What exactly is intelligence? The way that researchers have defined the concept of intelligence has been modified many times since the birth of psychology. British psychologist Charles Spearman believed intelligence consisted of one general factor, called g, which could be measured and compared among individuals. Spearman focused on the commonalities among various intellectual abilities and deemphasized what made each unique. Other psychologists believe that instead of a single factor, intelligence is a collection of distinct abilities. Still, other psychologists believe that intelligence should be defined in more practical terms.
Video 6.6.1. Intelligence explains the different definitions of intelligence and the nature/nurture debate in the context of intelligence.
Measuring Intelligence: Standardization and the Intelligence Quotient
The goal of most intelligence tests is to measure “g,” the general intelligence factor. Good intelligence tests are reliable, meaning that they are consistent over time, and also demonstrate validity, meaning that they actually measure intelligence rather than something else. Because intelligence is such an important individual difference dimension, psychologists have invested substantial effort in creating and improving measures of intelligence, and these tests are now considered the most accurate of all psychological tests. In fact, the ability to accurately assess intelligence is one of the most important contributions of psychology to everyday public life.
Intelligence changes with age. A 3-year-old who could accurately multiply 183 by 39 would certainly be intelligent, but a 25-year-old who could not do so would be seen as unintelligent. Thus understanding intelligence requires that we know the norms or standards in a given population of people at a given age. The standardization of a test involves giving it to a large number of people at different ages and computing the average score on the test at each age level.
It is important that intelligence tests be standardized on a regular basis, because the overall level of intelligence in a population may change over time. The Flynn effect refers to the observation that scores on intelligence tests worldwide have increased substantially over the past decades (Flynn, 1999). Although the increase varies somewhat from country to country, the average increase is about 3 IQ points every ten years. There are many explanations for the Flynn effect, including better nutrition, increased access to information, and more familiarity with multiple-choice tests (Neisser, 1998). But whether people are actually getting smarter is debatable (Neisser, 1997).
Once the standardization has been accomplished, we have a picture of the average abilities of people at different ages and can calculate a person's mental age, which is the age at which a person is performing intellectually. If we compare the mental age of a person to the person's chronological age, the result is the intelligence quotient (IQ), a measure of intelligence that is adjusted for age. A simple way to calculate IQ is by using the following formula:
IQ = mental age ÷ chronological age × 100.
Thus a 10-year-old child who does as well as the average 10-year-old child has an IQ of 100 (10 ÷ 10 × 100), whereas an 8-year-old child who does as well as the average 10-year-old child would have an IQ of 125 (10 ÷ 8 × 100). Most modern intelligence tests are based on the relative position of a person's score among people of the same age, rather than on the basis of this formula, but the idea of an intelligence “ratio” or “quotient” provides a good description of the score's meaning.
The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) is the most widely used intelligence test for adults (Watkins, Campbell, Nieberding, & Hallmark, 1995). The current version of the WAIS, the WAIS-IV, was standardized on 2,200 people ranging from 16 to 90 years of age. It consists of 15 different tasks, each designed to assess intelligence, including working memory, arithmetic ability, spatial ability, and general knowledge about the world. The WAIS-IV yields scores on four domains: verbal, perceptual, working memory, and processing speed. The reliability of the test is high (more than 0.95), and it shows substantial construct validity. The WAIS-IV is correlated highly with other IQ tests such as the Stanford-Binet, as well as with criteria of academic and life success, including college grades, measures of work performance, and occupational level. It also shows significant correlations with measures of everyday functioning among people with intellectual disabilities.
Video 6.1.1. Brain vs. Bias provides an overview of the WAIS & WISC tests, standardization and validity, and IQ performance.
The Wechsler scale has also been adapted for preschool children in the form of the Wechsler primary and preschool scale of intelligence-fourth edition (WPPSI-IV) and for older children and adolescents in the form of the Wechsler intelligence scale for children-fifth edition (WISC-V).
Intelligence tests and psychological definitions of intelligence have been heavily criticized since the 1970s for being biased in favor of Anglo-American, middle-class respondents and for being inadequate tools for measuring non-academic types of intelligence or talent. Intelligence changes with experience, and intelligence quotients or scores do not reflect that ability to change. What is considered smart varies culturally as well, and most intelligence tests do not take this variation into account. For example, in the West, being smart is associated with being quick. A person who answers a question the fastest is seen as the smartest, but in some cultures, being smart is associated with considering an idea thoroughly before giving an answer. A well- thought out, contemplative answer is the best answer.
Theories of Intelligence
Psychologists have long debated how to best conceptualize and measure intelligence (Sternberg, 2003). These questions include how many types of intelligence there are, the role of nature versus nurture in intelligence, how intelligence is represented in the brain, and the meaning of group differences in intelligence.
Video 6.6.2. Theories of Intelligence reviews a few of the different theoretical views of intelligence.
