Cognitive Testing

Republican calls for President Biden to undergo a “cognitive test” got me thinking about thinking, how we assimilate information, decide, and act. How we think.

First, what is a “cognitive test”.  Folks much smarter than I conjure algorithms to quantify human thinking, verbal and physical skills, interests, “personality”—Whatever that is?—a host of behavioral and mental proclivities.  It is important to understand what a “score” on a specific evaluation really means, not be fooled by what we think it means.

To see how the results of some “cognitive” evaluation may mislead us commoners, consider “Intelligence Quotient” or “IQ” tests.  Alfred Binet and David Wechsler developed protocols for assessing human “Intelligence.”  German psychologist William Stern labeled standardize scores from these instruments “Intelligence Quotient” or “IQ.”  But, what really is “Intelligence”?  What really is “IQ”?  Simple and Circular as it sounds, IQ is a score on an Intelligence Test.

The assumptions supporting any mental or behavioral evaluation are crucial in interpreting its results.  Alfred Binet was an early twentieth-century French psychologist.  Dissatisfied with Binet’s revised “Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales” in assessing Belleview Psychiatric Hospital patients, a mid-to-later twentieth-century Romanian-American psychologist David Wechsler developed “Intelligence Scales” for adults and children.  To appreciate the biases in Binet’s and Wechsler’s scales, it is important to understand that each is rooted in beliefs about how thinking and behavior in a specific culture, at specific time, translate into success.

To illustrate how an IQ score may fool us, consider two young Americans Jerry and Luka.  Nineteen-year-old Jerry was born and raised in a middle-class Boston suburb, graduated high school with a 3.9 g.p.a.  Allow me to assign Jerry a Wechsler IQ score of 110, ten points above the mean.  Nineteen-year-old Luka was born and raised on a bayou off Terrebonne Bay, seventy miles southwest of New Orleans.  At age eleven Luka abandoned schoolin’ for a canoe, single-shot 22 rifle, fishing line, hooks, size “O” leghold trap, a scrap of canvas and two ancient blankets.  For eight years Luka patroled Louisiana backwaters, shooting ducks, coons, and possums, trapping muskrats, and catching channel cats.  Let’s assign Luka a Wechsler score of 90, ten points below the mean.

Scenario One: Hypothetically, lets transport these two young men to opposite street corners in downtown Chicago with clothes on their back, a second set in a backpack, and one hundred dollars cash.  Where might we find Jerry and Luka in, say, three weeks?  It’s fair to speculate Jerry will have acquaintances, if not friends, a room or apartment, is stocking shelves at Costco, enrolled in a Community College night class, and applying for student aid with an eye to a B.S. in Computer Science.  Luka?  Hard to say: alone, hungry, scrounging in trash cans, sleeping in alleys, in jail, worse?  Who’s the Intelligent one?

Scenario Two: Drop Jerry and Luka on opposite sides of a small island in a Pascagoula River backwater, with a canoe, single shot 22 rifle, fishing line, hooks, size “O” leghold trap, scrap of canvas, and a pair of threadbare blankets.  Where might we find Luka and Jerry in, say, three weeks?  In his native environment, Luka wouldn’t miss a coon, meal, or muskrat.  Jerry?  Again, hard to say: alone, afraid, hungry, mosquito-bit, snake-bit, worse?   Who’s Intelligent now?

I take this circuitous route to point out that a “score” on any human mental or behavioral evaluation, any “cognitive test”, may not tell us what we think it does.  What, if anything, does or could it reveal about Joe Biden’s or Donald Trump’s skills and qualifications for governing America?

Critics point to Joe’s infrequent, verbal hesitations or seeming mental lapses.  We don’t have to be over the allotted three score and ten to experience a “senior moment.”  I’ve done it; you have.  Regardless of age, we all have!  We forget, get confused, get the facts wrong, “mis-state,” mis-remember dates, names, events.  Research shows that “eyewitness” reports often differ in significant details. 

I’m astonished that folks who cry out for Joe’s cognitive assessment, blindly Champion a man three dozen psychiatrists and other experts agree exhibits classic symptoms of a “Malignant Narcissist Personality Disorder,” a diagnosed Mental Illness!  (The Dangerous Case Of Donald Trump and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM)).  We don’t need Sigmund Freud or another Shrink to make this diagnosis.  Look at the symptoms.  Listen to the man who,

  • called Hillary’s crimes “worse than Watergate.”
  • claimed attendance at his inauguration as one of the largest ever.  Videos show it wasn’t close to Obama’s.
  • assured followers Mexico would pay for his wall.
  • is a “stable genius.”
  • said dad, Fred, was born in a “very wonderful place in Germany.” 
    Trump senior took his first breath in the Bronx.
  • wanted America to buy Greenland.
  • alleged that Obama’s administration “begged for a meeting” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.  They didn’t.
  • announced I am “King of Israel  .  .  .  the chosen one.”
  • considered giving himself a Medal of Honor.
  • despite incontrovertible proof of global warming, planet Earth “will cool off.”
  • denied COVID-19 was a deadly threat.  A failure to lead that greatly exacerbated American’s suffering and deaths from the virus.
  • touted unproven oxychloroquine and suggested intravenous disinfectants injections to cure COVID-19.
  • rants that America’s wind turbines kill around 681,000 birds a year, while cars and trucks kill as many as 340 million,” (Traci Watson in “USA Today’s,” May 29, 2014) and Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Scott Loss estimates, “Communications towers kill 6.6 million  .  .  .  building windows kill 600 million.”  (David Schechter in “Verify,” Feb. 23, 2020)  What’s behind the former President’s newfound affinity for our feathered friends?  As always, follow the money.  Wind turbines replace natural gas and coal fired generators.
  • has absolutely no sense of ethics, morals, compassion, or humanity.
  • his Grand Finale was orchestrating and ordering an armed assault on our Capitol, Congress, and Constitution.

Cognitive deficits, Republicans?  Look in your front yard!


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