ERIC Identifier: ED385605
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Yekovich, Frank R.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Assessment and Evaluation Washington DC.
Current Issues in Research on Intelligence. ERIC/AE Digest.
"...Most educators and many psychologists think intelligence tests measure -
or ought to measure - something like the innate capacity or potential of the
learner. This has always been a popular belief among both professionals and
laymen. It is a personal theory that is staunchly held and, like other personal
theories, is not easily altered by disconfirming evidence." (Lohman, 1993, p.
The use of intelligence tests in the American education system is widespread
despite the well documented shortcomings of these instruments. For instance, the
fact that minority groups are overrepresented in special education and
underrepresented in gifted and talented programs is but one example of how
intelligence test scores, coupled with the results from other diagnostic
instruments, are used daily to make decisions about eligibility for special
What is our current understanding of the concept of intelligence and what is
the state-of-the-art with respect to its assessment? This digest answers these
two general questions in the following way. First, I discuss briefly several
current conceptions of what intelligence is. Second, because most current
conceptions of intelligence hold that it develops, I turn to a discussion of the
role of learning and its effects on intellectual ability. Finally, I briefly
discuss what effect these current conceptions have had on our assessment of the
ability we call intelligence.
CURRENT CONCEPTIONS OF INTELLIGENCE
Intelligence has been
defined and studied under a number of different rubrics, among them individual
differences, cognitive abilities, and aptitudes. Probably the most influential
developments in our recent understanding of these concepts have come from
educational and psychological researchers associated with cognitive psychology.
Three of those individuals, Robert Sternberg, Howard Gardner, and John Horn
serve as a representative sample of researchers who have made significant gains
in our current conceptions of intelligence. In the following paragraphs I
briefly summarize each one's conceptualization of intellectual abilities.
Robert Sternberg. Sternberg's (1985) theory of intelligence contains three
subtheories, one about context, one about experience, and one about the
cognitive components of information processing. The contextual subtheory
attempts to specify what would be considered "intelligent" in a given culture or
context. According to Sternberg, culturally intelligent behavior involves either
adapting to one's present environment, selecting a more optimal environment, or
reshaping one's current environment. The experiential subtheory claims that the
expression of any intelligent behavior will be a function of the amount of
experience one has with the particular class of tasks being tested. According to
Sternberg, intelligence is best demonstrated when the task is relatively novel
or unfamiliar. The componential subtheory describes the cognitive structures and
processes that together produce intelligent behavior. Sternberg proposes three
general types of processes: metacomponents (which control and monitor
processing), performance components (processes that execute plans), and
knowledge acquisition components (which encode and assemble new knowledge). As a
whole, the triarchic theory claims different aspects or kinds of intelligence
(e.g., academic, practical).
Howard Gardner. One of the most popular recent views of intelligence, at
least among practitioners, has come from Gardner (e.g., Gardner & Hatch,
1989). He proposes a theory of multiple intelligences in which he claims there
are seven relatively independent intelligences. Those intelligences are
logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic,
interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Additionally, Gardner recognizes that one's
experiences will influence the degree to which each of the intelligences can be
expressed. Thus, rather than characterizing an individual's intelligence by a
single test score, Gardner argues for determining the profile of one's
intelligences, taking into account culturally valued activities that can be
expressed in a familiar context. Accordingly, this view suggests the need for
new forms of assessment. Gardner and his colleagues have been working on
versions of new, more authentic assessment tools for the past 8 years. The
results have been mixed. For a critique, the interested reader should see
John Horn. Along with his advisor, Raymond B. Cattell, John Horn has
developed a theory of intelligence that specifies two broad factors, fluid
abilities and crystallized abilities, along with numerous specific factors that
support the general ones. Fluid intelligence represents one's ability to reason
and solve problems in novel or unfamiliar situations. Crystallized intelligence,
on the other hand, indicates the extent to which an individual has attained the
knowledge of a culture. According to Horn (1989), the Gf - Gc theory can also be
thought of as a theory of multiple intelligences because of the relative
independence of fluid and crystallized abilities (characterized by distinctly
separate patterns of covariation). Horn also argues that the expressions of
these abilities "... are outcroppings of distinct influences operating through
development, brain function, genetic determination, and the adjustments,
adaptations, and achievements of school and work." (Horn, 1989, p. 76)
LEARNING AND INTELLECTUAL ABILITIES
development in our understanding of intelligence, is the near universal
agreement among researchers that at least some aspects of our intellectual
abilities depend heavily on our experiential histories. This acknowledgement
should be clear in the three theories summarized above. Each one recognizes the
inseparability of experience from intellectual ability. This position stands in
stark contrast to the one that holds that intelligence tests measure - or ought
to measure - one's innate capacity. Admitting that experience influences one's
performance on an intelligence test severely undermines the innate capacity
notion, unless one adopts the weaker position that intelligence is a measure of
one's innate capacity to learn. In either case, the logical position to assume
is that any theory that attempts to explain individual differences in
intellectual abilities must include a learning subtheory as part of it.
