With all this talk about IQ, I was tempted to take one of those web IQ tests. And of course, what comes to the fore is the very, very obvious way in which racism could affect IQ: by affecting hard you try when you get to a difficult problem.

I hate those stupid "rotate the object" questions; I'm not good at them, and they're boring. So when confronted with one, I was tempted to give up. But I thought to myself: you know you can do this, since you've done it before, and besides, I want to see what kind of number it pops out.

Consider all of the environmentally imparted values in that thought:

1) IQ tests are important and worth trying on
2) You are a smart person who can solve problems
3) You have solved this kind of problem before, and therefore can do so again.

Then think of someone who has grown up in a home, a neighborhood, or a school district where these tests aren't important and worth trying to excel at, where you perhaps internalize a belief that members of your racial group aren't good at these tests--or even shouldn't be good at these tests--and where you may not have encountered these kinds of problems before, so you don't know that you can solve them.

It's not at all hard to imagine that a black person with exactly the same capability to solve the problem as the white person sitting next to them might nonetheless fail to solve the problem. And of course, played out on a sufficiently broad scale, this will look like a heritable group difference, since almost all black kids are raised by black families--and even where they aren't, are going to be treated as black by everyone they meet, and internalize whatever messages our culture sends about blackness. There's also some evidence that people perform worse on tests when they are told that their gender or racial group doesn't do well on the test--and are black kids ever told anything else?

So yes, I think that IQ tests could easily widely overstate the intractability of IQ, particularly for intergroup distributions. I'm not sure where that leaves us, since it's hard to alter society in the ways that this analysis suggests. But at least it's a little more hopeful than "They're just born stupid."

Update Edited to correct the weird wording

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.