Intelligence - Cognitive psychology

Psychology: an introduction (Oxford Southern Africa) - Leslie Swartz 2011

Cognitive psychology

Tshepo Tlali


After studying this chapter you should be able to:

•discuss various theoretical approaches to intelligence

•explain the historical development of intelligence testing

•identify various individual tests used in South Africa

•demonstrate your understanding of racial and cultural issues involved in psychological testing.


Nosipho, like most people, knew something about IQ tests. She had done one at school along with everyone else in her class. She didn’t really understand at the time what the test was going to be used for, but had listened to some of the other kids making jokes about one or two pupils who they were sure would be discovered to be really, really dumb. She had felt a bit nervous doing the test herself, wondering if it would reveal her to be reasonably intelligent or not. In the end, the test had involved some tasks that seemed different to normal school work, but weren’t all that difficult. She never got any results from the test itself, but she imagined her teachers may have seen them because they kept telling her that she was under-achieving. She hadn’t seemed to be able to live up to what they had expected of her. A friend of her father’s had had the opposite problem. He had told her that he had been advised not to go to university because his IQ score was below normal. As it happened, he ignored the advice his school counsellor had given him and successfully completed an engineering degree. Perhaps, Nosipho thought, the tests were not quite as objective and accurate as people thought. She had once overheard some of the teachers at her school suggesting that IQ tests might even be racist — that they had been invented for white people by white people and that they didn’t recognise the different ways that different cultures approached intellectual tasks.

At the same time, Nosipho thought it might be valuable to try and make some sense of the slightly mysterious concept of intelligence. People often made assumptions about who was clever or stupid and maybe if more was understood about these things there wouldn’t be so much negative stereotyping. Also, Nosipho imagined that if you could measure intelligence properly, it might really help teachers direct children to appropriate career paths or understand why a child was struggling with schoolwork. Nosipho’s much younger cousin had been taken to see a psychologist after he had had trouble learning at school. The psychologists did some tests on him — including an IQ test — and helped to diagnose a problem he had in processing visual information. The psychologist had referred the boy to an occupational therapist and he was now doing much better at school. Nosipho thought that in some circumstances it could be helpful to look at a person’s intellectual abilities, provided this was done carefully and sensitively.


All cultures have terms to describe someone as clever or bright, although different cultures often use different criteria to judge these qualities. When we use these terms we are accepting and perpetuating the assumption that there is a difference between individuals’ mental abilities.

Psychologists who study intelligence have taken these everyday distinctions and developed formal theories about the characteristics of intelligence, constructing tests to measure people’s mental abilities. However, in the same way that different cultures have different criteria of what it means to be clever or bright, so psychologists differ in their understanding of intelligence depending on their particular theoretical and conceptual frameworks (see Box 15.1).

The study of intelligence has taken two related but conceptually different roads. One approach has followed a practical agenda of producing reliable tests that measure individual differences in intellect. These tests can be used to obtain a score that can predict behaviour in some sphere of life, for example academic or work performance. This is known as the psychometric approach to intelligence. The second approach is the theoretical approach to intelligence, which has tried to provide answers to the questions of what intelligence is as well as its nature and composition. In this chapter, these two themes are examined separately. However, at the end of this chapter, we consider how to use the theories to make sense of some of the test findings. But first let us look at some international and national milestones in the conceptualisation and the development of intelligence tests.


Over the more than 100 years of intelligence research, there have been many attempts to clarify and understand exactly what intelligence is. One approach is to try to define it. Intelligence has been defined by different people as

•’the tendency to take and maintain a definite direction; the capacity to make adaptations for the purpose of attaining a desired end; and the power of autocriticism’ (Binet in Sattler, 1992, p. 45)

•’mental activity involved in purposive adaptation to, shaping of, and selection of real-world environments relevant to one’s life’ (Sternberg, 1984, p. 312)

•’the global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, think rationally and deal effectively with the environment’ (Wechsler, 1975, in Snowman & McCown, 2011, p, 114)

•’a biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture’ (Gardner, 1999, pp. 33—34).

