Lewis Terman

Lewis Terman

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Larissa Ward, Farzan Dubash, Bhumika Bhandari, and Karlyssa Fluttert


The purpose for this paper is that it is written for Arts 140 class assignment. It will let students learn more about a specific psychologist. In the process of doing this assignment, students will further develop their research, communication and presentation skills.


Dec 14, 2018


Lewis Terman is widely regarded as the father of modern IQ testing. His Stanford-Binet scale helped to revolutionize the testing of children in order to uncover “giftedness” (Wertheimer & Kimble, 2013). His study of gifted children, known as “Terman’s Termites,” tracked children he identified as gifted throughout their lives, with many ending up in successful positions (Leslie, 2000). Although Terman’s studies were revolutionary and are still used today, his intentions were not always the best with his studies. Early on, he was an advocate for eugenics, claiming that his studies showed that lower intelligence was a hereditary trait in certain minorities (Martschenko, 2017). Despite this, his research was extremely useful in the field of intelligence and it has helped psychologists better pinpoint giftedness in children.

An Overview of Lewis Terman:

Personal Life:

(Mainly adapted from Crosby & Hastorf, 2009)

Lewis Terman was born in Johnson County, Indiana in 1877. Terman was the 12th of 14 children born to a farming family. Most of the children that Terman went to school with would not study past 8th grade because most of them would drop out of school to help on the family farm. Terman was born in an area where a majority of people had a career in farming or teaching, so there was little to his future that would suggest that Terman would have a career in anything other than farming or teaching. Terman was always described to be bookish and ambiguous. Terman was also said to have an interest in children of unusual abilities or disabilities from a young age which contributed to his later studies in intelligence and giftedness (Leslie, 2000).

Beginning in 1892, Terman attended Central Normal College (CNC) in Danville Indiana for 5 years, where he received a BS, Bpd (Bachelor of Pedagogy), and an AB. Terman spoke very fondly about his time and the enjoyment he had while attending CNC. In 1901, Terman then attended Indiana University. While attending Indiana University, Terman developed the ambition to become a professor of psychology and contribute to the discovery of science. In 1903, Terman began graduate work at the Clark University. Clark University’s requirements encouraged students to follow their own interests rather than to follow a presubscribed course of study. Terman found the environment suited his needs well because he said he never worked well under the restraints of rules and regulations. While at Clark University, Terman attended G. Stanley’s Hall’s seminars on children psychology every Monday night. These seminars were deemed to have a great influence on his development of intellectual intelligence later in life. While at Clark, Terman’s interest of gifted and defective children began to expand, leading him into an interest of mental testing. Terman first introduced his idea to pursue the field of mental testing to G. Stanley Hall, but Hall empathetically expressed his disapproval for mental testing to Terman. Given that Terman’s mind was made up and he was determined, Hall eventually granted his blessing to Terman and gave him some advice about advancing into a new field of study. Terman created his thesis on bright and dull children and focused on the different tests that could help to differentiate the children.

Terman was later troubled by “mildly active tuberculosis” causing him to choose a position in California in the interest of his health with his wife and two kids (Leslie, 2000). He began his career in California as a school principal in San Bernardino for a year. After that, he spent four years as a professor of child study and pedagogy at Los Angeles State Normal School (Leslie, 2000). In 1910, Terman accepted a position in the school of Education at Stanford University. Terman later said that his acceptance of the job had led to an ideal time in his life and career. Later Terman was granted as chair of the psychology department at Stanford for two decades. Terman remained at Stanford University until his death in 1956 (Leslie, 2000).

Major Research and Theories:

Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales:


Lewis Terman made revisions to the Alfred Binet Intelligence Scale which made the previously developed scale more adaptable to adults. Prior to his revisions, the scale only went up to age 15 (Lewis M. Terman, 1916). Terman used the intelligence quotient to categorized people’s intelligence. Terman viewed people as having IQ as “fairly constant with changing age” (Boring, 1956). This led to the conclusion of testing children to find ones that had high IQ, who were going to be high in society (Minton, n.d.). Thus, this lead Terman’s purpose of his tests to coincide with the eugenics movement and lead to his further research of gifted children.

