WJEC A2 Psychology PY4 - Theories on the Nature of Intelligence

3 Theories on the Nature of Intelligence

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Charles Spearman's Two Factor Theory

1. Charles Spearman's (1927) Two Factor Theory

  • Spearman analysed results of British school children's performance on maths, literacy and spatial tests and found scores on many tests positively correlated
  • he proposed tests were measuring same ability or general factor 'g'; believes that every task involves using 'g' + subordinate specific factor 's' relevant to each task
  • however level of 'g' each person possesses explains individual differences in task successes - 'g' is basis of intelligence - Spearman likened his factor of 'g' to a kind of innate mental power that was fixed and couldn't be developed


(+) 'g' can be measured easily through IQ tests that are easy to administer, reliable (test-retest) and valid (concurrent, content, construct - intelligence must be defined as 'g')

(+) Duncan (2000)

  • PET scans of people doing different 'g' tasks result in the same areas of the brain (frontal lobes) becoming active, whereas non-'g' tasks did not make same areas of the brain affected by 'g' tasks become active, supports Spearman's theory
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Charles Spearman's Two Factor Theory

(-) theory is deterministic, suggesting money invested in nurturing intelligence worldwide is wasted (in education eg), which is unsubstantiated

(-) Dweck (2002)

  • found students who believed intelligence could be increased through hard work went on to improve grades more than those who believed that intelligence was fixed, which suggests intelligence may not be fixed, contradicting 'g' factor

(-) Eugenicists

  • have used Spearman's data and his theory of intelligence to support their principles of Eugenics and justify their concepts on selective breeding, sterilisation and involuntary euthanasia to improve human race and eliminate those perceived as making the human race 'weak', 'impure', or 'feeble minded'

(-) Lack of Population Validity - Spearman's pps were British school children, therefore factor analysis of their test scores may lack pop validity if applied to adults/children in other cultures

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Charles Spearman's Two Factor Theory

(+) Cattell (1971)

  • provided further statistical/psychometric support for Spearman's 'g' when he divided 'g' into 2 components (still used today), providing more depth to Spearman's theory
  • proposed 'g' can be divided into fluid and crystallised intelligence
  • fluid = person's raw intelligence that hasn't been invested or set by cultural norms
  • crystallised = person's invested intelligence reflected by cultural norms of the environment they're in
  • test results for fluid and crystallised intelligence tend to be really similar when a person is young but as they get older, start to choose to invest fluid intelligence into activities deemed appropriate by culture and becomes crystallised intelligence, scores on tests grow dissimilar between 2 components
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Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

2. Howard Gardner's (1983) Multiple Intelligences

  • according to Gardner, there is no general factor but 8 ways of responding to and shaping the environment. All humans have each system but have a different profile
  • cultures will value and promote the intelligence most useful to overcoming the environment a person lives in
  • people will be most intelligent in the environment that is best understood or shaped by the intelligence they possess in greatest measure (intelligence seeks out environment in which it can best flourish)
  • 8 types of intelligence include Linguistic In and Logical-Mathematical In (both the same as 'g'), Musical In which is skill in performance, composition and ability to recognise musical patterns/rhythms; Kinaesthetic In where one uses whole body to solve problems; and Intrapersonal In = the capacity to understand oneself and appreciate one's feelings, and Spatial, Interpersonal, Naturalistic Intelligence also


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Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

(+) Less deterministic than Spearman's theory

  • even though the 8 subcategories might be innate, there is more variation between people in terms of how the intelligences interact with each other to produce an overall intellect (depending on environment) so an individual can solve a problem by playing to 'their strengths'
  • suggesting money invested in nurturing intellect is well spent

(+) Autistic Savants

  • theory also explains how autistic savants' variation in abilities might occur eg high musical ability but low linguistic ability; is consistent with brain research which suggests that at least linguistic and spatial ability are controlled by different areas of the brain and can operate independently from each other, supporting Gardner's theory and disproving Duncan (2002) that supported Spearman's theory

(-) unlike Spearman's 'g', many of multiple intelligences are hard to measure quantifiably. Many of 'tests' of multiple intelligences are actually measuring people's preferences for doing certain activities rather than measuring ability

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Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

(-) critics of Gardner's theory suggest that linguistic + logical-mathematical intelligence equates to 'g' and the other intelligences are just a "politically-correct" relabelling of talents to give them the same kudos as academic intelligence

  • Sternberg criticised Gardner's theory as a "theory of talents, not one of intelligences" and subsequently developed his own
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Robert Sternberg's Cognitive Triarchic Theory

3. Robert Sternberg's (1985) Cognitive Triarchic Theory

  • suggests intelligence is equated with success within an environment in 3 aspects
  • Creative = ability to use one's past experiences to respond to new situations and quickly automate skills = coming up with ideas in response to novel situations
  • Analytical = ability to analyse and select strategies to process info and solve problems (measured as 'g' by IQ tests)
  • Practical = ability to adapt to, shape or select environments to achieve goals = put ideas into practice so the ideas can be used
  • Sternberg argues that 'g' cannot be a complete definition and measure of intelligence as it can never exist and be tested in a vacuum, it is always directed towards behavioural goals within an environment - so what is intelligent in one environment (culture or subculture) may be considered unintelligent in another


(+) this measure of intelligence may explain why people who are successful but not necessarily academically successful (Alan Sugar/Richard Branson) still achieve within their chosen field, supporting Sternberg's theory

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Robert Sternberg's Cognitive Triarchic Theory

(+) the results of Sternberg's tests of his triarchic intelligence have been correlated with later job performance, which traditional IQ tests and multiple intelligences have not, supporting that Sternberg's theory may be more reflective of intelligence than other theories

(+) theory is also consistent with evolutionary and cognitive theories, suggesting intelligence is a cognitive mechanism for surviving in dangerous environments, and allows surveillance and monitoring of conditions which enables us to react to changing conditions

(-) HOWEVER...

  • even though traditional IQ tests may be able to measure Sternberg's Analytical intelligence easily, a simple pen and paper test for creative and practical intelligences without any cultural bias is still very difficult
  • weakens theory as relatively difficult to measure, so is Sternberg's theory reflective of intelligence?
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