APA News Release

Date: September 15, 1995
Contact: Doug Fizel
Public Affairs Office
(202) 336-5700

APA Task Force Examines the Knowns and Unknowns of Intelligence

Many Critical Questions About Intelligence Are Still Unanswered

What is intelligence and can it be measured? These questions have fueled a continuing debate about whether intelligence is inherited, acquired, environmental, or a combination of these and other factors. In a field where so many issues are unresolved and so many questions unanswered, the confident tone that has characterized most of the debate on these topics is clearly out of place, according to a new report by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The report, entitled "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns," was written by APA's Task Force on Intelligence. The task force convened in January 1995 to prepare a dispassionate and authoritative report in response to the fall 1994 publication of Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve. "Their book sparked a new and vigorous round of debate about the meaning of intelligence test scores and the nature of intelligence itself, a debate in which little effort was made to distinguish scientific issues from political ones," stated Ulric Neisser, PhD, chair of the task force.

Because there are many ways to be intelligent, there are also many conceptualizations of intelligence. Standardized intelligence test scores (IQs), which reflect a person's standing in relation to his or her generational peers, are based on tests that measure a number of different abilities. Psychometric testing, the use of standardized tests to assess specific abilities, has generated the most systematic research though many questions remain unanswered. According to the task force report:

The task force distinguishes sharply between scientific research and political rhetoric. "The study of intelligence does not need politicized assertions and recriminations; it needs self-restraint, reflection, and a great deal more research." According to the report, the questions that remain are socially as well as scientifically important and "that there is no reason to think them unanswerable, but finding the answers will require a shared an sustained effort as well as the commitment of substantial scientific resources."

(Full text of task force report available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 132,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 49 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state and territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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