One of Lewis Terman’s most significant contributions to psychology was his revisions to the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scales, now called the Stanford Binet Scale, or Intelligence Quotient scale. The intelligence scale was first developed by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in 1905 called the Binet-Simon Scale (Wertheimer & Kimble, 2013). The original purpose of the study was to be able to identify and accurately diagnose sub-normality children; children with learning disabilities in order to help them.

Binet Measuring and Testing Children

Binet Measuring and Testing Children

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Binet thought that there were 2 things that could lead someone to have a deficiency in school performance. First, he said that a child may lack in school performance because they initially are not intelligent, lacking the right genes. Second, he said that a child might not perform in school as well because of life circumstances that have hindered their ability to have similar intelligence to others of the same age. He also believed that “intelligence was a capacity that grows with children’s ages but at varying individual rates” (Wertheimer & Kimble, 2013). Thus, Alfred and Simon came up with 30 tasks for kids ages 3-15 to determine intelligence scales dependent on the child’s age. The tasks consisted of “identifying the differences in memory, ability to reason, ability to compare, comprehension, time orientation, number concepts, power to combine ideas into meaningful wholes, and the maturity of apperception” (Lewis M. Terman, 1916) [To read more about Binet-Simon Method see “The Measurement of Intelligence” by Lewis Terman – Chapter III or see the book) The Development of Intelligence in Children (The Binet-Simon Scale) by Binet and Simon] Meaning, the ability to use logic and reasoning in order to solve problems. This laid the groundwork for Lewis Terman’s revisions.

Lewis Terman took the Binet-Simon Scale and found that it had flaws because it didn’t address “higher mental level” (Lewis M. Terman, 1916). Terman wanted to improve the scale and to do so, Terman took years studying and testing varying levels of people’s intelligence including children in schools, business men, unemployed men, and high school students [To read more about the tests conducted by Terman see “The Measurement of Intelligence” by Lewis Terman – Chapter IV]

With the extensive testing, Terman used the term Intelligence Quotient, IQ to determine a scale of intelligence. The Intelligence Quotient was originally developed by William Stern however, due to Terman’s success with the extensive testing which improved the tests for mental age, he showed that “IQ is indeed fairly constant with changing age, at least when cultural influences are also constant” (Boring, 1956). The Intelligence Quotient was a scale that gave people’s intelligence based on their mental age, divided (hence intelligence “quotient”) by their chronological age multiplied by 100.

Intelligence Quotient

Intelligence Quotient

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Mental age referred to an individual’s ability to use logic and problem solving. This was then measured against, the data found through testing many people to find, the traditional/normal range of that person’s mental age for the chronological age they were. A person who was “normal” for their age would have an IQ of 100 and was called to have a “general intelligence” (Leslie, 2000), anyone below was considered to have a problem and was called “feeble-minded” (Boring, 1956) and anyone who was significantly higher was considered gifted. This allowed for a standard scoring scale which was used in schools to assess students’ abilities. It was also used in World War 1 by Terman making specific tests to screen army recruits (Leslie, 2000). Being that this new way of testing was so applicable to a wide variety of people, it started to be more known by the general public and gained public acceptance.

