For some time now, it has been generally accepted that intelligence is never only a matter of isolated thought processes and/or cognitive potentials. Everything an individual takes in is a form of learning; consequently, Intelligent Quotient (IQ) tests, long considered a legendary and absolute indicator of intelligence, fell into controversy in the later decades of the 20th century. Simply, the disparities in scores from differing ethnic groups compelled examiners to reconsider just how these tests actually discern intelligence. Too many wide variables in results demanded that cultural considerations be investigated, as it became obvious that certain approaches to perception and thinking were at least partially prompted by background.
This factor was, and is, the primary weakness of IQ testing. For example, an individual from an ethnic background will respond to those questions with a social component only as that component is understood by them, and the reality is that IQ testing was originally formulated to accommodate only a mainstream, middle-class mentality. Expectations went into design, as it were, for it was assumed that all children or adults taking the test came from a relatively common environment, one influenced by middle-of-the-road, typically "white", values. In such an arena, the Latino or Asian American is at a severe disadvantage. Learning and thinking are different when different emphasis is placed on what subjects are to be learned, and even in regard to exposure to basic concepts sometimes denied by background.
In regard to IQ testing strengths, however, this weakness has led to a greater understanding and a better approach to the process, because one of the acknowledged five strengths of IQ testing actually takes this into account. Simply, they reflect that: the tests measure what has been learned; the testing is done under optimal conditions; results fit into an information-processing model, which goes to better organization of data; the testing provides only sample information; and no hypothesis from the results may be made without supporting information. These last two "strengths" address how other factors must contribute to the assessment process. As, again, all people are subject to enormous environmental and cultural influences, the testing can never be conclusive without factoring in these considerations.
Ordinarily, people overlook the fact that even the least culturally-influenced IQ test, or that administered where the least amount of bias is present, can only provide a "snapshot" of thought processes and cognitive ability. In a sense, this is another weakness, as no full knowledge of individual intelligence can be had from the tests. Here again, however, the problem points the way to improving the process, and in regard to both background and "snapshot" issues. Simply put, to create IQ testing that eliminates the various influences of ethnic and cultures factors, it must first be determined how those factors affect intellectual and cognitive functioning. In a very real sense, then, the problems in generating unbiased testing have actually served to motivate greater research, and efforts to formulate a "culture-free" form of measuring cognitive ability. This then goes to enlarging the "snapshot, and providing a fuller understanding of the intelligence.
Among these efforts is more attention being paid to brain size as correlated to intelligence. There are also interesting potentials in, not attempting to remove cultural factors, but reassign them. That is to say, a form of testing that can separate how and when cognitive thinking is prone to ethnic and cultural influences must better reveal how thinking takes place when not so influenced. The weaknesses of IQ testing, fortunately, have not rendered it useless, but have created new challenges in perfecting the systems. With these efforts must also come a better understanding of human intelligence.