Border-line Cases (usually Between 70 And 80 I Q)

The border-line cases are those which fall near the boundary generally recognized

as such and the higher group usually classed as normal but dull. They are the

doubtful cases, the ones we are always trying (rarely with success) to

restore to normality.

It must be emphasized, however, that this doubtful group is not marked

off by definite I Q limits. Some children with I Q as high as 75 or even

80 will ha
e to be classified as feeble-minded; some as low as 70 I Q

may be so well endowed in other mental traits that they may manage as

adults to get along fairly well in a simple environment. The ability to

compete with one's fellows in the social and industrial world does not

depend upon intelligence alone. Such factors as moral traits, industry,

environment to be encountered, personal appearance, and influential

relatives are also involved. Two children classified above as

feeble-minded had an I Q as high as 75. In these cases the emotional,

moral, or physical qualities were so defective as to render a normal

social life out of the question. This is occasionally true even with an

I Q as high as 80. Some of the border-line cases, with even less

intelligence, may be so well endowed in other mental traits that they

are capable of becoming dependable unskilled laborers, and of supporting

a family after a fashion.

_Examples of border-line deficiency_

_S. F. Girl, age 17; mental age 11-6; I Q approximately 72

(disregarding age above 16 years)._ Father intelligent; mother

probably high-grade defective. Lives in a good home with aunt,

who is a woman of good sense and skillful in her management of

the girl. S. F. has attended excellent schools for eleven years

and has recently been promoted to the seventh grade. The teacher

admits, however, that she cannot do the work of that grade, but

says, "I haven't the heart to let her fail in the sixth grade

for the third time." She studies very hard and says she wants to

become a teacher! At the time the test was made she was actually

studying her books from two to three hours daily at home. The

aunt, who is very intelligent, had never thought of this girl as

feeble-minded, and had suffered much concern and humiliation

because of her inability to teach her to conduct herself

properly toward men and not to appropriate other people's


S. F. is ordinarily docile, but is subject to fits of anger and

obstinacy. She finally determined to leave her home, threatening

to take up with a man unless allowed to work elsewhere. Since

then she has been tried out in several families, but after a

little while in a place she flies into a rage and leaves. She is

a fairly capable houseworker when she tries.

This young woman is feeble-minded and should be classed as such.

She is listed here with the border-line cases simply for the

reason that she belongs to a group whose mental deficiency is

almost never recognized without the aid of a psychological test.

Probably no physician could be found who would diagnose the

case, on the basis of a medical examination alone, as one of


_F. H. Boy, age 16-6; mental age 11-5; I Q approximately 72

(disregarding age above 16 years)._ Tested for three successive

years without change of more than four points in I Q. Father a

laborer, dull, subject to fits of rage, and beats the boy.

Mother not far from border-line. F. H. has always had the best

of school advantages and has been promoted to the seventh grade.

Is really about equal to fifth-grade work. Fairly rapid and

accurate in number combinations, but cannot solve arithmetical

problems which require any reasoning. Reads with reasonable

fluency, but with little understanding. Appears exceedingly

good-natured, but was once suspended from school for hurling

bricks at a fellow pupil. Played a "joke" on another pupil by

fastening a dangerous, sharp-pointed, steel paper-file in the

pupil's seat for him to sit down on. He is cruel, stubborn, and

plays truant, but is fairly industrious when he gets a job as

errand or delivery boy. Discharged once for taking money.

F. H. is generally called "queer," but is not ordinarily thought

of as feeble-minded. His deficiency is real, however, and it is

altogether doubtful whether he will be able to make a living and

to keep out of trouble, though he is now (at age 20) employed as

messenger boy for the Western Union at $30 per month. This is

considerably less than pick-and-shovel men get in the community

where he lives. Delinquents and criminals often belong to this

level of intelligence.

_W. C. Boy, age 16-8; mental age 12; I Q 75 (disregarding age

above 16 years)._ Father a college professor. All the other

children in the family of unusually superior intelligence. When

tested (four years ago) was trying to do seventh-grade work, but

with little success. Wanted to leave school and learn farming,

but father insisted on his getting the usual grammar-school and

high-school education. Made $25 one summer by raising vegetables

on a vacant lot. In the four years since the test was made he

has managed to get into high school. Teachers say that in spite

of his best efforts he learns next to nothing, and they regard

him as hopelessly dull. Is docile, lacks all aggressiveness,

looks stupid, and has head circumference an inch below normal.

Here is a most pitiful case of the overstimulated backward child

in a superior family. Instead of nagging at the boy and urging

him on to attempt things which are impossible to his inferior

intelligence, his parents should take him out of school and put

him at some kind of work which he could do. If the boy had been

the son of a common laborer he would probably have left school

early and have become a dependable and contented laborer. In a

very simple environment he would probably not be considered


_C. P. Boy, age 10-2; mental age 7-11; I Q 78._ Portuguese boy,

son of a skilled laborer. One of eleven children, most of whom

have about this same grade of intelligence. Has attended school

regularly for four years. Is in the third grade, but cannot do

the work. Except for extreme stubbornness his social development

is fairly normal. Capable in plays and games, but is regarded as

impossible in his school work. Like his brother, M. P., the next

case to be described, he will doubtless become a fairly reliable

laborer at unskilled work and will not be regarded, in his

rather simple environment, as a defective. From the

psychological point of view, however, his deficiency is real. He

will probably never develop beyond the 11- or 12-year level or

be able to do satisfactory school work beyond the fifth or sixth


_M. P. Boy, age 14; mental age 10-8; I Q 77._ Has been tested

four successive years, I Q being always between 75 and 80.

Brother to C. P. above. In school nearly eight years and has

been promoted to the fifth grade. At 16 was doing poor work in

the sixth grade. Good school advantages, as the father has tried

conscientiously to give his children "a good education."

Perfectly normal in appearance and in play activities and is

liked by other children. Seems to be thoroughly dependable both

in school and in his outside work. Will probably become an

excellent laborer and will pass as perfectly normal,

notwithstanding a grade of intelligence which will not develop

above 11 or 12 years.

What shall we say of cases like the last two which test at high-grade

moronity or at border-line, but are well enough endowed in moral

and personal traits to pass as normal in an uncomplicated social

environment? According to the classical definition of feeble-mindedness

such individuals cannot be considered defectives. Hardly any one would

think of them as institutional cases. Among laboring men and servant

girls there are thousands like them. They are the world's "hewers of

wood and drawers of water." And yet, as far as intelligence is

concerned, the tests have told the truth. These boys are uneducable

beyond the merest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction

will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens in the true

sense of the word. Judged psychologically they cannot be considered


It is interesting to note that M. P. and C. P. represent the level of

intelligence which is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican

families of the Southwest and also among negroes. Their dullness seems

to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they

come. The fact that one meets this type with such extraordinary

frequency among Indians, Mexicans, and negroes suggests quite forcibly

that the whole question of racial differences in mental traits will have

to be taken up anew and by experimental methods. The writer predicts

that when this is done there will be discovered enormously significant

racial differences in general intelligence, differences which cannot be

wiped out by any scheme of mental culture.

Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be

given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master

abstractions, but they can often be made efficient workers, able to look

out for themselves. There is no possibility at present of convincing

society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a

eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their

unusually prolific breeding.