IQ Scale

IQ Scale

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However, Terman viewed people to be born with a pre-set of intelligence, meaning intelligence was based on genetics; not based on home environment or education this was called “original endowment” (Leslie, 2000). This thought that intelligence was hereditary, contributed to Terman’s belief in eugenics. According to Webster’s Dictionary, “eugenics is when one wants to improve the human race by selecting certain humans to breed in a certain populations (and sterilizing the ones that do not fit in this category) in order to improve the population’s genetic composition.” With this thought of eugenics, Terman’s purpose for the IQ testing was to find the children who naturally had high IQ and prepare them for higher paying jobs and to be leaders within society (Minton, n.d.) and the ones who had lower IQ scores would be institutionalized and discouraged or prevented from having children (Leslie, 2000). With the increased acceptance/awareness of IQ testing and Terman’s purpose for IQ testing it led to the furtherment of the eugenics movement and eventually it led him the study of the identification of gifted children.

Genetic Studies Of Genius:


In 1921 Lewis Terman conducted a study called The Genetic studies of Genius. He followed the lives of children who had a high degree of IQ (130 or above). This study is the oldest and the longest running longitudinal study in the discipline of Psychology. Terman called these students Termites. These children tended to be healthier, taller, high on self-confidence and more socially adapted than other children. They were assumed to be successful in life as they grew up. This study was criticized for taking samples from higher socioeconomic strata and less representation of minorities. (Genetic Studies of Geniuses ~ Lewis Terman)

The Genetic Studies of Genius, by Lewis Terman is the oldest and longest-running longitudinal study in the field of psychology. It began in 1921 at Stanford University to scrutinize the characteristics of gifted children (Leslie, 2000). A gifted child is one who naturally has a high degree of general mental ability or extraordinary ability in a specific activity. Giftedness in many countries is identified or defined by person with IQ equivalent to 130-140. However, educational institutions used a wide array of measures to define giftedness, it includes aptitude in musical, verbal-mathematical, spatial-visual and interpersonal abilities (Gifted child psychology, Encyclopedia Britannica).

Terman followed the lifestyle of 1500 highly intellectual students (3-19 years old). These children were overwhelmingly white and from middle /upper-class urban areas. Terman referred to these gifted children as Termites. Many people assumed that gifted children would grow up to be awkward and shy adults who would not be able to succeed as it was said, “early to ripe, early to rot.” However it was found that these children were successful in life, they tended to be healthier, taller and more socially adapted than other kids. Terman assumed that the children with high IQ would grow up into an elite group. These children also had better health as they aged and were more successful as a group. They completed higher education at a much higher rate compared to the average. Women had fewer children and had them later in life as they chased higher degrees. The gifted group was financially better than any comparison group. As Terman followed this group for 35 years, they showed an impressive array of accomplishments: Of just the gifted males; 70 were listed in American Men of Science, three were elected to National Academy of Sciences, 10 entered in the Directory of American Scholars and 31 appeared in Who’s Who in America (Terman, L, 1959).

In the later part of the Genetic study of Genius, aided by his assistants, Terman conducted interviews with the parents of gifted children and he also interviewed the gifted children. In these interviews there was a wide variety of tests and inventories tested. Data was collected in 1922 and 1928 which had family life and school experience as the focal point; it involved interviews and questionnaires involving mothers of gifted children. The follow-ups in 1936 and 1940 occurred at the time of educational achievement and commencement of adult careers for many of the participants. The postwar years through the 1960s was the period of marriage and family development, career beginnings, and accomplishments. The data collected in the postwar years relied mainly on survey forms mailed to the study members. The files of the collected data from the study members included a rich selection of other data: news clippings, interviewing the parent, questionnaires from spouses, and letters.

It was estimated that Termites did not come close in calibre to the true scientific elite of the same nation and era. In the book, Greatness: Who Makes History and Why, Dean Simonton said,

Let us give Terman the benefit of the doubt and post that all 2,000 scientific and technical publications were produced by the 70 who made it into American Men of Science. That implies that, on average, Terman’s notable scientists produced about 29 publications by the time they had reached their mid-40s. In contrast American Nobel laureates in the sciences averaged about 38 publications by the time they were 39 years old, and claimed about 59 publications by their mid-40s. That amounts to a twofold disparity in the output. Hence, Terman’s intellectual elite was not of the same calibre as the true scientific elite of the same nation and era (Simonton, D, 1944).