While defining intelligence remains a problem (Sternberg, Kaufmann & Grigorenko, 2008), all the approaches treat intelligence as a hypothetical construct referring to some mental capacity, power or process linked to actual performance. Sternberg et al. (2008) focus on how people apply their intellectual abilities in the real world.

A brief history of intelligence testing in Europe, the US and South Africa

An interest in intelligence testing can be traced back to the latter part of the 19th century. At this time the British mathematician, Sir Francis Galton (1822—1911), conducted pioneering work to develop the statistics that are required for the measurement of intelligence. He is regarded as the father of the testing movement.

However, it is the American psychologist, James M. Cattell (1860—1944), who coined the term ’mental test’. He worked under the German experimental psychologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832—1920), and believed that general laws of behaviour could be established by examining the differences in mental operations among individuals. He proposed that mental abilities could be measured objectively through formalised testing (Ittenbach, Esters & Wainer, 1997).

At the turn of the 20th century, when the French government opened public schools to every child, Alfred Binet (1857—1911), Victor Henri (1872—1940) and Theodore Simon (1873—1961) were commissioned to develop a scale to identify those children who had the ability to benefit from formal education. Prior to their work, intelligence was seen as sensitivity of perception. Binet and his colleagues took a different view by arguing that the measurement of intelligence should focus on higher mental processes (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). They regarded the ability to reason, draw analogies and identify patterns as central to intelligence. In 1905 they developed the Binet-Simon Scale, which reflected the age-based cognitive development of these abilities. This scale tried to objectively identify degrees of mental ability, and it became the prototype of many subsequent scales. In the US, Lewis Terman from Stanford University adapted the test and published it as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.

Their work had a major impact on psychology. Jenkins and Paterson (in Sattler, 1992, p. 81) state that ’probably no psychological innovation has had more impact on the societies of the Western world than the development of the Binet-Simon Scale’. There was, however, some discontent with the age-scale format that gave scores for each age group. An alternative format was developed, called the point-scale format; this approach awards points to each item in the test. That meant that similar items could be grouped together according to their content and this opened the way for a test consisting of an overall score as well as scores for sub-tests/content areas. This approach forms the basis for contemporary testing.

Which answer fits in the missing space to complete the pattern?


Figure 15.1 An example of a question in the Stanford-Binet test

Another important figure in the history of intelligence testing is David Wechsler. In the US, he constructed three important tests: the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) in 1949; the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) in 1955; and the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) in 1967 (Ittenbach et al., 1997). These have formed the basis for many other tests, including some of those used in South Africa. Wechsler believed that intelligence was a unitary trait and could best be explained through performance over a wide range of intellectual activities (see Figure 15.2). Like the Binet-Simon Scale, the Wechsler scales were not based on any theoretical considerations; they merely provided the clinician with information needed for service delivery. The historical development of psychological testing in South Africa followed a similar pattern to that in Europe and the US. According to Foxcroft and Roodt (2009), the early psychological tests in South Africa were adaptations of overseas psychological measures. For example, C. Louis Leopoldt and J.M. Moll took the Binet-Simon Scale and standardised it on 1 400 pupils from the then Transvaal.

The following scales are currently used in South Africa to assess the intellectual functioning of different age groups:

•The Junior South African Individual Scale (JSAIS) assesses the intellectual functioning of children between the ages of three and seven years.


Figure 15.2 The components of Wechsler’s Adult Intelligence Scale

•For children of school-going age, the Senior South African Individual Scale — Revised (SSAIS-R) assesses the intellectual abilities of children from roughly eight to 17 years (see Box 15.2). An alternative is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV) (ages six to 16 years). The WISC-IV yields an overall IQ score, as well as scores on four index scales.

•The Wechsler Adult Individual Scale (WAIS-IV) covers all age groups between 17 and 65 years. The WAIS-III was standardised for South African use and recently, Shuttleworth-Edwards (2012) argued that the WAIS-IV could be used with educationally disadvantaged South Africans, with a cautious application of the local WAIS-III norms.


