Intelligence and how we gain it has been a puzzle for centuries, but there are four theories in psychology I think you’ll find most interesting.
Psychologists have been trying to define intelligence for centuries, but many disagree on what intelligence really is. This has led to the development of many different psychological theories of intelligence that fall into four major categories.
These categories are psychometric, cognitive, cognitive-contextual, and biological. As there are too many theories to talk about at once, allow me to introduce the most interesting theories from each of these research areas.
Theories of Intelligence in Psychology
Psychometric: Fluid and Crystallized Ability
The fluid and crystallized intelligence theory was originally developed by Raymond B Cattell between 1941 to 1971. This theory of intelligence rested upon a set of ability tests that were used as factors to define an individual’s abilities.
Fluid intelligence relates to inductive and deductive reasoning, comprehending implications and understanding relations between stimuli. To Cattell, these skills lay the foundation for the very basic biological capacity to learn. Crystalized abilities are related to vocabulary and cultural knowledge. They are learned through formal schooling and life experiences.
Fluid and crystallized abilities are not independent of one another, their main difference is the academic dimension of crystallized ability. Fluid ability was shown to be at its height when the individual is in their 20s and then drops as they age. Crystalized abilities peak much later and remain high until later in life.
Cognitive: Processing Speed and Aging
In relation to fluid and crystallized ability intelligence theory, processing speed and aging seeks to explain why fluid ability declines with age.
Timothy Salthouse proposed that the decline is the result of our processing speed for cognitive processes slowing down as we age. He states that this is related to two mechanisms of impaired performance:
- The limited-time mechanism – The time to perform later cognitive processes is restricted when a large proportion of the available time is given to earlier cognitive processing
- The simultaneity mechanism – Earlier cognitive processing may be lost by the time later cognitive processing is completed
Salthouse found that nearly 75% of age-related variance in cognitive processing was shared with measures of cognitive speed, which is incredible support for his theory. Although it is not exactly classed as one of the theories of intelligence, it does go a long way to explain why intelligence changes as we age.
Cognitive-contextual: Piaget’s Stage Theory of Development
This theory of intelligence is essentially related to child development. Piaget posed that there are four stages of intellectual development. The theory suggests that the child assimilates to different environments by using different methods of thinking about the world.
The child will eventually find a mismatch between their environment and their ways of thinking, encouraging them to create new and more advanced ways of thinking to adapt.
Sensorimotor stage (Birth to 2 years old)
In this stage, children understand their environment through sensation and motor operations. By the end of this stage, children will understand that objects continue to exist when out of sight, otherwise known as object permanence. They will also remember things and imagine ideas or experiences, also known as mental representation. Mental representation allows for the development of language skills to begin.
Preoperational stage (2 to 6 years old)
During this stage, children can use symbolic thinking and language to understand and communicate with the world. Imagination develops and flourishes during this stage and the child begins to take an egocentric position. They will see others and only be able to view their actions in light of their own perspective.
However, at the end of this stage, they will begin to understand the points of view of others. By the end of this stage, children will also be able to start reasoning about things in a logical manner.
Concrete operational stage (7 to 11 years old)
It is at this stage when children begin to apply logical operations and specific experiences or perceptions of their environment. They will begin to learn about conservation, classification, and numbering. They will also begin to appreciate that most questions have logical and correct answers which they can find by reasoning.
Formal operational state (12 years old and onwards)
At the final stage, children begin to think about abstract or hypothetical questions and ideas. They no longer need to use the objects involved in a question to answer it. More abstract topics, such as philosophy and ethics, become much more interesting as their personalities really begin to develop.
Biological: Brain Size
Many theories in psychology have addressed the connection between the size of the brain and the level of intelligence. It is clear that there is a relation between the two, however, there is no clear relationship. There are also theories of intelligence which state that genetics is a greater factor than brain size, but research is still being conducted.
With a huge number of theories of intelligence in psychology, it is impossible to cram them all into a single article. These four theories are my favorite, but there are so many others to look into what you may prefer. Intelligence is a mystery, but seeking to understand it is how we learn.
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