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General (g) Versus Specific (s) Intelligences

16 February, 2016 - 09:24

In the early 1900s, the French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857–1914) and his colleague Henri Simon (1872–1961) began working in Paris to develop a measure that would differentiate students who were expected to be better learners from students who were expected to be slower learners. The goal was to help teachers better educate these two groups of students. 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) 1 believed that the questions they asked their students, even though they were on the surface dissimilar, all assessed the basic abilities to understand, reason, and make judgments. And it turned out that the correlations among these different types of measures were in fact all positive; 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 thedifferent abilities and skills measured on intelligencetests haveincommon thegeneral 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). 2 People with higher general intelligence learn faster.

Soon after Binet and Simon introduced their test, the American psychologist Lewis Terman (1877–1956) developed an American version of Binet’s test that became known as the Stanford- BinetIntelligenceTest. 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 measureof specificskills in narrowdomains. 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 distinction is between fluid intelligence, which refers to the capacity to learn new ways of solving problems and performing activities, and crystallized intelligence, which refers to the accumulated knowledge of the world we have acquired throughout our lives (Salthouse, 2004). 3 These intelligences must be different because crystallized intelligence increases with age—older adults are as good as or better than young people in solving crossword puzzles— whereas fluid intelligence tends to decrease with age (Horn, Donaldson, & Engstrom, 1981; Salthouse, 2004). 4

Other researchers have proposed even more types of intelligences. L. L. Thurstone (1938) 5 proposed that there were seven clusters of primarymental abilities, made up of word fluency, verbal comprehension, spatial ability, perceptual speed, numerical ability, inductive reasoning, and memory. But even these dimensions tend to be at least somewhat correlated, showing again the importance of g.

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 maydisplaymoreor lessanalytical intelligence, creativeintelligence, andpractical intelligence. Sternberg (1985, 2003) 6 argued that traditional intelligence tests assess analytical intelligence, the ability to answer problems with a single right answer, but that they do not well assess creativity (the ability to adapt to new situations and create new ideas) or practicality (e.g., the ability to write good memos or to effectively delegate responsibility).

As Sternberg proposed, research has found that creativity is not highly correlated with analytical intelligence (Furnham & Bachtiar, 2008), 7 and exceptionally creative scientists, artists, mathematicians, and engineers do not score higher on intelligence than do their less creative peers (Simonton, 2000). 8 Furthermore, the brain areas that are associated with convergentthinking, 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 for or solutions to a single problem (Tarasova, Volf, & Razoumnikova, 2010). 9 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). 10

Studies of creative people suggest at least five components that are likely to be important for creativity:

Expertise. Creative people have carefully studied and know a lot about the topic that they are working in. Creativity comes with a lot of hard work (Ericsson, 1998; Weisberg, 2006). 11

Imaginativethinking. Creative people often view a problem in a visual way, allowing them to see it from a new and different point of view.

Risktaking. Creative people are willing to take on new but potentially risky approaches.

Intrinsicinterest. Creative people tend to work on projects because they love doing them, not because they are paid for them. In fact, research has found that people who are paid to be creative are often less creative than those who are not (Hennessey & Amabile, 2010). 12

Working in a creativeenvironment. Creativity is in part a social phenomenon. Simonton (1992) 13 found that the most creative people were supported, aided, and challenged by other people working on similar projects.

Table 9.1The 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, & Okagaki, 1993; Wagner & Sternberg, 1985), 14 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). 15 Gottfredson, L. S. (2003). Dissecting practical intelligence theory: Its claims and evidence. Intelligence, 31(4), 343–397.] 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, Wagner, & Okagaki, 1993). 16On the other hand, these abilities or skills are very specific to particular occupations and thus do not seem to represent the broader idea of intelligence.

Another champion of the idea of multiple intelligences is the psychologist Howard Gardner (1983, 1999). 17 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 (). Gardner noted that some evidence for multiple intelligences comes from the abilities ofautisticsavants, 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). 18

Table 9.1 Howard Gardner’s Eight Specific Intelligences




The ability to speak and write well


The ability to use logic and mathematical skills to solve problems


The ability to think and reason about objects in three dimensions


The ability to perform and enjoy music

Kinesthetic (body)

The ability to move the body in sports, dance, or other physical activities


The ability to understand and interact effectively with others


The ability to have insight into the self


The ability to recognize, identify, and understand animals, plants, and other living things


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. And there is no clear conclusion about how many intelligences there are. Are 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). 19