The Senior South African Individual Scale — Revised (SSAIS-R) aims to obtain a measure of general intellectual ability in order to predict scholastic achievement and to diagnose specific problems (Owen, 1998). Introduced in 1991, it continues to be ’widely used, mainly because of a lack of alternatives in terms of locally normed tests’ (Cockcroft, 2013, p. 49). The SSAIS-R consists of verbal and non-verbal sub-tests. There are five verbal sub-tests and an optional sixth sub-test, as follows:

Vocabulary: measures verbal intelligence, verbal concepts ability and receptive language development

Comprehension: measures comprehension of social situations and judgement based on knowledge and use of conventional rules

Similarities: measures verbal concept formation on a concrete perceptual level, and abstract reasoning

Number problems: measures numerical reasoning and the logical-analytical and deductive reasoning underlying this ability

Story memory: measures attention and short-term auditory memory for meaningful verbal learning material

Memory for digits (optional): measures attention, concentration, working memory and auditory short-term memory for numerical symbols

There are four non-verbal sub-tests and an optional fifth sub-test, as follows:

Pattern completion: measures visual concentration, nonverbal concept formation, as well as deductive and inductive reasoning ability

Block design: measures the ability to visualise and reason in terms of spatial relationships

Missing parts: measures the visualisation of reality situations and concrete reality testing

Form board: measures visual organisation and integration, concept formation and visual-perceptual speed in discerning relationships between parts

Coding (optional): measures cognitive functions involved in learning unfamiliar tasks and applying what has been learned.

The SSAIS-R was initially constructed for Afrikaans and English-speaking white, coloured and Indian learners between the ages of seven and 16 years. A socio-economic disadvantage scale, named the SED questionnaire, has to be used in all the cases where such disadvantage is suspected. (Interestingly, the designers of this scale argue that the term ’intelligence’ only applies in those cases where no disadvantage has been detected.) The differences in scores for disadvantaged learners increase across the age groups; it is argued that this is due to the cumulative effects of disadvantage (Cockcroft, 2013).

The Individual Scale for Zulu/Xhosa/North-Sotho/Sesotho/Tswana-speaking learners has been standardised for black children in their home languages (Owen & Taljaard, 1995). This scale uses the same nine sub-scales of the SSAIS-R, but in addition has a mazes sub-test.

Cockcroft (2013, p. 57) notes that although the SSAIS-R is psychometrically sound, it is based on a ’dated theoretical model’, unlike newer tests like the WISC-IV.


•The concept of intelligence is present in all cultures, although what is considered to be intelligent varies across cultures.

•Western psychologists have developed formal theories about the characteristics of intelligence and constructed tests to measure people’s mental abilities.

•The psychometric approach to intelligence has attempted to produce reliable tests that measure individual differences in intellect.

•The theoretical approach to intelligence has tried to understand intelligence in terms of its nature and composition.

•Interest in intelligence testing rose in the 1800s with the work of Galton and Cattell.

•Around 1900, the Binet-Simon Scale was published. This reflected the age-based cognitive development of the ability to reason, draw analogies and identify patterns. Discontent with the age-scale format led to the development of tests using a point-scale format. This approach is the basis of contemporary tests.

•Perhaps the most enduring person in the history of intelligence testing is David Wechsler. Versions of his tests are still in wide use today (e.g. WISC-IV; WAIS-IV).

•Wechsler believed that intelligence was a unitary trait and could best be explained through performance over a wide range of intellectual activities.

•Like the Binet-Simon Scale, the Wechsler scales were not based on any theoretical considerations; they merely provided the clinician with information needed for service delivery.

•Scales currently used in South Africa to assess the intellectual functioning of different age groups include the Junior South African Individual Scale (JSAIS); the Senior South African Individual Scale — Revised (SSAIS-R); the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV); and the Wechsler Adult Individual Scale (WAIS-IV).

The measurement of intelligence

When measuring intelligence, the challenge is to produce an index that indicates intellectual functioning. It is not adequate to describe a person by their score on a test. It is necessary to compare this score with the scores of other people of a comparable background. For example, if Manoke scores 80 out of a 100, this might appear to be a good score, but if everyone else in his class scores 90 out of 100, we could not say Manoke was brighter than everyone else. So how do psychologists establish an index of intelligence?

