The Mismeasure of Minds

Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and The Bell Curve

By Michael E. Staub

232 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 1 graph, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6881-9
    Published: November 2021
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4360-1
    Published: September 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5622-7
    Published: September 2018

Studies in Social Medicine

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2019 PROSE Award in Psychology, Association of American Publishers

The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision required desegregation of America’s schools, but it also set in motion an agonizing multidecade debate over race, class, and IQ. In this innovative book, Michael E. Staub investigates neuropsychological studies published between Brown and the controversial 1994 book The Bell Curve. In doing so, he illuminates how we came to view race and intelligence today.

In tracing how research and experiments around such concepts as learned helplessness, deferred gratification, hyperactivity, and emotional intelligence migrated into popular culture and government policy, Staub reveals long-standing and widespread dissatisfaction—not least among middle-class whites—with the metric of IQ. He also documents the devastating consequences—above all for disadvantaged children of color—as efforts to undo discrimination and create enriched learning environments were recurrently repudiated and defunded. By connecting psychology, race, and public policy in a single narrative, Staub charts the paradoxes that have emerged and that continue to structure investigations of racism even into the era of contemporary neuroscientific research.

About the Author

Michael E. Staub is professor of English and American Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York and author of Madness Is Civilization: When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980.

For more information about Michael E. Staub, visit the Author Page.


"This extraordinary and timely book will undoubtedly provide clarity to the emerging controversies over innate differences in intelligence, now authorized by genomics studies. . . . One of the many strengths of Staub's book is his fine-grained analysis of the unintended consequences of racial coding in the brain sciences, especially as it relates to the search for a value-free cognitive test. [It will] be of interest not only to psychologists, medical providers and historians but also more broadly to educators, politicians and parents."—Lundy Braun, Social History of Medicine

"This richly researched and wide-ranging work . . . offers a new and fascinating perspective on a familiar story of race in the decades after Brown, illustrating how scientific research on topics from learned helplessness and minimal brain dysfunction to split brain theory and emotional intelligence are integral to understanding the social, political, and policy developments of these decades."—Journal of Southern History

"Thoroughly researched and lucidly written. . . . Staub demonstrates how and why . . . during the past four decades—insofar as the issue of the desegregation of the public schools is concerned—the United States has undergone a period of retrenchment that has resulted in the proliferation of damaged poor whites, as well as poor members of racial minorities. . . . Chilling."—Journal of American History

"A well-argued, concise account of how psychology shaped public policy and popular culture in the postwar United States. . . . The book's brevity and clarity make it appropriate for advanced undergraduates and graduate students interested in race, education, and medicine in the postwar United States. Readers will appreciate gaining a historicized perspective on psychological concepts that remain prominent in American culture today. They will never think about the marshmallow test in the same way again."—Disability Studies Quarterly

"A much-needed exposé of the production of race science in the late twentieth century. . . . The gift of this volume is the rich coverage of debates and debating forces, and of the many different interests and interpretations of those who fueled the ongoing struggle to determine education policy."—Catherine Bliss, Contemporary Sociology

“In this beautifully written and thoroughly researched book, Michael E. Staub takes a fresh and critical look at some of the most familiar, iconic, and vaunted psychological and neuroscientific experiments of the last several decades. He argues compellingly that race and class are the unacknowledged and implicit subtexts in these experiments. This is a book that psychologists, neuroscientists, historians, and the public alike need to read.”—Nadine Weidman, Harvard University