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What is intelligence?
Intelligence is the sum of total cognition; it refers to the cognitive abilities of an individual to understand complex concepts, to learn from experience, to reason well, and to cope effectively with the demands of daily living. Charles Edward Spearmen postulated that intelligence was the source from which specific abilities were derived. He referred to this as the general factor of intelligence. However, many psychologists argued that intelligence was the sum of a variety of separate abilities, not a single general factor from which all abilities stemmed. Howard Earl Gardner theorized that different types of intelligence are mediated by different parts of the brain; he suggested that there are eight independent types of intelligence. They include:
Most contemporary psychologists agree that there is truth to both theories. It is possible that a general factor underlies all intelligence, but people can be strong in one specific area of intelligence and weak in another.
Recently, a considerable amount of attention has been directed to the biological basis of general intelligence. Consistent with the concept of general intelligence, research suggests that certain genes influence all of the many specific aspects of cognitive intelligence to a considerable degree. One theory of the biological relation to general intelligence suggests that the anatomy and function of the frontal lobes is strongly related to the general factor of intelligence. Another theory suggests that individuals with a higher general factor have a greater ability to form neural connections between axons and dendrites in the brain. A greater ability to form neural connections is hypothesized to lead to better general intelligence in two ways:
1. A greater ability to form neural connections allows a person with a high general factor of intelligence to be more proficient at learning from experience.
2. Greater interconnectedness of the neurons enables the brain to process information faster. Individuals with a higher general factor have faster reflexes, faster reaction times, and take less time to make simple judgments. The greater speed of processing is thought to be the primary basis for greater general intelligence. However, the fact that more intelligent people process information faster does not mean that they do everything faster in cognitive tasks. Sometimes taking our time leads to better problem solving.
Robert Jeffrey Sternberg, among others, suggested that the basis of intelligence could be illuminated by applying what we have learned in research on cognition, particularly research using an information-processing model of cognition. He proposed a tentative theory of intelligence that specifies the cognitive steps that a person must use in reasoning and solving some kinds of problems, otherwise referred to as the cognitive components of intelligence. They include:
1. Encode (mentally represent in memory) all relevant information about the problem.
2. Infer the nature of the relationship between terms in the problem.
3. Map or identify common characteristics in relevant pairs of elements.
4. Apply the relationship between existent variables within the problem.
5. Compare the alternative answers.
6. Respond with an answer.
Sternberg suggests that these steps not only provide us with a convenient way of describing intelligent reasoning, they also give us a framework for discovering which components are most important in determining whether one person is more intelligent than another. Research suggests that better reasoners take more time to complete the encoding process but are faster at all other stages.
Psychologists also acknowledge the differences of intelligence with respect to age.
1. Fluid intelligence is the ability to process information quickly and devise strategies for dealing with new kinds of problems.
2. Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use previously learned information and skills to solve familiar problems.
It is important to note that the distinction between fluid and crystallized intelligence is not just a logical one. It is well supported with research on how intelligence changes with age. Crystallized intelligence (facts and knowledge) improves throughout the years that adults work. This is why jobs pertaining to positions of leadership/authority typically include individuals over the age of forty. In contrast, fluid intelligence (the ability to learn new skills for new problems) declines from middle age on.
Measuring Intelligence: The Intelligence Quotient
A measure of intelligence makes it possible to use the concept of intelligence in both research and clinical practice. Intelligence tests are no more than a small sample of some of the cognitive abilities that constitute intelligence. These tests are considered useful not because psychologists are certain they measure intelligence, but because they are effective tools for predicting how people will perform in situations that seem to require intelligence.
Alfred Binet developed a test to distinguish between intellectually normal and subnormal Parisian schoolchildren. He constructed the test by looking at a large number of items related to cognitive efficiency that differentiated children of various ages. He looked for items he thought about half the children of one age could answer, that nearly all older children could answer, and that very few younger children could answer. He did this based on the assumption that intellectual abilities improve with age during childhood. Once Binet compiled a list of items, he gave them to a large number of children of different ages to determine exactly how many children at each age level could answer each question. Then he arranged the order of the questions in the test from the least to the most difficult. In simplified terms, the score on Binet’s intelligence test is equal to the number of questions answered correctly, but it is expressed in terms of the age of the children for which that score is average. For example, if a child correctly answers 18 items, and the average number of items answered by children 8 years and 6 months in age is 18, then the score on the test would be expressed as “8 years 6 months”. Binet called this score the mental age.
If your mental age is higher than your chronological age (or your actual age), then you are considered bright because you answered the average number of questions for older children. If your mental age is lower than your chronological age, then you are considered below average in intelligence because you could answer only the average number of questions answered by younger children. This is all that an intelligence test is: a measure that compares your performance with the performance of individuals of different ages on items believed to reflect intelligence.
Is a child with a mental age of 9 years 4 months and a chronological age of 7 years 2 months brighter than a child with a chronological age of 8 years 5 months and a mental age of 10 years 3 months? Because it is difficult to compare the mental ages of children of different chronological ages, a more easily used score than a mental age was later developed for intelligence tests. The score is called the intelligence quotient or IQ. The intelligence quotient is obtained by dividing the mental age (MA) by the chronological age (CA) so that children of different chronological ages can be directly compared. To remove the decimal point, the result is multiplied by 100.
IQ = 100 (MA/CA)
IQs that are over 100 indicate that the person is more intelligent than average (The MA is greater than the CA). Conversely, IQs less than 100 indicate that the individual is less intelligent than average.
Actually, Binet’s approach to calculating the intelligence quotient from the ratio between the child’s mental age and chronological age (the ratio IQ), is no longer used in contemporary intelligence tests. There are several technical reasons that the ratio IQ is no longer in used, but the most important reason to understand is that there are some significant limitations to the concept of mental age. For example, a very bright 4-year old with an IQ of 150 has the mental age of the average 6-year old but would not handle many situations demanding intellectual ability as well as the 6-year old. Conversely, a child with low intelligence will often seem less competent than an average younger child with the same mental age.
For these reasons, a new approach to the measure of intellectual ability, termed the deviation IQ was developed. The deviation IQ is based on an intriguing mathematical property of measurements of many phenomena, including intellectual ability. As shown in figure 9.10, the scores of large numbers of persons on tests of intelligence fall in a normal distribution. This means that most people will obtain the average score, or scores that are close to the average, on the test. As scores deviate from the average in either direction (wither higher or lower than average), the scores become progressively less common. Thus, scores a few points above or below average are common, but scores that are many points above or below average are very uncommon.
Instead of defining an average IQ as one in which the mental age and chronological age are the same (IQ of 100), the average score on the intelligence test (the mid point of the normal distribution) is assigned an IQ score of 100, and based on the shape of the curve, scores above the average are assigned IQ scores above 100 and below average scores are assigned IQ scores below 100. The exact IQ score is based on how much the score deviates from the average.
Deviation IQ scores work very well for adults. They also work well for children, but children’s scores have to be compared with different normal distributions for each age group because their scores increase as children grow older. The same concept of deviation from the midpoint of the normal distribution is also used in many other tests of human characteristics. Scores on the tests of academic achievement that you took in school, some of the tests of specific job skills that you will take when you apply for employment, and some tests of personality are based on the same concept as deviation IQ.
In the United States, Binet’s test was refined by Lewis Terman of Stanford University, as the still widely used Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. Similar tests were also developed by David Wechsler, known as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (4th edition), or WISC-IV, and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Revised, or WISC-IV