Binet used the idea of mental age (MA) as an index for the intellectual capacity of children. The Binet-Simon test was devised so that for each age group, an average child from that age group could just complete all the items in their age group’s set of question. This index is useful because if a child has a mental age that is higher than their chronological age (CA), then that child can be said to be functioning at a higher mental level than their peers. Conversely, if a child has an MA that is lower than their CA, then that child can be said to be functioning at a lower mental level than their peers. A one-year deficit in development in a three-year-old implies a greater level of developmental delay than does a one-year deficit in a ten-year-old.

In 1912, Stern developed the concept of an intelligence quotient (IQ) (Maloney & Ward, 1976). He argued that the ratio of MA to CA would provide a better index of mental functioning. The formula for the computation of this ratio became established as the following:


According to this formula, an eight-year-old child with an MA of eight years obtains an IQ of 100. The same child would receive an IQ of 50 if his/her MA was four, or 150 if his/her MA was 12. On the basis of this ratio, an IQ of 100 can be regarded as the average IQ for a child of any age.

However, the IQ ratio is problematic as an index for adult intelligence. Research has shown that scores of intellectual ability do not increase after about the age of 16. This means that a person’s MA will remain constant after the age of 16 but, as their CA increases, that person’s IQ scores will progressively go down, giving the impression that older adults have severe mental deficits. Wechsler resolved this problem by proposing that the ratio method should be replaced by a deviation method (Maloney & Ward, 1976). This has become the basis for calculating IQ scores for most contemporary tests.

In the deviation method, a distribution of scores of a representative sample of people is obtained. If it is a test for children, there will representative samples of children for each age group. The test scores are recalculated using these distributions so that the average score for each group becomes 100 and every score is converted to represent a deviation from this mean (hence the term ’deviation method’). This approach enables a score on a test to be converted to an IQ score with a mean of 100 so that it is possible to compare all individuals on the same standard. The deviation IQ therefore gives the relative position of a person compared to their peers. Figure 15.3 shows that just over two-thirds of people (68.26 per cent) have IQs that are within 15 IQ points of the average (100). Table 15.1 shows how IQ scores have come to be classified in terms of the description of intellect.


Figure 15.3 The distribution of IQ scores

As suggested above, using the deviation method requires that every intelligence test has age-based norms. These are tables of values that can be used to convert a person’s score on the test to a standard IQ score. The tables reflect the distribution of scores for particular age groups. These tables are established during the development of an intelligence test. In this stage, the test is taken by a large sample, which is representative of a particular population, so that these norms can be established for this population. This process is called standardisation. When a test is used to assess intellectual functioning, it is crucial that the person’s score be compared against appropriate norms. Failure to do this invalidates the findings.

Table 15.1 The classification of IQ scores according to the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (

IQ score

Descriptive categories


Very superior




High average




Low average



Below 70

Extremely low

An interesting aspect of IQ scores is how they have changed globally in the developed world over time (Cockcroft, 2013). Neisser (1998) argues that IQ scores have been rising all over the developed world. Why might this be? Are people genuinely becoming more intelligent? These gains are known as the ’Flynn Effect’ after the researcher who documented them in the 1980s. However, Flynn (1998, p. 61) argues that these IQ gains ’have not been accompanied by an escalation of the real-world cognitive skills usually associated with IQ’. Flynn suggests that some of these gains may be the result of improved testtaking strategies and test familiarity, as well as nutritional improvements; however, more research, using new strategies, is needed to try to determine the reasons for these well-documented rises in IQ.

We might also ask if IQ changes across the life span. The research seems to show that as people age, their general intelligence remains stable (if you are clever at 18, you will probably be clever at 58). However, your ability to think rapidly and flexibly declines with age (Deary, 2001). The underlying mechanism for this seems to be a distinction made by the Cattell-Horn theory between fluid and crystallised intelligence (Nisbett et al., 2012; Sternberg et al., 2008). Crystallised intelligence refers to the knowledge that a person has learned through their lifespan; this does not decline in old age. Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, refers to a person’s ability to handle novel situations (Nisbett et al., 2012; Sternberg et al., 2008). Older people can do some things that help slow this decline, including regular puzzle solving, being involved in a stimulating environment and living with a partner with a high mental ability (Deary, 2001).