A recent volume edited by Ackerman, Sternberg, and Glaser (1989) presents
several current approaches that integrate information processing theories of
learning with theories of individual differences in abilities. Two widely
acknowledged views have come from Ackerman (e.g., 1993) and Lohman (1989; 1993).
The next two paragraphs briefly summarize these researchers' views.
Phillip Ackerman. Ackerman (1993) has adapted aspects of John R. Anderson's
theory of cognitive skill acquisition (e.g., Anderson, 1983) and coupled it with
a theory of intellectual abilities proposed by Marshalek, Lohman, and Snow
(1983). The integration has produced a hybrid theory which claims that as
learning occurs, intellectual differences are reduced for tasks that have a
consistent problem-solving structure. In contrast, intellectual differences
become magnified for tasks that have variable (novel?) problem-solving
structures. In other words, with practice peoples' intellectual abilities will
be either similar or different, depending on the nature of the mental processes
required to solve different types of problems.
David Lohman. Lohman (1989; 1993) has coupled information processing theories
of learning (e.g., Anderson, 1983) with the Gf - Gc theory (e.g., Horn, 1989) in
order to characterize the relation between learning and intelligence. It has
been known for some time that crystallized intelligence was the product of the
acquisition of knowledge (i.e., experience). However, recently Lohman (1993) has
argued persuasively that fluid intelligence (i.e., the ability to reason in
novel situations) may also be amenable to learning. In fact, he espouses that
schools would benefit from direct instruction and testing of fluid abilities.
CURRENT ISSUES IN THE ASSESSMENT OF INTELLIGENCE(S)
state of affairs with respect to testing intelligence is interesting. Basically,
current practice doesn't match the recommendations being offered by educational
and psychological researchers. One question to be answered is, "Given our
understanding of the nature of intellectual abilities, why do current
intelligence tests remain so popular and the standard form of interpretation so
pervasive?" In a provocative reply, Sternberg (1992) argues that market forces
(i.e., the demands of test consumers) have retarded the development of new, more
appropriate measures of intellectual abilities. He points out that signs of
change are appearing, but until they gain more momentum, current instruments, no
matter how inadequate, will continue to be the standard.
A second question to be answered is, "How can current research inform the
development of new instruments to assess intellectual abilities?" There are two
parts to this answer, each with its own potential contribution. First, while
intelligence tests were originally devised to classify individuals according to
their academic potential, our education system is now faced with an admittedly
diverse set of students who possess a wide range of expressible abilities. One
answer that is emerging from the cognitive analysis of intellectual abilities is
that tests are likely better used for diagnostic purposes (i.e., as assessments
of current functioning so as to inform instructional needs) rather than for
classification. Thus, several researchers (e.g., Gardner & Hacht, 1989)
propose the development of new assessment tools designed for a new purpose.
A second and related answer that is surfacing is that fine-grained cognitive
analyses can be used beneficially to uncover individual differences in the
information processing profiles of students (e.g., Carpenter, Just, & Shell,
1990). A clear and important implication of this work is that such analyses will
eventually lead to dramatic improvement in our ability to assess an individual's
current level of intellectual functioning and to prescribe instructional
interventions that will maximize each individual's potential.
Anderson, J.R. (1983). "The architecture of
cognition." Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ackerman, P.L. (1993). "Learning and individual differences: An
ability/information processing framework for skill acquisition." Final Report,
Contract N00014-89-J-1974, Office of Naval Research, Arlington, VA.
Ackerman, P.L., Sternberg, R.J., & Glaser, R. (Eds.) (1989). "Learning
and individual differences: Advances in theory and research." New York, NY: W.H.
Freeman and Co..
Carpenter, P.A., Just, M.A., & Shell, P. (1990). What one intelligence
test measures: A theoretical account of the processing in the Raven Progressive
Matrices test. "Psychological Review," 97 (3), 404-431.
Gardner, H., & Hatch, T. (1989). Multiple intelligences go to school:
Educational implications of the theory of multiple intelligences. "Educational
Researcher," 18 (8), 4-10.
Horn, J.L. (1989). Cognitive diversity: A framework for learning. In P.L.
Ackerman, R.J. Sternberg, and R. Glaser (Eds.), "Learning and individual
differences: Advances in theory and research," (pgs. 61-116). New York, NY: W.H.
Freeman and Co.
Lohman, D.F. (1989). Human intelligence: An introduction to advances in
theory and research. "Review of Educational Research," 59(4), 333-374.
Lohman, D.F. (1993). Teaching and testing to develop fluid abilities.
"Educational Researcher," 22(7), 12-23.
Marshalek, B., Lohman, D.F., & Snow, R.E. (1983). The complexity
continuum in the radex and hierarchical models of intelligence. "Intelligence,"
Sternberg, R.J. (1985). "Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human
intelligence." New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R.J. (1991). Death, taxes, and bad intelligence tests.
"Intelligence," 15(3), 257-269.
Sternberg, R.J. (1992). Ability tests, measurements, and markets. "Journal of
Educational Psychology," 84(2), 134-140.