The Difficulties in Defining and Measuring Intelligence Essay

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Intelligence can be described in many ways with many tests focusing on an individual’s cognitive abilities and failing to account for the social and practical aspects of intelligence. Tests to measure intelligence vary immensely and test different types of intelligence; such as Emotional Intelligence, which has proved popular in more recent years. Although researchers are unable to agree upon a general definition of intelligence they do agree that there are 2 factors to be included in a broad definition: an individual’s ability to adapt to their environment and a capacity to learn from experience (Sternberg and Detterman, 1986).

Tests do not , however, measure these components very effectively thus intelligence is sometimes defined operationally, in terms of what a particular test measures. This essay will outline some theories and will critically evaluate their capacity for measuring intelligence. The standard and most widely accepted method of measuring intelligence is through psychometric tests that measure a person’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ). A person’s IQ is determined from a series of tests that assess various types of abilities such as mathematical, spatial, verbal, logic and memory.

The results from these tests obtained from a wide population show a classic ‘bell-shape’ distribution, meaning that most people are of average intelligence with a few at the extreme ends of the scale. For example, an individual who had an IQ lower than 50 would be seen to be mentally inadequate while someone with an IQ above 130 is seen as gifted or, further still, a genius, but more about this later. In 1904, Spearman suggested that intelligence is comprised of a general factor (g), which is shared with all other mental abilities, and other specific factors (s), which are shared with none.

After using a technique known as factor analysis to examine a number of mental aptitude tests, he concluded that scores on these tests were remarkably similar. People who performed well on one cognitive test tended to perform well on other tests, while those who scored badly on one test tended to score badly on others. His conclusion was that intelligence is a general cognitive ability that can be measured and numerically expressed. Critics contend that putting an emphasis on g devalues other important abilities when it comes to intelligence and with different forms of schooling g may be stronger or weaker.

Sternberg (2003) argued the emergence of g in intelligence tests may be partly the result of confirmation bias as in, this is what the tests are designed to do. He believed that laboratory tests couldn’t assess intelligence, as they didn’t take into account the individual’s wider world. He proposed a triarchic theory of intelligence (Sternberg, 1999) with 3 elements: the individual’s internal world (cognitive processing), their experience and their external world.

Experience mediates the interaction between their internal and external worlds with the knowledge that intelligence cannot be fully assessed in any one environment and must also relate to culture. The Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test (STAT) has been widely used as a research tool. Sternberg claims that all children benefit from triarchic learning, combining cognitive analytical with practical experiential tasks. Cattell (1971) combined g with other dimensions in a 3-layer hierarchical model, revised in the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory.

Layer 3 is g, layer 2 broad abilities (e. g. short-term memory), and layer 1 narrow abilities (e. g. short-term memory includes the narrow abilities of memory span, working memory and learning abilities). This theory is well supported by research with relationships found between CHC theory and reading achievement (Evans et al, 2001) and maths achievement (Floyd et al, 2003), but McGrew (2009) argues that it should be seen as a framework within which to describe research and stimulate new research.

Other theorists have suggested that intelligence is made up of different components. For example, Thurstone (1983) disagreed with Spearman’s theory of g and instead came up with his own theory of intelligence that included 7 primary components: verbal comprehension, reasoning, perceptual speed, numerical ability, word fluency, associative memory and spatial visualisation. He argued that the unilinear ranking of people (using tandard psychometric tests without deviation) was not appropriate and that the essence of a person was in their individuality and how their primary mental abilities (PMAs) differed. Other theorists expanded on his primary mental abilities. Gardner (1983) proposed a more inclusive concept of intelligence that he called Multiple Intelligence. His theory moved away from the traditional measurement tests that require you to memorise facts, do math, think logically and write perfect sentences. Instead he opted for a more varied approach to judging mental abilities.

His initial classification system consisted of 7 categories, each covering a different area of intelligence: linguistic intelligence (ability to learn languages), logical-mathematical intelligence (problem solving in a logical manner), musical intelligence (ability to think in terms of notes, pitch and rhythm), spatial intelligence (solving problems visually, inside one’s head), bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence (control of muscle movements and hand-eye coordination), interpersonal intelligence (social skills; ability to pick up on moods, feelings and emotions of others), and intrapersonal intelligence (self-awareness).

Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence are also components of Emotional Intelligence, made popular by Daniel Goleman (1995). Salovey and Mayer (1990) defined emotional intelligence as a very broad set of abilities. While Goleman (1995) has defined it as a set of skills distinct from cognitive intelligence that can be learned, Mayer et al (2008) developed a formal 4-branch model of emotional intelligence that combines cognition and emotion.

