Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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From The Influence of Cognitive Psychology on Testing, edited by Royce R. Ronning, John A. Glover, Jane C. Conoley, and Joseph C. Witt (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987)


Copyright © 1987 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Digital Edition Copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing.


The intelligence test has been cited as psychology's most important technological contribution to society. Whether this is good or ill can be debated (Eysenck, 1979; Gould, 1981; Herrnstein, 1971; Kamin, 1974). Certain facts are not really subject to debate . Psychologists can and have developed "standardized interviews" that, on a population basis, provide a cost effective technique for personnel classification in industrial, military, and some government settings. However, the tests are very far from perfect indicators. Validity coefficients between tests and performance ratings typically range in the .3 to .5 range (i.e. , from 10 to 25% of the variance in performance is predictable from test scores). While such correlations may be high enough to justify testing in many situations, there is a nagging feeling that better tests can be found.

The popular view is that a technology must be rooted in a science; in this case psychological tests must be rooted in a science of mental competence. In fact, the situation is not quite that simple. Psychology has two distinct sciences of mental power. One, the psychometric study of intelligence (henceforth psychometrics), (2) is closely intertwined with the development of testing itself. The other tradition , Cognitive Psychology, has historically stood apart from the study of individual differences. Yet, both study the human mind, in the human brain.

A number of years ago Cronbach (1957) urged psychologists to unite these two disciplines. At one level the uniting took place. Cognitive psychologists do look at individual variations, and the techniques of Cognitive Psychology are used to study individual differences. The resulting research, however, has had rather little influence on the technology of testing . Is this because there is always too long a lag between science and technology? Or is there a deeper reason? And if there is a deeper reason, is there cause for alarm? Should something be done to accelerate the application of new scientific findings to psychological technology?

These questions are particularly apt today because Cognitive Psychology and a group of related disciplines, collectively called the "Cognitive Sciences," are perceived as being extremely active intellectually. This is in marked contrast to psychometrics, where the questions currently being debated are not terribly different from those that were debated over 50 years ago (Hunt, 1986a). Interest in the technological potential of the Cognitive Sciences has been expressed at as high a level as the Office of the President of the United States (Holden, 1984) . The interest in Cognitive Science has a strong technological bias. It is hoped that advances in the study of laws of cognition will lead to the development of a technology of intelligent devices. These devices may expand the power of human intelligence. They may also expand the efficiency of our society 's very large program of formal education , which is perceived as having substantial defects. It is logical to believe that the development of better methods to improve mental competence will be closely linked to better methods of evaluating competence.