Definition: Use of psychometric standards concerning verbal and nonverbal abilities as part of legislation guiding decisions regarding authorized entry of foreigners into the United States
Significance: The nascent science of intelligence testing developed in confluence with growing support for more severe controls on the acceptance of foreign-born entrants to the United States. Proponents of this view were able to highlight some of the early studies of psychologists conducting intelligence testing research as part of their efforts to pass restrictive immigration legislation, even in the face of presidential vetoes.
Intelligence testing has a long, honored tradition in the United States. It originated in France, where psychologist Alfred Binet was the first researcher to categorize student performances on specific reasoning tasks in terms of what he called their "mental ages” between 1904 and 1908. When he judged that students’ mental ages were substantially lower than their chronological ages, he concluded that the test result argued for special remedial programs for the students. In 1912, the German psychologist William Stern defined "intelligence quotient,” or "IQ,” as a ratio of mental age divided by chronological age, multiplied by 100. What began in Europe as an earnest attempt to identify the needs of students with learning disabilities became a source of labeling with serious consequences in twentieth century America.
In 1910, the American psychologist Henry H. Goddard translated Binet’s work into English. Goddard invented the label "moron” for any adult with a mental age between eight and twelve and advocated that those with IQs below 70 should not be allowed to have children. This perspective fit in well with a budding eugenics movement in the United States that advocated genetic engineering to raise intelligence levels, while reducing poverty and criminality. Lewis Terman, a professor at Stanford University, adapted the Binet scale and its measured intelligence quotient into its most commonly used form. Like Goddard, however, he was heavily influenced by biological determinism and at least initially supported the idea that there were racial differences in human intelligence that reflected differing biological makeups. He recanted this view in 1937, but not before the stage was set for changes in important immigration legislation in the United States that reflected his earlier orientation toward the understanding of intelligence.
The psychological work with the closest influence on later immigration policy was performed by Robert Yerkes of Harvard University. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, he created the Army Mental Tests and oversaw their administration to 1.75 million Army draftees. Two versions of the tests, "Alpha” and "Beta,” provided written and pictorial modalities so that illiterate servicemen could be tested as well. Carl Brigham, a Princeton University psychologist, analyzed the data that were collected and concluded that nativeborn draftees had higher IQ scores than immigrants. Moreover, a "Nordic” (northern European) subgroup had higher scores than those from southern and eastern Europe.
Brigham’s work was attacked on methodological grounds, and he recanted his conclusions in 1930. However, he published his findings in 1923, the year before the federal Immigration Act of 1924 greatly restricted foreign entry to the United States. This act initially used the 1890 census as a basis for establishing strict quotas not to exceed 2 percent of those fromeach country included in the census. It greatly reduced the number of southeastern Europeans allowed into the country and had an impact that would be acutely felt during World War II, when entry was largely denied to European Jews seeking a safe haven from extermination in the Nazi Holocaust. Although detailed analyses of empirical work supporting immigration restrictions do not appear in the congressional hearings concerning this law, the acceptance of biological determinism and the discriminatory treatment of minorities may well have contributed to its passage.
Relatively soon after the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, the popularity of using racial theories of intelligence as guideposts to immigration law and policy waned. There was an increasing realization that test performances reflected familiarity with American culture and language more often than they did an assessment of native intelligence. Meanwhile, members of the psychology-research establishment became more ethnically diverse, and during the aftermath ofWorldWar II there was more of an interest in explaining prejudicial attitudes. This was accentuated by a eugenics-oriented policy carried to horrific extremity by the German Nazi regime in Europe.
While the current intelligence testing community is much more sensitive to issues of cultural bias and attempts to develop "culture-fair” or "culturefree” instruments, elements of biological determinism have persisted. The Human Genome Project, which some people have claimed has important implications for controlling psychological disorders related to crime and homelessness, is a prominent example.
In addition, the early twenty-first century U.S. "war on terrorism,” with its restriction of basic civil liberties, perpetuates an orientation toward selecting out undesirables in order to eliminate their perceived threat. Instead of classifying would-be immigrants as "feebleminded” on the basis of intelligence tests of questionable validity, there has developed a tendency to employ modern biometric technology that enforces even more restrictive policies to bolster homeland security.
Eric Yitzchak Metchik
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See also: "Brain drain”; Eugenics movement; Higher education; Immigration Act of 1924; Immigration law; Language issues; Literacy tests; "Mongrelization”; Quota systems; Stereotyping.Read the full story