Abilities are at different levels: from perceiving emotions (lowest level); using emotions; understanding emotions; to managing emotions (highest level). These abilities mean that people are aware of their own and others’ emotions and their consequences in different social circumstances. The link between cognition and emotion can be seen in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), where negative cognitions are challenged and new behaviours introduced which will impact on emotional processing.

Research using the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) supports the Mayer et al (2008) model and has shown that emotional intelligence increases with age, suggesting it can be learned. The test also has predictive value (McEnrue & Groves, 2006), for example, relating to leadership potential. However, it seems to measure some factors better than others and its validity for different cultures, ages and ethnic groups has not as yet been tested. Emotional intelligence tests use self-assessment methods, which may not capture the complexities of social and interpersonal interaction.

Additionally, there is limited agreement among researchers regarding the definition of emotional intelligence. There is evidence that intelligence tests correlate with a range of attentional measures (Schweizer et al, 2005) but attention has not been defined in theories as being a component of intelligence. Schweizer et al (2005) found that all types of attentional processing (e. g. divided, focused) were related to intelligence test performance. Burns et al (2009) found a near perfect correlation between tests of attention (e. . Stroop) and tests of cognitive ability (e. g. concept formation). More recent research supports a relationship between measures of cognitive ability and working memory. Schweizer and Moosbrugger (2004) found tests of attention and working memory together predicted intelligence test performance. Kyllonen (2002) defined intelligence as working memory capacity; however, a meta-analysis carried out by Ackerman et al (2005) found a relatively low correlation between general intelligence and working memory.

They found that working memory correlates with a range of tasks if the measures are timed (‘speeded’), but broader and more ‘reflective’ tasks (drawing on ‘crystallised’ knowledge) show lower correlations with working memory. The differing results could be explained at least in part in terms of the different research methods used. This essay has previously mentioned culture and it is very important to take this into consideration with any test of intelligence. Sternberg and Grigorenko (2006) argue that intelligence cannot be fully or meaningfully understood outside of its cultural context.

They argue that studying intelligence acontextually can risk asserting our views on the rest of the world. What is an important measure of success to us in the Western world will not be the same for someone in, for example, parts of Africa or the developing world. Another problem with measuring intelligence is that the IQ of the population is increasing. This is known as the Flynn effect (1987) as it was James Flynn who discovered that Dutch males born in 1934 scored, on average, 20 IQ points lower that those born in 1964.

He documented this same gain in average IQ in 13 other countries over the course of the 20th century. This raises the question of whether we are more intelligent than our ancestors or do we just become better at doing IQ tests; for example, the schooling system may prepare individuals better for standardised tests since it is all based on that. Let’s go back and look at the phenomenon of genius. It was stated earlier that we understand this to be someone with a significantly greater than average IQ.

However, it is possible for someone to have creative genius and not fare well on the traditional psychometric tests. Mozart, a well-known genius, composed music from the age of 5 years old, showing a natural aptitude for Gardner’s musical intelligence (1983) but this doesn’t mean he would have had a high IQ on standard tests. It is probably more accurate to describe a genius as an individual who has extraordinary natural intellectual abilities and creative originality, usually in the areas of science, music, mathematics, literature and art.

Many researchers and theorists feel that the fact that geniuses may perform poorly at school or on standard IQ tests supports the argument that the concept of g is too limiting and does not provide a complete view of a person’s intelligence. At the other end of the scale we have the savant phenomenon. An individual with savant syndrome has a neurodevelopmental disorder and/or brain injury, however, they show an extraordinary ability or skill in one or more areas in contrast to their overall mental limitations. Many savants have an incredible aptitude for mathematics and are able to make rapid calculations in their heads.

They often also have a very powerful memory and these skills may help in the IQ tests as not all savants show as having a low IQ, in fact, they will show a wide scatter among the various IQ sub-scores with very high scores in some areas and severe limitations in others. Some researchers claim that this supports the theory of multiple intelligences and the inadequacy of the concept of g, which gives a representative overall measure of a person’s intelligence. In fact, savants seem to prove that you can be intelligent in certain fields while showing mental disabilities in others.

In conclusion, there has been considerable debate over the exact definition of intelligence with only 2 main aspects – learning from experience and adapting to the environment (Sternberg, 1999) – being agreed upon. Spearman’s (1904) two level theory – g, general factors and s, specific factors – contributed to the development of intelligence tests and these factors still underlie much research. Recent research and theory has shown how basic cognitive processes appear to form the basis of measured intelligence and future work might aim for an integration of motivational and social factors with the cognitive approach.

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