rubik's cube

A member of a super high IQ society once stated that the Rubik’s cube would make a good measure of extremely high IQ if no one had ever seen it before.  If only cube inventor Ernő Rubik had cared as much about psychometrics as he cared about making money, instead of releasing the cube as a mass market game for billions of kids to play with, it could have been a top secret subtest on a professionally administered IQ test, only witnessed by psychologists and those exceptional individuals referred for individual testing.

Actually there is a subtest on the Wechsler intelligence scales involving blocks that measures the same type of spatial reasoning that the cube measures,  though at a lower level of difficulty.  The day I took that test was the day I fell in love with the Wechsler, because for the first time in my life I was taking a standardized test that I felt was measuring real intelligence as opposed to acquired knowledge and skill.

The distinction between tests measuring intelligence and those measuring knowledge have a lot of different names in psychology: Aptitude vs achievement, fluid vs crystalized, culture reduced vs culture loaded.

However the distinction is far less clear than we’d like.  Crystalized Knowledge achievement tests like vocabulary often turn out to be more heritable than so-called culture reduced fluid aptitude tests which is ironic, given that the former seems more removed from the underlying physiology.   So-called culture reduced tests like the Raven Progressive Matrices often show the biggest improvements as countries complete the industrial revolution; something you wouldn’t expect if these tests measured abilities unaffected by culture.

The Raven fails as a culture reduced test in my opinion, because although the content includes little knowledge and language, understanding the instructions and being motivated and confident enough to concentrate on such abstract patterns is culturally loaded.

The Rubik’s cube and other more hands on pure performance tests are different.  They are considered fun, interesting and understandable by virtually all cultures.  Even if you went back in time 40,000 years, you could probably interest a Neanderthal in doing the Rubik’s cube.  He might get frustrated after he failed to make progress after a couple minutes though, which is why time limits of about 2 minutes are essential for culture reduced testing.

Of course virtually no human in history would have been smart enough to solve the whole Rubik’s cube on first try in just two minutes, but many could have solved at least one side so partial credit would be given if it were an IQ test.

But even though I think the Rubik’s cube would have made a great high level culture reduced spatial IQ test, there are many brilliant people who would do poorly on culture reduced tests because they excel on the very abilities so related to culture and intelligence itself: language, concepts, abstractions.

And while a culture reduced test of vocabulary is a contradiction in terms, I am working on a culture reduced test that measures the abstract conceptual ability of language,  without requiring the person to know a single word.  Of course the Raven tried to measure conceptual ability but failed as a culture reduced test because it requires certain cultural habits, but I’m hoping my test will not fall into the same trap.