It was also believed that accomplishments of the study of Termites could have been predicted on their socioeconomic strata alone. This was thought because there were mostly white, middle to upper middle-class men which would already have more opportunities and resources. Also, Terman included very few minorities in his sample to be specific, only 4 Japanese students, 1 black child, 1 Indian child and 1 Mexican child in a total of 168,000. Teachers at that time were biased towards identifying white students with talent because many other talented students weren’t given the chance to take his test. It was noted by Terman that minority groups like; Italian, Portuguese and Mexican in California had low IQ at that time (Lewis M. Terman, 1926). The follow – up data from The Genetic study of Genius included 1,023 participants, according to which early reading was linked with academic success, it was less associated with lifelong educational attainment and was hardly related to midlife adjustment. Early school entry was associated with less educational attainment, worse midlife adjustment and even increased mortality risk (Kern & Friedman, 2008).

Other Research and Theories:

Sex And Personality:


Lewis Terman attempted to measure the variability of masculinity-femininity in personality with the help of the Masculinity-Femininity test. Women and men are always considered to be different. This study proposes that women experience greater degree of emotions. The test is a pencil and paper test, with no specific time limit. People who deviate from the score range tend to have a romantic relationship with same sex person (Terman & Miles, 1936).

This intensive study by Lewis Terman tends to use an experiential scale to assess the variable of masculinity-femininity. It was conjectured that men and women, as distinct groups, display differences in their sex and characteristics in their behavior which have a great impact on their personality. Many social trends have attempted to reduce these deeply embedded differences in society and in the minds of the mankind (Terman & Miles, 1936). The enfranchisement of women and the rapid expansion of their role in political (in 20th century), commercial and other fields proved that these differences are less in magnitude than they thought to be. In modern Western cultures, women are assumed to experience tender emotions like pity, sympathy and parental love. As compared to males, females are more timid, religious, prone to jealousy and suspicious. The sexual feelings of women are less meticulously localized in their body (Terman & Miles, 1936).

The purpose of the test was concealed by the title “Attitude and Interest Test” in order to prevent the participants to have any bias response; it allowed the results to not be manipulated by the subjects. The Masculinity–femininity test had two identical parts A and B which in total consists of 910 items. The test was a pencil-paper test with no specified time limit. Each response bears a weight of one point and can be ‘+’or ‘-’. Scoring of the test was done by a stencil thus it was completely objective. People who deviate from the test range scores are assumed to be indulged in a romantic attachment with people of same sex (Terman & Miles, 1936).

Psychological Factors In Marital Happiness:


Another study Lewis Terman was to test if one could predict marital happiness. The tests got the scores of happiness and related them statistically to various supposed contributors to marital happiness (Daniel, 1940). It was found that the thought contributors to marital happiness, did not have as much correlation. However, it was found that childhood happiness and if the spouse was generally a happy person contributed somewhat to marital happiness. There was no one factor that determines the prediction of marital happiness.

In this study by Lewis Terman tested 792 couples who were married and 109 couples who were divorced. The goal was to find out if there was a way to predict marital happiness. Lewis Terman used personality tests and responses to questions to measure happiness. The criteria for happiness was based on the tests conducted which became the scale of happiness. This scale however was disproportional because the answers all tended toward the extreme happiness. Terman compared his results of a person’s happiness compared to 4 factors that might affect a marriage. The factors were, “degree of marital happiness, personality characteristics, background factors, and sexual attitudes and adjustments” (Daniel, 1940). Terman wanted to see the correlation between how happy an individual person felt compared to factors of marital happiness (L. M. Terman, Buttenwieser, Ferguson, Johnson, & Wilson, 1938). Through the tests they got the scores of happiness and related them statistically to various supposed contributors to marital happiness (Daniel, 1940). The conclusions they made from their findings was that the causes or factors that were thought to have an impact on marital happiness didn’t have as much impact as they thought. For example, the value of differences in ages, or in education between spouses, or sexual relations has much less of an impact than anticipated (Daniel, 1940). It was found that if the individuals, husband or wife, were happy, together as a couple, they would have a happier relationship. The study also found that factors of childhood happiness, attachment/relationship to mothers and fathers, and childhood punishment had a role on happy marriages (Daniel, 1940). However, these relationships gave correlational factors to marital happiness there was no one single causal factor found to marital happiness. This is because marital happiness is much more complex than correlating tests.