From 1904-1905 the French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857–1914) and his colleague Théodore Simon (1872–1961) began working on behalf of the French government to develop a measure that would identify children who would not be successful with the regular school curriculum. The goal was to help teachers better educate these students (Aiken, 1994). Binet and Simon developed what most psychologists today regard as the first intelligence test, which consisted of a wide variety of questions that included the ability to name objects, define words, draw pictures, complete sentences, compare items, and construct sentences.
Binet and Simon (Binet, Simon, & Town, 1915; Siegler, 1992) believed that the questions they asked the children all assessed the basic abilities to understand, reason, and make judgments. It turned out that the correlations among these different types of measures were, in fact, all positive; that is, students who got one item correct were more likely to also get other items correct, even though the questions themselves were very different.
On the basis of these results, the psychologist Charles Spearman (1863–1945) hypothesized that there must be a single underlying construct that all of these items measure. He called the construct that the different abilities and skills measured on intelligence tests have in common the general intelligence factor (g). Virtually all psychologists now believe that there is a generalized intelligence factor, “g,” that relates to abstract thinking and that includes the abilities to acquire knowledge, to reason abstractly, to adapt to novel situations, and to benefit from instruction and experience (Gottfredson, 1997; Sternberg, 2003). People with higher general intelligence learn faster.
Soon after Binet and Simon introduced their test, the American psychologist Lewis Terman at Stanford University (1877–1956) developed an American version of Binet's test that became known as the Stanford- Binet intelligence test. The Stanford-Binet is a measure of general intelligence made up of a wide variety of tasks, including vocabulary, memory for pictures, naming of familiar objects, repeating sentences, and following commands.
Although there is general agreement among psychologists that “g” exists, there is also evidence for specific intelligence “s,” a measure of specific skills in narrow domains. One empirical result in support of the idea of “s” comes from intelligence tests themselves. Although the different types of questions do correlate with each other, some items correlate more highly with each other than do other items; they form clusters or clumps of intelligences.
One advocate of the idea of multiple intelligences is the psychologist Robert Sternberg. Sternberg has proposed a Triarchic (three-part) Theory of Intelligence that proposes that people may display more or less analytical intelligence, creative intelligence, and practical intelligence. Sternberg (1985, 2003) argued that traditional intelligence tests assess analytical intelligence, academic problem solving and performing calculations, but that they do not typically assess creative intelligence, the ability to adapt to new situations and create new ideas, and/or practical intelligence, the ability to demonstrate common sense and street- smarts.
As Sternberg proposed, research has found that creativity is not highly correlated with analytical intelligence (Furnham & Bakhtiar, 2008), and exceptionally creative scientists, artists, mathematicians, and engineers do not score higher on intelligence than do their less creative peers (Simonton, 2000). Furthermore, the brain areas that are associated with convergent thinking, thinking that is directed toward finding the correct answer to a given problem, are different from those associated with divergent thinking, the ability to generate many different ideas or solutions to a single problem (Tarasova, Volf, & Razoumnikova, 2010). On the other hand, being creative often takes some of the basic abilities measured by “g,” including the abilities to learn from experience, to remember information, and to think abstractly (bink & marsh, 2000). Ericsson (1998), Weisberg (2006), Hennessey and Amabile (2010), and Simonton (1992) studied creative people and identified at least five components that are likely to be important for creativity as listed in the table below.
Table 6.6.1. Important components for creativity
Component Description Expertise Creative people have studied and learned about a topic Imaginative Thinking Creative people view problems in new and different ways Risk-Taking Creative people take on new, but potentially risky approaches Intrinsic Interest Creative people take on projects for interest, not money Working in Creative Environments The most creative people are supported, aided, and challenged by other people working on similar projects
The last aspect of the triarchic model, practical intelligence, refers primarily to intelligence that cannot be gained from books or formal learning. Practical intelligence represents a type of “street smarts” or “common sense” that is learned from life experiences. Although a number of tests have been devised to measure practical intelligence (Sternberg, Wagner, & Okazaki, 1993; Wagner & Sternberg, 1985), research has not found much evidence that practical intelligence is distinct from “g” or that it is predictive of success at any particular tasks (Gottfredson, 2003). Practical intelligence may include, at least in part, certain abilities that help people perform well at specific jobs, and these abilities may not always be highly correlated with general intelligence (Sternberg et al., 1993).
Theory of multiple intelligences: another champion of the idea of specific types of intelligences rather than one overall intelligence is the psychologist Howard Gardner (1983, 1999). Gardner argued that it would be evolutionarily functional for different people to have different talents and skills, and proposed that there are eight intelligences that can be differentiated from each other. A potential ninth intelligence, existential intelligence, still needs empirical support. Gardner investigated intelligences by focusing on children who were talented in one or more areas and adults who suffered from strokes that compromised some capacities, but not others. Gardner also noted that some evidence for multiple intelligences comes from the abilities of autistic savants, people who score low on intelligence tests overall but who nevertheless may have exceptional skills in a given domain, such as math, music, art, or in being able to recite statistics in a given sport (Treffert & Wallace, 2004). In addition to brain damage and the existence of savants, Gardner identified these 8 intelligences based on other criteria, including a set developmental history and psychometric findings. See table 5.4 for a list of Gardner's eight specific intelligences.
