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What is Intelligence? The Three Main Theories of Intelligence – Two Good, One Bad
When people talk about a person’s “intelligence,” it’s generally not clear what underlying ability or abilities that term refers to. This article aims to clarify in simple terms what psychologists and brain scientists understand by intelligence. Basically, there are two good theories, and scientists are divided about which is the better theory, and one bad theory that every scientist I know rejects. A good theory is one that is supported by evidence; a bad theory is one that is not.
Official IQ tests like the WAIS-IV claim to measure individual differences in a “level of underlying cognitive ability given by a single number: your IQ or intelligence quotient.” But is it true that there is a single underlying mental ability in which we differ and that explains what makes us different in our cognitive abilities? If someone is good at math, they are likely also good at language comprehension, reasoning, analogical thinking, language learning, and general knowledge, because of their “intelligence level” underlying, as this theory implies?
Or there are “multiple intelligences” underlying the abilities (perhaps dozens or even hundreds of them) independent of each other and measured by different kinds of tests. If you have a skill in math, isn’t that skill completely unrelated to your ability to learn languages or play general knowledge games like trivia? If that’s the case, doesn’t the idea of having a single IQ score make sense? Or alternatively, are there a small number of underlying cognitive abilities (perhaps two or three) in which we differ, which are relatively independent of each other, and which together account for most of the differences in our cognitive abilities?
1. The theory of general intelligence (g): a good theory
A long-standing influential theory for our cognitive abilities states that underlying all our cognitive abilities (math, language comprehension, general knowledge) is a single factor, called general intelligence (also known as intelligence unitary, general cognitive ability or simply ‘g’). ‘) in which individuals differ and which explains these differences.
Spearman (1923) proposed that underlying all cognitive abilities was a “general ability” factor (g) upon which all abilities are based. Individuals differ in g according to the bell curve distribution of this theory. g can be thought of in terms of information processing power. Some people, those with higher g, can process more information, more efficiently than others. Using a computer analogy, they have more RAM. The more RAM a computer has, the more complex and information-intensive the programs that can run on it. If you have an IQ of 160 like Quentin Tarantino’s, you have a lot of RAM, a lot of “bandwidth” to process information. If you have an IQ of 78 like Muhammad Ali as a young man (whose IQ was measured by the military), then you have less RAM. Muhammad Ali had many talents, but according to the theory of unitary intelligence, intelligence was not one of them.
The evidence for this theory is the same that allows us to reject the theory of multiple intelligences. All standardized tests of cognitive ability (and there are dozens of them, measuring a wide range of different abilities) are positively correlated, not perfectly, but highly so. This means that if someone scores higher than average on one of these tests, they are likely to score above average on all other tests, even those that seem totally unrelated. Getting a higher score on an arithmetic test means you’ll probably score higher on a vocabulary test, too. This remains true even when other factors such as educational attainment or family socioeconomic status are taken into account. This is compelling evidence that there is a single underlying level of cognitive ability that applies to each of the tests and that performance on one test is not independent of performance on another as the theory of intelligence claims. multiple intelligence
Spearman (1904), the psychologist who first proposed g theory, argued that variance (the person-to-person variation) in performance between individuals on ANY cognitive task can be attributed to only two underlying factors: g (intel ·general intelligence) is — the exclusive ability of this particular task. A person might invest relatively more time in developing a specific skill, such as arithmetic, and this will increase his score on an arithmetic test relative to another test, such as vocabulary, that he has not trained or practiced, but his general intelligence g will still do. account for most of their performance on the arithmetic test. G remains the most important factor in explaining performance levels, whatever the test.
2. The theory of multiple intelligences: a bad theory Spearman’s ‘g’ theory is the opposite of the theory of multiple intelligences. The theory of multiple intelligences is attractive because it makes room for everyone to have their own unique strengths in “intelligence.” But as we have seen, it turns out that our cognitive strengths and weaknesses are best explained by how much time and effort we have invested in particular skills or types of knowledge. If I pursue a technical trade and am good at it, and find that I struggle with reading fiction, that does not necessarily mean that I have a special “intelligence” for technical thinking and no ability to reading or language. The fact that I struggle with fiction is best explained by the fact that I have invested my intelligence in building that particular kind of expertise, and so I see a greater return on that investment in technical modes of cognition If I’d spent as much time reading fiction as I had applied to technical problems, I’d probably be fine.
3. The theory of fluid intelligence (gF) and crystallized intelligence (gC): another good theory
This theory is based on the theory of general intelligence, and was originally proposed by psychologist Raymond Cattell in 1943. It holds that g is significant, that we each have a different level of general intelligence, but that they contribute ag there are two different types of intelligence: fluid intelligence (gF) and crystallized intelligence (gC). Fluid g is the ability to reason and solve problems with novel tasks or in unfamiliar contexts (measured reasoning tasks), while crystallized g is defined as acquired knowledge and is measured by tests of general knowledge, mathematics, and vocabulary . This dual way of understanding intelligence allows the knowledge you’ve accumulated in particular areas to compensate for limitations in general reasoning and problem-solving ability—our “raw intelligence.” You can succeed because of knowledge of a task or domain (crystallized g), or because of sheer mental “power” (fluid g).
Where the idea of ”multiple intelligences” makes sense: as crystallized intelligence in which we invest
Our crystallized intelligence allows for “multiple intelligences.” You could have a high level of crystallized intelligence in graphic design, for example, while only having an average level of fluid intelligence. But you will only be able to use your crystallized intelligence for graphic design in situations where you are familiar and have gained experience. Unless you have a high level of fluid intelligence when you encounter an unknown problem in graphic design (something “out of context”, that requires some difficulty to figure out), you are likely to struggle. On the other hand, if you have a high level of fluid intelligence, it will take you less time to pick up graphic design skills (or whatever) while you learn your core skill set. Your learning will be more efficient and easier for you. In general, the more fluid intelligence you have, the more you can “invest” it into crystallized intelligence skills and knowledge; more “multiple intelligences” you can develop if you so desire. In the context of work, the more gF you have, the faster and more effectively you can train. One study showed that people with an IQ between 110 and 130 took 1 to 2 years to catch up to the supercharged performance of those with an IQ above 130 who only had 3 months of work experience.
Taking all the evidence into account, both the theory of general intelligence (g), fluid intelligence (gF), and crystallized intelligence (gC) are well supported and useful in explaining how we we differ in our cognitive abilities. From my point of view, the theory of fluid and crystallization is the most insightful and useful. It helps me better understand intelligence and how we can improve it. For example, research shows that you can do a specific type of “working memory” brain training to substantially increase your level of fluid intelligence, but this training does not directly affect your crystallized intelligence.
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