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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 usually not clear what underlying abilities that term is referring to. This article aims to clarify in simple terms what psychologists and brain scientists may mean by intelligence. Basically, there are two good theories – and scientists are divided on which is the better theory – and one bad one that every scientist I know rejects. A good theory is a theory supported by evidence; a bad theory is a theory that is not bad.

Official IQ tests such as the WAIS-IV claim to measure individual differences in an underlying level of cognitive ability given by a single number – your IQ or intelligence quotient. But is it true that there is a single underlying mental capacity in which we differ and which explains what differentiates us in our cognitive abilities? If someone is good at math, are they also likely to be good at language comprehension, reasoning, analogical thinking, language learning, and general knowledge, due to their “level of intelligence” underlying, as this theory implies?

Or are there “multiple intelligences” underlying our abilities – perhaps dozens, or even hundreds of them – each independent of one another and measured by different types of tests. If you have an ability in mathematics, does this ability have no relation to your ability to learn languages ​​or to play general knowledge games like trivial-pursuit? If so, is the idea of ​​having a single IQ score entirely meaningless? Or alternatively, are there a small number of underlying cognitive abilities (perhaps two or three) that differentiate us, that are relatively independent of each other – and that together explain most the differences in our cognitive abilities?

1. General intelligence theory (g) — a good theory

A long-standing influential theory of our cognitive abilities states that underlying all of our cognitive abilities (mathematics, language comprehension, general knowledge) is a single factor called general intelligence (also known as unit intelligence, general cognitive or simply ‘g’) on which individuals differ and which explain these differences.

Spearman (1923) proposed that underlying all cognitive abilities is a “general ability” factor (g) upon which all abilities rely. Individuals differ in g according to a bell-curve distribution on this theory. g can be considered 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, you have lots of RAM, lots of “bandwidth” for processing 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 unitary intelligence theory, intelligence was not one of them.

The proof of this theory is the same proof 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 to a great extent. This means that if someone scores above average on one of these tests, they are likely to score above average on all other tests, even those that seem completely unrelated. A higher score on an arithmetic test means you’ll likely score higher on a vocabulary test as well. This remains true, even when taking into account other factors such as the level of education or the socio-economic status of the family. This is irrefutable evidence that there is a single underlying level of cognitive ability that is applied to each of the tests and that performance on one test is not independent of performance on another as the theory of the test claims. multiple intelligence.

Spearman (1904) – the psychologist who first proposed the g-theory – argued that the variance (the person-to-person variation) in performance between individuals on ANY cognitive task can be attributed to just two sub-factors. underlyings: g (general intelligence) and s — the skill unique to that particular task. A person could invest relatively more time in developing a specific skill such as arithmetic, and this will increase their score on an arithmetic test compared to another test such as vocabulary on which they did not. not trained or practiced, but his g general intelligence will still explain most of their performance on the arithmetic test. G remains the most important factor in explaining performance levels on any test.

2. Multiple Intelligence Theory – A Bad Theory Spearman’s “g” theory is the opposite of multiple intelligence theory. Multiple intelligence theory is appealing because it gives everyone the opportunity to have their own unique strengths when it comes to “intelligence.” But as we have seen, it turns out that our cognitive strengths and weaknesses are best explained by the time and effort we have invested in particular skills or types of knowledge. If I take up a technical profession and become good at it, and find that I have difficulty reading fiction, that does not necessarily mean that I have a special “intelligence” for technical thinking. and that I have no ability for reading or language. The fact that I struggle with fiction is best explained by the fact that I have invested my intelligence in building this particular type of expertise and therefore see more of a return on this investment in technical modes of cognition. If I had spent as much time reading fiction as applying myself to technical problems, chances are I would be good at it.

3. The theory of fluid intelligence (gF) and crystallized intelligence (gC) – another good theory

This theory builds on the general theory of intelligence and was originally proposed by psychologist Raymond Cattell in 1943. It argues that g is significant – that we each have a different level of general intelligence – but that two different types of intelligence contribute to g. intelligence: fluid intelligence (gF) and crystallized intelligence (gC). Fluid g is the ability to reason and solve problems with new tasks or in unfamiliar contexts (measured reasoning tasks), while crystallized g is defined as acquired knowledge and is measured using tests of general knowledge, mathematics and vocabulary. This dual way of understanding intelligence allows the knowledge you have accumulated in particular areas to compensate for limitations in overall reasoning and problem-solving ability – our “raw intelligence”. You can succeed because of knowledge of a task or domain (crystallized g), or because of pure mental “power” (fluid g).

Where the idea of ​​”multiple intelligences” takes on its full meaning: as the crystallized intelligence in which we invest

Our crystallized intelligence allows “multiple intelligences”. You might have a high level of crystallized intelligence in graphic design, for example, while only having a medium level of fluid intelligence. But you will only be able to use your crystallized intelligence for graphic design in situations in which you are familiar and have developed expertise. Unless you have a high level of fluid intelligence when faced with an unfamiliar graphic design problem – something ‘out of context’, requiring difficult comprehension, 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 learn graphic design (or other) skills as you learn your basic skills. Your learning will be more effective, and you will find it easier. In general, the more fluid your intelligence, the more you can “invest” it in crystallized intelligence skills and knowledge – the more “multiple intelligences” you can develop if you wish. As part of the job, the more gF you have, the faster and more efficiently you can be trained. One study showed that it took about 1-2 years for people with IQs of 110-130 to catch up with the boosted performance of those with IQs of 130+ who had only 3 months of work experience.

Summary

Looking at all the evidence, the theory of general intelligence (g) and fluid intelligence (gF) and crystallized intelligence (gC) are well supported and helpful in explaining how we differ in our cognitive abilities. In my opinion, the fluid and crystallized theory 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 dramatically increase your level of fluid intelligence, but this training does not directly affect your crystallized intelligence.

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