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A Transactional Perspective on Mental Retardation*

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... and its journal was known for several years as the Journal of Psychoasthenics ... statistical determination of differences among conditions, population subgroups, and experimental treatments difficult ... The questions that have occupied the
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  Haywood: Transactional Perspective on MR  A TRANSACTIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON MENTAL RETARDATIONH. Carl Haywood Vanderbilt UniversityAbstractThe predominantly intelligence-based concept of mental retardation is examined critically and found to be inadequate to encompass what is known about the behavior and development of individuals with mental retardation. The author suggests that the nature of human ability itself must be re-conceptualized and freed from the restrictions of an exclusive concept of intelligence. He proposes a "transactional perspective on human ability" in order to understand variability in  behavior and development in general, and applies that perspective to the phenomena of mental retardation. The transactional perspective rests on the three constructs: intelligence, cognitive  processes, and motivation, principally task-intrinsic motivation. Intelligence and cognitive  processes are sharply distinguished from each other. Implications of the transactional perspective on human ability are drawn for developmental intervention in the lives of individuals with mental retardation.1  Haywood: Transactional Perspective on MR  A TRANSACTIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON MENTAL RETARDATION 1 H. Carl HaywoodVanderbilt University, USAIn a majority of research reports published in the  American Journal on Mental  Retardation  (formerly  American Journal of Mental Deficiency ) over the last 50 years, groups of  persons with and without mental retardation were constituted solely on the basis of IQ. Some investigators gave nodding recognition to other criteria, such as adaptive behavior, but modern research on mental retardation has been guided primarily by concepts that center on the nature of intelligence. A LITTLE HISTORY OF INTELLIGENCE AND MENTAL RETARDATIONThe words that we have used, even in scientific parlance, to refer to the phenomenon of mental retardation reflect both a very imprecise concept of its nature and a commitment to an exclusively intelligence-based definition. For example, what is now the American Association on Mental Retardation was srcinally called the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Feeble Minded and its journal was known for several years as the  Journal of  Psychoasthenics  —both implying weakness of the mind and centering on an intelligence-based concept of mental retardation. Even the current eponyms refer to "intellectual disability," or "cognitive delay," demonstrating the persistence of our dedication to an intelligence-based 1 In H. N. Switzky (Ed.), International Review of Research in Mental Retardation, Volume31, pp. 289-314. New York and Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press. An earlier version of this chapter was presented as a keynote address to the Australian Society for the Study of Intellectual Disability, Brisbane, November 2003.2  Haywood: Transactional Perspective on MR concept.While Alfred Binet (Binet & Henri, 1895) was insisting on the study of individual differences as part of the then-new science of psychology, he published his famous paper (Binet &Simon, 1905a) entitled "On the necessity of establishing a scientific diagnosis of inferior states of intelligence," a paper that did much to stimulate psychologists toward more precise diagnostic criteria and at the same time helped to preserve the intelligence-based concept (see also Binet & Simon, 1905b). Edgar Doll (e.g., 1935, 1953, 1965) insisted on the relatively independent assessment of adaptive behavior, but it was not until 1959 that the American Association on Mental Deficiency adopted a three-part criterion for the diagnosis of mental retardation: significantly subnormal measured intelligence (meaning IQ), significantly subnormal adaptive  behavior, and onset of these conditions during the developmental period, now interpreted to mean before the age of either 18 or 21 years (Heber, 1959, 1961).One of the most important conceptual developments during that time of change was the appearance of Gestalt psychology (Koffka, 1935; Köhler, 1929). The  gurus  of Gestalt, Köhler, Kaffka, and Wertheimer, set the stage for today's cognitive psychology by describing the richness of mental experience, by insisting on the study of events that one could not observe directly, and  by emphasizing the interrelatedness of psychological events that cut across the classical triad of cognition, conation, and volition (Ash, 1995; Boring, 1950; Simonis, 2001). Some of their intellectual descendants, including Lewin (1935, 1936), Zigler (1966; Balla & Zigler, 1979), and Cromwell (1963, 1967), studied personality correlates of individual differences in learning and  performance in persons with mental retardation, with the clear implication that variables other 3  Haywood: Transactional Perspective on MR than intelligence itself were exerting major influence on individual differences in learning and  performance (Heber, 1964).Thus, over much of the last century serious scientists and professionals have been finding the heavily, if not exclusively, IQ-based concept of mental retardation to be too limiting and to restrict our understanding of the nature of mental retardation and the development of persons with mental retardation. INADEQUACY OF THE IQ-BASED CONCEPT OF MENTAL RETARDATIONThe inadequacy of that limited concept is demonstrated by at least the following observations:1. First, variability in the performances of persons with mental retardation is so great that differences among them are often greater than is the mean difference between the performance of  persons with and without mental retardation. We often confront the question, "Why is it that some persons with mental retardation perform so well on many tasks, in spite of low IQ?" and its corollary question, "Why is it that some persons with mental retardation perform even better on some tasks than do others who do not have mental retardation?"2. The second observation is that, under certain conditions, the learning and performance of persons with mental retardation can be improved substantially. 3. The third is a series of demonstrations of the powerful effects of motivational and environmental (settings) variables on the learning and performance of persons with mental retardation.4. The fourth is the frequently observed large "discrepancy" between IQ and adaptive  behavior.4  Haywood: Transactional Perspective on MR VARIABILITY IN THE BEHAVIOR OF PERSONS WITH MENTAL RETARDATIONThe first of these observations, the extreme variability within the mental retardation category, accompanied by mean differences within that group that are sometimes greater than is the difference between those persons and persons of average IQ, is so familiar as to require scant discussion, except to note that it has been seen typically as an annoying circumstance for researchers because it has made the statistical determination of differences between conditions,  population subgroups, and experimental treatments difficult to accomplish. This has been so  because parametric statistical tests require large mean differences relative to group variances in order for those differences to reach statistical significance. As Binet and Henri (1895) pointed outso long ago, we should have been focusing our attention on that very variability, i.e., on within-group individual differences in the effectiveness and efficiency of learning and performance, rather than wishing they would go away. The latter attitude implies the assumption that all or nearly all  persons within a category constituted on the basis of IQ can be expected to behave, especially in learning situations, in essentially the same ways, reflecting something of the old mental age concept. It just isn't so! Even more troubling to psychological researchers is the phenomenon of intra-individual variability in performance, meaning that reliability of performance within persons in the mental retardation category tends to be low, and to be even lower as one descends the IQ scale (see, e.g., Baumeister, 1968, 1998; Berkson & Baumeister, 1967; Jensen, 1992).LEARNING AND PERFORMANCE CAN BE IMPROVED: A VERY SMALL SAMPLE OF EXAMPLESIf the learning and performance of persons with mental retardation can be improved significantly under certain conditions, then the obvious task for us is to specify those conditions. 5
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