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Throughout his academic career, Lewis Terman did a lot of work to further studies of intelligence, completely changing how we view “gifted” individuals. However, some of his ideas were also extremely problematic. In his earlier academic years, Terman supported eugenics, advocating the sterilization of those that he referred to as “feeble minded” in order to produce a more intelligent society. When he improved the Stanford-Binet scale, he claimed that one of the primary uses was “curtailing the reproduction of feeble-mindedness and in the elimination of an enormous amount of crime, pauperism, and industrial inefficiency” (White, 2000). He was also a member of the Human Betterment Foundation, an American eugenics organization that advocated for forced sterilization and created publicity towards research into sterilizations carried out in California. In 1928, he stated that “It is more important, for man to acquire control over his biological evolution than to capture the energy of the atom” (Wang, 2016). Although Terman backed away from these concepts later on in life, he never publicly recanted these beliefs and statements (Cherry, 2018).

In addition to these arguments supporting eugenics, Terman also believed that intelligence varied by race and advocated for segregation. In his book published in 1916, he wrote that:

High-grade or borderline deficiency … is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come … Children of this group should be segregated into separate classes … They cannot master abstractions but they can often be made into efficient workers … from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding (Martschenko, 2017).

He also chose to emphasize the need to stick to established gender norms, through a questionnaire that determined gender based on motivational and emotional traits that were thought to differentiate the sexes.

In his genetics study of genius, Terman’s approach was extremely flawed, given the fact that those he studied were primarily white, urban and from middle class families. It lacked balance, featuring only two African-Americans, six Japanese Americans and one Indian-American (Leslie, 2000). This lack of diversity meant that the studied was not as comprehensive as it should have been to capture the true information around gifted children. At the time, teachers, like most of the world, were likely more biased towards these white, middle class students, already giving them a learning advantage.

Terman also had a feud with a journalist named Walter Lippmann, who argued that it was impossible to classify human beings using a single test. Lippmann referred to Terman and other intelligence-testers as “the psychological battalion of death”, due to the fact that these tests were used to shape and decide the future of a child. Lippmann wrote that he hated the “sense of superiority that it creates, the sense of inferiority it imposes” (Leslie, 2000), referring to the culture created by classifying people by intelligence. Terman would eventually prevail in this feud, in the sense that the popularity and use of intelligence testing continued to increase over time.

Current Research on Theories:

This component of the biography focuses on other/ current research on intelligence that is in some way different from Terman’s research. It will largely be a summary of Robert J. Sternberg’s summary of intelligence research titled “Theories of Intelligence” (2018). This is done due to the abundance of information in the summary presented by Sternberg and a lack of information on relevant other/ current theories and research on intelligence elsewhere. Although this component largely reflects Sternberg’s summary, it was intended to be presented in a more concise manner, highlighting the important research. Also, connections are made between the different research on intelligence that Sternberg includes in his summary, as well as connections between the research on intelligence and Terman’s research and ideas.

In 1986, when 24 cognitive psychologists were asked what intelligence is, they emphasized four concepts (Sternberg, 2018). The first was the ability to learn from experience, the second the ability to adapt to the environment, the third was metacognitive properties-the ability to understand and control one’s own thinking process, and the fourth was the role of culture-that what is considered intelligent in one culture may differ from what is considered intelligent in another culture (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). The opinions of lay people may also be relevant to the study of intelligence, such as societies folk conceptions and implicit theories on intelligence (Sternberg, 2018). For example, a smart salesperson and a smart neurosurgeon may be perceived as having different qualities (Sternberg, 2018).

