In his excellent book A Question of Intelligence: The IQ Debate in America, former Fortune magazine editor Daniel Seligman describes what it’s like to take the WAIS-R IQ test. On page 3-4 he describes taking the Picture Completion subtest which measures visual awareness, visual alertness and long-term visual memory. It’s kind of like a visual version of the Information (general knowledge) subtest in that if you know a lot about the visual world, it’s easy to see when something’s missing from a picture of a common object or scene.
(Image found here)
…You get to look at a succession of twenty cards, each of which shows a drawing of some familiar scene or object. You have to say what’s missing from the drawing. I knew I would be terrible at this one, and I was. On the cards [psychologist] Stern thrust at me, I failed to see what was missing in pictures of a frog, some pliers, a violin, a pair of eyeglasses, and several more. Dismal score: only twelve right out of twenty.
Peering into the WAIS-R manual, I learn that Seligman’s raw score of 12/20 on this subtest equated to a scaled score of 6 in the peak age group (20-34), and 8 in Seligman’s age group (55-64). However because WAIS-R norms were a decade old when Seligman was tested, and the Flynn effect increased WAIS Picture Completion scaled scores by 0.2 points a decade from 1978 to 1995 (Flynn, 2012), his scaled scores must be reduced to 5.8 and 7.8 respectively. An age adjusted scaled score of 7.8 is equivalent to an IQ of 89 (U.S. norms; 87 U.S. white norms) on that subtest.
In the middle of the exercise, I found myself thinking back glumly to a chronic problem during my years as editor of Fortune. The magazine has always placed a lot of emphasis on its artwork. My problem as an editor was a curious inability to think critically about the illustrations being proposed. They all looked fine to me. I could look at a page of text and instantly catch a typographic error, but flaws in art were somehow invisible to me.
Picture Completion measures an important part of our cognitive ability to adapt and function. We’ve all known people who just can’t seem to see what’s right in front of their face. You ask them to go to the pantry and grab the Olive Oil and they spend ten minutes looking, only to discover it’s right in the middle of the middle shelf in clear view. Attention to visual detail is vitally important in many occupations, especially mine.
Seligman’s low Picture Completion score must have been devastating for a man who was planning on writing a book about IQ. But it’s only one subtest. Can our protagonist recover?
To be continued…