Table 6.6.2. Howard Gardner’s eight specific intelligences
Intelligence Description Linguistic The ability to speak and write well Logical-mathematical The ability to use logic and mathematical skills to solve problems Spatial The ability to think and reason about objects in three dimensions Musical The ability to perform and enjoy music Kinesthetic (body) The ability to move the body in sports, dance, or other physical activities Interpersonal The ability to understand and interact effectively with others Intrapersonal The ability to have insight into the self Naturalistic The ability to recognize, identify, and understand animals, plants, and other living things Source: Adapted from Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Framed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York, NY: Basic Books.
The idea of multiple intelligences has been influential in the field of education, and teachers have used these ideas to try to teach differently to different students. For instance, to teach math problems to students who have particularly good kinesthetic intelligence, a teacher might encourage the students to move their bodies or hands according to the numbers. On the other hand, some have argued that these “intelligences” sometimes seem more like “abilities” or “talents” rather than real intelligence. There is no clear conclusion about how many intelligences there are. Our sense of humor, artistic skills, dramatic skills, and so forth also separate intelligences? Furthermore, and again demonstrating the underlying power of a single intelligence, the many different intelligences are, in fact, correlated and thus represent, in part, “g” (Brody, 2003).
The results of studies assessing the measurement of intelligence show that IQ is distributed in the population in the form of a Normal Distribution (or bell curve), which is the pattern of scores usually observed in a variable that clusters around its average. In a normal distribution, the bulk of the scores fall toward the middle, with many fewer scores falling at the extremes. The normal distribution of intelligence shows that on IQ tests, as well as on most other measures, the majority of people cluster around the average (in this case, where IQ = 100), and fewer are either very smart or very dull (see Figure 5.10). Because the standard deviation of an IQ test is about 15, this means that about 2% of people score above an IQ of 130, often considered the threshold for giftedness, and about the same percentage score below an IQ of 70, often being considered the threshold for intellectual disability.
Figure 6.6.2. Distribution of IQ Scores in the General PopulationThe normal distribution of IQ scores in the general population shows that most people have about average intelligence, while very few have extremely high or extremely low intelligence.
People with very low IQ define one end of the distribution of intelligence scores. Intellectual disability (or intellectual developmental disorder) is assessed based on cognitive capacity (IQ) and adaptive functioning. The severity of the disability is based on adaptive functioning, or how well the person handles everyday life tasks. About 1% of the United States population, most of them males, fulfill the criteria for intellectual developmental disorder, but some children who are given this diagnosis lose the classification as they get older and better learn to function in society. A particular vulnerability of people with low IQ is that they may be taken advantage of by others, and this is an important aspect of the definition of intellectual developmental disorder (Greenspan, Loughlin, & Black, 2001).
Giftedness refers to those who have an IQ of 130 or higher (Lally & Valentine-French, 2015). Having an extremely high IQ is clearly less of a problem than having an extremely low IQ, but there may also be challenges to being particularly smart. It is often assumed that schoolchildren who are labeled as “gifted” may have adjustment problems that make it more difficult for them to create social relationships. To study gifted children, Lewis Terman and his colleagues (Terman & Oden, 1959) selected about 1,500 high school students who scored in the top 1% on the Stanford-Binet and similar IQ tests (i.e., who had IQs of about 135 or higher), and tracked them for more than seven decades (the children became known as the “termites” and are still being studied today). This study found that these students were not unhealthy or poorly adjusted, but rather were above average in physical health and were taller and heavier than individuals in the general population. The students also had above-average social relationships and were less likely to divorce than the average person (Seagoe, 1975).
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Terman's study also found that many of these students went on to achieve high levels of education and entered prestigious professions, including medicine, law, and science. Of the sample, 7% earned doctoral degrees, 4% earned medical degrees, and 6% earned law degrees. These numbers are all considerably higher than what would have been expected from a more general population. Another study of young adolescents who had even higher IQs found that these students ended up attending graduate school at a rate more than 50 times higher than that in the general population (Lubinski & Benbow, 2006).
As you might expect based on our discussion of intelligence, kids who are gifted have higher scores on general intelligence “g,” but there are also different types of giftedness. Some children are particularly good at math or science, some at automobile repair or carpentry, some at music or art, some at sports or leadership, and so on. There is a lively debate among scholars about whether it is appropriate or beneficial to label some children as “gifted and talented” in school and to provide them with accelerated special classes and other programs that are not available to everyone. Although doing so may help the gifted kids (Colangelo & Assouline, 2009), it also may isolate them from their peers and make such provisions unavailable to those who are not classified as “gifted.”