The first intelligence researcher that will be discussed is Francis Galton. Galton believed that intelligence is a function of psychophysical abilities (Sternberg, 2018). Like Terman, Galton believed in using standardized tests to measure abilities. Galton measured a broad range of psychophysical skills, such as the ability to notice small differences in the weights of objects, the ability to notice small changes in pitch or tone, and physical strength (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). Galton was also like Terman in his support of the eugenics movement. Galton was a cousin of Charles Darwin, the famous founder of evolutionary biology, which inspired Galton into investigations of human heredity (Gillham, 2002). Galton ended up inventing pedigree analysis, which sought to measure the heritability of human talent and character (Gillham, 2002).

The next researcher who did important work in intelligence was Alfred Binet. Binet was tasked with developing a test to distinguish typically developing children from intellectually disabled children (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). He and his research assistant Theodore Simon developed the Binet-Simon Scale to address the cognitive ability of children by assigning them a mental age, which was the average performance of children of that age (Sternberg, 2018). The Binet-Simon scale was later updated by Terman and labelled the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, whose main purpose was to be a general intelligence test (“Alfred Binet”, 2015). The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale became an important part of the eugenics movement (“Alfred Binet”, 2015), which Terman supported. Theoretically, Binet thought that judgement was the key component of intelligence. Binet asserted that intelligence composed three distinct categories (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). The first is direction, which involves knowing what must be done and how to do it, the second is adaptation, which involves forming a strategy for completing a task and then monitoring that strategy while implementing it, and the third is criticism, which is the ability to critique your own thoughts (Sternberg, 2018). All three of these categories fit with contemporary views of intelligence (Sternberg, 2018). Current research that correlates with Binet’s categories is research on global and local planning. Global planning involves encoding the problem and formulating a general strategy to attack the problem (Sternberg, 2018), which correlates with Binet’s concept of direction. Local planning involves forming and implementing strategies for the details of the task (Sternberg, 2018), which correlates with Binet’s concept of adaptation. Research has found that those who score higher on intelligence tests take more time for global planning during task completion but take less time for local planning (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). Sternberg concludes that: “The advantage for spending more time on global planning is the increased likelihood that the overall strategy will be correct” (Sternberg, 2018). Also, Binet’s concept of criticism correlates with modern conceptions that metacognition is important in understanding intelligence (Sternberg, 2018). Unlike Terman, Binet noted that intelligence encompasses more than what IQ tests can measure. Binet’s early work was not without controversy though. He started his career studying hysterical patients, and asserted that “I believe it satisfactorily established, in a general way, that two states of consciousness, not known to each other, can co-exist in the mind of a hysterical patient” (Van der Hart & Dorahy, 2010).

Another model of intelligence is the hierarchical, or ranked model. The hierarchical model suggests that there are two forms of intelligence, fluid ability and crystalized ability. Fluid ability is the speed and accuracy of abstract reasoning, and crystalized ability is the accumulation of knowledge and vocabulary (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). In addition to fluid and crystalized ability, recent hierarchical models propose that learning and memory processes, visual perception, auditory perception, and effortless production of ideas are also relevant to the study of intelligence (Sternberg, 2018).

