Theories and Definitions of Intelligence

1472 words (6 pages) Essay in Psychology

18/05/20 Psychology Reference this

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The notion of intelligence is complex, with differing definitions it is difficult to simplify and condense its meaning into one neat definition without considering the abundance of theories. Traditional theories surrounded the factors of inheritance and environmental influences, as well as elements pertaining to memory, reasoning and processing. These complexities lead to the debate of how to test for intelligence. For the purpose of this essay theories of intelligence will be discussed in order to best understand and evaluate the given scenario.

Spearman ‘s concept of the ‘g’ Factor.

Spearman was the first to develop a psychometric definition of intelligence. He looked at the correlation between high result on all tests and stated that intelligence was a behaviour caused by a single biological factor. This was his greatest theoretical contribution in which he proposed the theory of the ‘g’ factor. He argued that this general intelligence formed the bedrock from which all other mental abilities developed. This ’g’ factor was stated by Spearman to be fixed and believed that this underlying general factor of intelligence should predict the level of specific mental abilities individuals would show on all tests.

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Spearman refined the methodology of intelligence testing, including the statistical techniques then used to analyse test results, which are still influencers as modern researchers have consistently found batteries of cognitive test results are highly correlated. Despite this, Spearman’s theory is proven to show minimalism as other factors such as social and emotional intelligence have nor been considered or evaluated.

Gardner Model of Multiple intelligence.

Gardner was the first to propose the existence of seven multiple intelligences. This theory suggests that traditional psychometric views of intelligence are too limited. Gardner first outlined his theory in his 1983 book “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” where he suggested that all people have different kinds of “intelligences.” Gardner proposed that there are eight intelligences, and has suggested the possible addition of a ninth known as “existentialist intelligence.” The eight which were originally stated were; Linguistic, Interpersonal, Kinesthetic, Musical, Visual-Spatial, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic & Logical-Mathematical.

Gardner’s theory has come under criticism from both psychologists and educators. These critics argue that Gardner’s definition of intelligence is too broad and that his eight different “intelligences” simply represent talents, personality traits, and abilities. Gardner’s theory also suffers from a lack of supporting empirical research.


Cattell-Horn-Carroll’s theory of Recent Thinking (CHC Theory).

CHC Theory has given rise to the most empirically-supported, psychometric based, contemporary description of structure of human cognitive abilities. It is a hierarchical model of intelligence that combines the Cattell-Horn (Horn, 1989) and Carroll (1993) tri-stratum models of cognitive abilities. It includes 70 narrow abilities at stratum I, eight broad abilities at stratum II and an overall ‘g’ (general intelligence) ability at the top of the hierarchy in stratum III.

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The model collates decades of psychometric research by many intelligence scholars using analytic research. The structure supports neurocognitive, genetic, developmental and prediction of differential outcomes. Since its recognition as the first consensus-based, comprehensive and empirically validated working taxonomy of human cognitive elements (McGrew, 1997, 2005) in the early 1990’s, it “has formed the foundation for most contemporary IQ tests” (Kaufman, 2009).

Looking with these three theories in conjunction with the proposed scenario, which states that a middle-aged woman who underwent intelligence testing at a young age was limited by the label it gave her, we have to consider that is appears that the test occurred during the period of Spearman’s notions of a singular general intelligence and an IQ score was generated. The assessment that occurred at the age of six years old caused her almost be excluded from mainstream education due to apparent low level cognitive ability, despite now having achieved a considerable degree of success in a number of different areas throughout her later life. This can show the limitations of Spearman’s model and bring to light the positive qualities in using a model such as the CHC theory. A more multifaceted approach, such as the CHC Theory can consider strengths and weaknesses in different areas and provide an outline for the students’ development in an educational setting. 

For this scenario we also should look at the age, race, delayed physical development, social skills and emotional complexities at the time of assessment. These are factors that need to be considered when looking at access and understanding of the assessment carried out by the individual. Though the race is not mentioned of the client in question, when looking at intelligence testing and looking at the normal distribution populations that the test was referenced against it is important to note that the person taking the test may be of different ethnicity to those used in the norm referencing. This can have an impact on whether it is applicable to use descriptors stated for the attainment test for you test subject. Using this information to look a test suability is a major factor, as one would not use a test standardised by white males for African American female children for instance as the two can be un relatable due to gender, cultural differences, language barriers and attainment levels as the measurement of ability can be influenced by environmental factors. Spearman made assumptions that intelligence was innate and we can see how her experience was affected by this era.

The contrast between the results of her attainment test and her current success raises concerns regarding the assessment conducted regarding its suitability, validity and reliability. The client stated that her physical development was delayed which lead us to question whether she could access all parts of the assessment or if appropriate adjustments were made. This along with her poorly developed social skills and the experience of significant stress at home leads us to question if this was a true measure of her intelligence. The stresses at home could have effected her attention, motivation and confidence towards the assessment. At the young age of six and considering all these environmental factors which were not considered before, (given her poor social skills) was there an open and accessible line of communication for the child during the assessment, did the examiner build a rapport, did the test environment allow the child to feel safe and confident to respond to the best of her ability. It should also be noted that there was no mention of retesting at a later age, which could have given a more accurate IQ score.

In conclusion, it is clear that the assessment that the client had undergone several years ago due to all the factors mentioned above was not a true measure of her intelligence. Retesting at a later stage in her life or testing with a new model such as the CHC Theory would have been more beneficial in establishing areas of strengths and weakness for her. It is also important to mention that there are clearly a number of problems using the term intelligence and feeding back without accurate results. The first is that there are very emotionally loaded. To use a test to label someone as being more or less intelligent may have strong connotations, effects perceptions and access to educational settings. The second is that there have over the past couple of decade been a number of challenges surrounding that it means to be intelligent. Care should be taken to ensure individuals are given appropriate arrangements to access an assessment and not face bias due to environmental factors. Results should also not be viewed in isolation, information should be collated from medical reports, educational reports, parent and teacher questionnaires, together with the assessment results to provide a profile for support for the client.


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