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IQ Tests, Definition Changes and Expired Psychological Classifications

Updated on November 3, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty has advanced degrees in preventive medicine and health psychology, with 35 years of work in allergy and other autoimmune treatment.

Is IQ score useful? Computers and robots can produce higher IQ scores than can humans.
Is IQ score useful? Computers and robots can produce higher IQ scores than can humans. | Source

IQ Tests Not Always Accurate

A human being cannot pass or fail an IQ test, but the outcome of a single test administration is likely not as accurate as the public believes it to be.


Why have definitions of the levels of intelligence changed, other than to release a greater number of individuals from state institutions or group homes and to afford a larger number of students a "social pass" through high school graduation?

Inaccuracies and a Need For Change

As a professional in clinical and health psychology practices for 15 years, I administered thousands of children's and adults' intelligence tests and witnessed a number of weaknesses in the validity of testing and variations in test score outcomes based on a number of factors.

These factors can have long term and short term relevancy and include malnutrition, fasting, and long term failure to eat a healthy diet; long term exposure to lead, vehicle exhaust, smog, and heavy smoking; illness, concussion, pain; inaccurate eyeglass prescription; depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions; and other causes.

I find that accepting only one IQ test result measured one time for a client is akin to measuring blood pressure at only one time - inaccurate in the long term. Consider the fact that we assign an inanimate object an IQ of around 15 and you may wish to throw out the whole practice of IQ testing.

In fact, I have written elsewhere about IQ and its inconsistencies. In addition, a high IQ score does not translate automatically to success anywhere, even in classroom achievement, where IQ score is accepted as being most accurately applicable among all its settings of use.

IQ Results Have Been Used For Name-Calling

At the outset, let us recognize that the adverse and belabored use of name-calling, employing the term "idiot", "stupid", or other words having negative connotation shows:

  • An inability to communicate clearly (an indication on IQ tests of lower intelligence);
  • A lack of vocabulary (also an indicator of lower intelligence);
  • Verbal Abuse and Bullying in belittling the target of the name-calling;
  • A direct reference to the denigration of people with IQ scores of lower than 90 to 110 ("average"), taken from an expired psychological system of classifying IQs; and
  • Negative Labeling.

Name-calling is not classy or intelligent behavior. Denigrating a person's characteristics based on a possibly inaccurate test score is worse.

However, we see it more frequently in muckraking campaigns during political elections, in religious arguments; and in intellectual/educational discussions gone awry.

Notice that by the rules of official debate, name-calling is disallowed.

Name calling is a dinosaur.
Name calling is a dinosaur. | Source

Name-calling is not classy or intelligent behavior. Denigrating a person's characteristics based on a possibly inaccurate test score is worse.

What is "Stupid" - is it Low IQ?

From the Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2012 - 2015.

Stupid (adjective)

1a : Mentally slow - obtuse

1b : Hallmarked by unintelligent decisions or acts : behaving unintelligently or carelessly

1c : Without intelligence or reason : brutish (rather like an animal or Neanderthal)

2 : Dulled in feeling or sensation, as in "still stupid from the sedative."

3 : Results of unreasoned thinking or acting : senseless, as in "a stupid decision."

4 a : Having no interest, point, or practical application, as in "a stupid event."

4 b : Vexatious or exasperating: The broken down car is "stupid."

Preferred, Less Abusive Meanings in Mental Health Practice

Stupid (adjective)

1 An action is stupid, but not a person.

An action is stupid, because a) it went wrong and b) the person performing it actually knew better than to do it; that is, the person knew it would go wrong. The person needs to exercise better judgement.

2 Try not to use the word "stupid" at all.

Intelligence is more than an IQ score.
Intelligence is more than an IQ score. | Source

Expired Psychological Classifications

If you enjoy The Three Stooges, you often hear them calling one another names that were formerly assigned to conditions of low IQ among patients in state hospitals.

These classifications existed in psychiatric institutions in America and in England from the 1800s through the first half of the 20th Century. Examples of these terms are: Idiot! Moron! Imbecile! Feeble-Minded!

In the early 1900s, Americans still thought that such name-calling abuse was funny - no hilarious. Many laughed to see people slapping and slugging each other in comedy routines.They also laughed at the mentally ill and physically disabled.

Audiences received what they paid for - verbal and physical abuse on stage, abuse that was very strong and very exaggerated, until movies allowed the Stooges to fake much of the physical contact. The verbal abuse was status quo.

The Expired Psychological Classification System:

The original "IQ" designations used for name-calling came from The Stanford Revision and Extension of the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale; IQs 70 and below; 1916. The categories were replaced by new definitions after WWII.

Original Low-IQ Designations

  • Feeble-Minded: General category for IQs below 70.
  • Moron: IQ 50 - 69
  • Imbecile: IQ 20 - 49
  • Idiot: IQ below 20
  • (Inanimate object): 15

Multiple Intelligences Theory

Howard Gardner's definitions and observations of a variety of types of intelligence may be a better estimation of an individual's potentials than is any IQ Scale. Most people seem to possess a set of two or three separate areas of higher intelligence among the intelligence types. Unfortunately, the number of types change periodically, based on others' interpretations: 13, 11, or 7 types.

The Best Test of Intelligence May be Problem-Solving

Reading and writing achievement became the hallmark proxy measurements for intelligence during the Welfare-to-Work (W2W) and Summer Youth Employment programs operated in some US States from 1992 through 2005.

Adult and youth clients entered and left programs based on their scores and I remember scoring a few thousand such tests each year for over a decade.


Those scores did not measure whole intelligence, however; we know that some individuals who cannot read or cannot write still have higher intelligence, because they have a system of survival that works. For example, tribal cultures with no written language have not been unintelligent overall. Youth in a building trades program in my city quickly became able to construct a house before they reached reading and printing proficiency.

Although research is needed to confirm some local theories, a group of teachers in my city found that dropping high school students into a completely foreign culture was an effective means of testing intelligence. In the setting a of classroom exercise in a multicultural school, student subjects are individually placed into a group of individuals from another culture for two hours and not permitted to speak or write English and did not know the foreign language - often a Somali or Ethiopian dialect.

Each subject was to obtain food, money, and shelter through their problem-solving skills. It was an eye-opening exercise in which some students performed well without speaking or writing English. No IQ score was assigned.

Problem-solving skills may measure intelligence more accurately than some official IQ tests we have today.


  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Style Manual, Editions III, III-R, IV, IV-R, and 5. 1983 - 2013.
  • Gardner, H. Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons. July 4, 2006.
  • Hothersall, D.; PhD, Prof. History of Psychology. McGraw-Hill Education. July 17, 2003.
  • Hothersall, D.; PhD, Prof. Psychology 301. 1968 - 1975.
  • Inglish, P. Public and private practice experience in intelligence testing and research; 1983 - 2017.

© 2012 Patty Inglish MS


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