Historicizing Intelligence 1

Translation and adaptation of IQ-tests, and their usage as diagnostic tools, 1990–present

Bildet kan inneholde: øyevipper, tre, kunst, gjøre, utgivelse.

Participants: Jon Røyne Kyllingstad, Håkon Aamot Caspersen, Susanne Bauer

The Wechsler tests are the most commonly used IQ-tests in Norway today.

WP1 deals with recent and ongoing processes of translating, adapting and applying Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and other Wechsler-tests. It investigates the interplay between the various agents involve, and aim to elucidate similarities and differences in the (implicit or explicit) concept(s) of intelligence and IQ among these agents, and explore how IQ- test technologies maintain their authority, legitimacy and power within divergent societal spheres. This is done through examination of published sources such as official reports, news media content, the tests themselves and related scientific literature, as well as interviews of practitioners and ethnographic observation.

The work package consist of three main parts.

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, translation and adaptation ca 1990s to 2017 

In 2017 news reports disclosed that a flaw in one of these test (WISC III) led to several Norwegians being misdiagnosed with intellectual disability. Already in 2005, however, only two years after the launching of the Norwegian version of the test, psychologists had begun to question the quality of the test. Taking this debate about WISC III as a starting point, we will follow the Norwegian versions of the WISC-tests back and forth in time and compare WISC III with its forerunner WISC-R and its successors WISCH IV and WISC V. We will explore the social contexts and the explicit and implicit theoretical premises for the translation and adaptation of these tests from the US to Norwegian versions.

The translation and adaptation of the test takes place within a social reality where various agents play different roles, are in the possession of different types of legitimacy, authority, and impact, and may have different rationale behind their actions. This includes professions (mainly psychology), their international and national professional organizations, the private companies that develop, translate and own the tests, national governmental authorities such the Norwegian Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI), the institutions who use the tests for assessing and diagnosing individuals, and the individual psychologists and research communities that are involved in the translation, adaptation and norming of the tests. We will study the interplay between these agents, focusing in particular on the changing relationships of authority, legitimacy and responsibility between the psychology profession (and their national and international organizations), the national health authorities and the private company that owns the test.

The Weschler tests are regarded as a scientific tool to measure some universal, culture-independent aspect(s) of the human mind. This claim rest strongly on cross-cultural comparison of test-results from different populations. The translation, adaptation and use of the same tests in nations worldwide is therefore an important element in the development of the tests and in establishing the universality of the construct(s) that the tests measure. We will study the translation and adaptation of the Norwegian versions of the tests to shed light on the explicit and implicit methodological and theoretical premises upon which this process is based. By comparing the translation and adaptation of shifting versions of the WISC-test, we aim to elucidate the processes through which the putative universal constructs that these tests measure are produced and reproduced, as well as how, why and to what extent these constructs have changed over time.

Practices, use and function of IQ testing as diagnostic tools in contemporary Norway, an ethnographic exploration.

Assumptions surrounding the nature and existence of intelligence as a psychological attribute are usually taken for granted, and in common parlance a person’s intelligence is regularly objectified and conflated to a position on a standardised hierarchical scale, as IQ. Like the related concept of creativity, it is experienced as a high-stake issue, a category and form of social categorisation that carries with it both disabling and enabling potentialities with far reaching implications, existentially, socially, and politically. Nowhere shows these implications clearer than the contemporary and historical use of standardised IQ tests in the diagnosis of intellectual disability. This begs an exploration of the continued use and societal function of such tests, to which this project will contribute. It will do so through an ethnographically informed investigation of the ideas, processes and practices that underlie the application of WISC V and similar tests in the training and work of test-practitioners working with children and young adults.

The ethnographic component of WP1 will be around two comparative ethnographic case-studies. Case-study 1 will focus on making explicit assumptions regarding intelligence, the use of Wechsler tests, and their institutionalisation as diagnostic-tools through an analysis of the learning and knowledge created and disseminated in the training and certification of Wechsler test practitioners (e.g. within MA programs of pedagogy or special-pedagogy). Case-study 2, in turn, sets out to explore the contextual and interpretive meaning making that occurs in the practical employment, application and evaluation of such tests within interdisciplinary teams within Norway’s educational and psychological counselling services (PPT). While the focus will primarily be on test situations and test practitioners an inclusion of narratives of people who have been subjected to these diagnostic testing regimes will be sought.

An overall interest is to investigate the contemporary role, institutionalization, and continued use and societal function of IQ tests (with its associated ideas, technologies, and practices). A focus on an ethnographic analysis of the tools, institutionalisation, and practices of testing will: 1) help map the relations and practices that validate and uphold the authority and legitimacy of testing and the implicit and explicit conceptualisation(s) of intelligence implied; And 2) contribute to an increased understanding of socio-historic and cultural assumptions that sustain and surround notions such as intelligence, self, standardisation, and expertise, in which such knowledge regimes and technologies of testing are embedded.

Psychometric testing in nutrition and toxicity studies

This subproject takes its point of departure in circulations of Wechsler tests and other metrics to public health studies. It examines how this metric and test systems have travelled to and are being used and debated in the context of nutrition and toxicity studies. Such research comprises several batteries of tests and variables to design and set up studies that examine the association of nutritional or environmental factors and mental health or intellectual performance. Using epidemiological techniques, researchers operationalize environmental or nutritional factors as exposures and study their effects on attention performance or intellectual capacity.

In this subproject, I am interested in following the Wechsler tests into the field of nutrition and neurotoxicity, especially in two areas of their circulation in Norway: 1) enhancement: nutrition studies, for example the use of these tests in studies that examine omega-3-fatty-acids from fish in relation to attention and performance of children in schools and kindergartens; 2) harm: studies of and scientific debates over neurotoxic effects of industrial chemicals, including emergent and legacy chemicals. In particular, this project will focus on how psychometric tests are used in this field, how they have become part of a battery of different standardized test systems, and how users relate to epistemic and political controversies.

This subproject will work with published scientific documents, online materials and other publicly available sources, as well as complementary interviews, for example with Norwegian Directorate of Health on nutritional recommendations and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI)’s approaches to neurotoxicity testing. Findings will contribute to understanding how implicit or explicit concepts of intelligence and IQ- test technologies maintain their authority, legitimacy and power.  

Publisert 27. jan. 2022 17:00 - Sist endret 14. nov. 2022 14:30