The biological view of intelligence looks to the brain as the basis for human intelligence (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). There has been found to be a modest but statistically significant association between brain size and intelligence (as cited in Sternberg, 2018) but is not clear whether larger brain size causes intelligence or intelligence causes larger brain size, or whether the relationship is contingent on an unknown third factor (Sternberg, 2018). The way the brain metabolizes glucose may also be relevant for understanding the biological basis of intelligence. Higher intelligence correlates with lower levels of glucose metabolism during problem solving tasks (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). Interestingly, as a result of practice, participants with higher intelligence doing a problem-solving task show less glucose metabolism in most brain areas but increased glucose metabolism in areas of the brain that are thought to be important to the task (Sternberg, 2018). Therefore, “more intelligent participants have learned how to use their brains more efficiently” (Sternberg, 2018). Brain regions that have been correlated with intelligence are the posterior regions, which have been implicated in crystalized intelligence. Damage to these regions results in poor performance on IQ tests (as cited in Sternberg, 2018), which generally measure crystalized intelligence (Sternberg, 2018). Participants with frontal lobe damage perform well on these tests, but have impairments in fluid intelligence (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). These biological studies are largely correlational; they show associations between biological measures and measures of intelligence, but they do not establish causation (Sternberg, 2018). Terman would probably support the biological view because he believed that intelligence was mostly inherited genetically.

Contextualism states that culture is relevant to intelligence, asserting that intelligence must be understood in a real-world and cultural context (Sternberg, 2018). For example, differences in intelligence have been observed in rural versus urban communities, low versus high proportions of teenagers to adults in communities, and communities of different socioeconomic statuses (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). Contextualism accounts for why some people perform better than others on tasks that a culture values (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). It seems to take into account that our social goals determine what our mental capabilities will be. Therefore, the demands on cognition to reach an individual’s goals may differ from culture to culture. For example, “people from European and North American cultures tend to process objects independently of the context, whereas people from many Asian cultures process objects in conjunction with the surrounding context” (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). Also, people from collectivist cultures are less likely to commit the fundamental attribution error (Myers, Spencer, and Jordan, 2015), signalling that they interpret events differently than those in individualist cultures. Developing culturally relevant tests aims to combat the assumption that intelligence is the same in all cultures. For example, 14-year-old boys performed poorly on a task when it was framed as a cupcake-baking task but performed well when it was framed as a battery charging task (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). Also, Brazilian maids had no difficulty with proportional reasoning when hypothetically purchasing food, but great difficulty with the same task when it was purchasing medicinal herbs (as cited in Sternberg, 2018). These studies show that the context of which a task is presented greatly affects performance on that task (Sternberg, 2018). Contextualism seems to counter Terman’s beliefs. Terman believed in eugenics, and that intelligence was mostly inherited genetically, while contextualism tries to account for the intelligence of different cultures on culturally relevant tasks.

The last theory of relevance to other/ current theories of intelligence is Sternberg’s triarchic theory of successful intelligence. Sternberg notes that “According to this theory, intelligence comprises three aspects: dealing with the relation of intelligence (a) to the internal world of the person, (b) to experience, and (c) to the external world.” (Sternberg, 2018). The “internal world” part of the theory emphasizes information processing and separates information processing into three distinct components. The first is metacognitive abilities, the second is lower-level processes used to carry out the task, and the third is knowledge acquisition, or the learning of how to do a problem in the first place (Sternberg, 2018). The “experience” part of the theory states that we all have varying familiarity with different tasks and that the more familiar a task is the more automatic it’s completion becomes (Sternberg, 2018). Sternberg asserts that familiar tasks and novel tasks make different demands on intelligence (Sternberg, 2018). The “external world” part of the theory states that intelligence serves three functions in the real-world: To allow the individual to adapt to existing environments, shape existing environments to create new environments, and to select new environments (Sternberg, 2018). To test the usefulness of the triarchic theory, Sternberg and colleagues performed a study that matched students abilities (either high in analytical, creative, or practical ability) with instructional designs geared to teach the student in their preferred ability. They found that students high in one ability who were matched with instructional design that taught to that ability outperformed students who were mismatched (Sternberg, 2018). For example, “A high-analytical student placed in an instructional condition that emphasized analytical thinking outperformed a high-analytical student placed in an instructional condition that emphasized practical thinking.” (Sternberg, 2018).


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