Eysenck rejected the Costa & McCrae model but in the end it has become the more persuasive theory. This well researched area of ‘personality types’has largely been ignored in learning, in favour of the more faddish ‘learning styles’ theory. However, it has been argued that this type of differentiation is far more useful when dealing with different types of learners.

Online learning

Interestingly, when measuring IQ, the Flynn Effect, taken from military records, shows that scores have been increasing at the rate of about 3 points per decade and there is further evidence that the rate is increasing This was used by Stephen Johnson in his book Everything bad is Good for You to hypothesise that exposure to new media is responsible, a position with which Flynn himself agrees. This throws open a whole debate and line of research around the benefits of new media in education and learning. Highly complex and interactive technology may be making us smarter. If true, this has huge implications for the use of technology in education and society in general.


Unfortunately, Eysenck and many other psychologists, throughout the middle of the 20th century may have focused too much on narrow IQ tests. This has led to some dubious approaches to early assessment, such as the 11+, that has, to a degree, socially engineered the future educational opportunities and lives of young people. IQ theorists like Eysenck tended to focus on logical and mathematical skills, to the detriment of other abilities, leading some to conclude that education has been over-academic. This, they argue, has led to a serious skew on curricula, assessment and the funding of education to the detriment of vocational and other skills.
Eysenck, H.J. (1967) The Biological Basis of Personality. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Eysenck, H.J. (1971) The IQ Argument: Race, Intelligence, and Education. New York: Library Press.
Eysenck, H.J. (1985) Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire
Eysenck, H.J. & Eysenck, S.B.G. (1969). Personality Structure and Measurement. London: Routledge.
Gould, S. J. (1981).The mismeasure of man. New York: Norton.

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