Uses of intelligence tests

Obtaining an index of intellectual capacity is of little use if this index is not able to predict performance or achievement in some other aspect of life. Maloney and Ward (1976) argue that a test possesses predictive validity if it can be shown to correlate with a prescribed set of socially defined success criteria. Thus if it can be shown that people with above-average IQ scores are more likely to get university degrees without failing a course, then IQ is predictive of university success.

This is one way in which intelligence tests are used. In line with Binet’s approach, intelligence tests are still widely used to provide information to guide the decision making of parents, educators and other professionals (Owen, 1998). Information gained from individual intellectual tests is used to assess such issues as:


•the need for appropriate remedial programmes for learners with learning problems

•the choice of specialised educational programmes for a child.

A second way in which intelligence tests are used is to assist in diagnostic processes. Some tests, such as the WAIS and SSAIS-R, can provide useful clinical hypotheses concerning the person’s organic, emotional and psychological status (Flanagan, Genshaft & Harrison, 1997; Nell, 2000). These tests consist of a number of subscales (see Box 15.2). Discrepancies in performance across these sub-scales as well as patterns in the scatter of scores can indicate problems. Thus, for example, large differences between scores on the verbal and non-verbal sub-scales may help identify, along with other forms of assessment, organic problems in the brain.

It should be noted that there is a distinction between the practical utility and the scientific validity of IQ tests (Lezak, Howieson, Bigler & Tranel, 2012). Many tests were developed for specific practical purposes rather than to verify a theory of intelligence. The following sections outline more theoretical approaches.


•When measuring intelligence, it is difficult to produce an index or score that indicates intellectual functioning. Scores on tests need to be compared with the scores of other people of a comparable background.

•Mental age (MA) was used by Binet as an index for the intellectual capacity of children. This allowed for a comparison with chronological age to assess the child against his/her peers.

•The concept of the intelligence quotient (IQ) formalised the ratio of MA to CA. IQ is MA divided by CA, times 100. On the basis of this ratio, an IQ of 100 can be regarded as the average IQ for a child of any age.

•This IQ ratio does not work for adults, as their MA remains stable as their CA continues to increase. Wechsler resolved this by proposing a deviation method to replace the ratio method.

•The deviation method uses the distribution of scores of a representative sample of the people to be tested. The mean test scores are set at 100 and all other scores are converted to represent a deviation from this mean. This makes it possible to compare all individuals on the same standard.

•Using the deviation method in tests for children means that age-based norms must be established. This process is known as the standardisation of the test.

•Intelligence tests are used to predict performance or achievement in some area of life (e.g. school-readiness, remedial/educational programmes), as well as in diagnosis of organic problems in the brain.

Theories of intelligence

There are many theories of intelligence. This section will start by describing the earliest theories (psychometric and cognitive) and then go on to consider eclectic and learning potential theories, as well as emotional intelligence.

Psychometric theories of intelligence

Psychometric theories of intelligence have been constructed from the psychometric approach to intelligence testing, which has been outlined in the preceding sections. This approach has focused on describing the structure of intelligence by examining the relationships between the different kinds of mental abilities. To measure these, psychologists administer many kinds of tests and then conduct a statistical analysis, called a factor analysis, on the results. This procedure gathers similar abilities together and these clusters of abilities are called factors. These factors are then used to construct the sub-tests within psychological tests. It is assumed that each factor is measuring a different aspect of intelligence.

Psychometric theories have sparked a debate about whether intelligence is a general capacity or many different abilities. Charles Spearman, a British psychologist working at the beginning of the last century, noticed that if learners did well in one subject, they often also did well in others. Spearman argued that intelligence consisted of two factors: a general intelligence and specific intelligence (Sattler, 2002). General intelligence, called g, is a general capacity for applying one’s intellect across a range of experiences and situations (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). Spearman argued that people who possess a high general intelligence are usually successful across differing activities. For example, they may be good at both languages and science. With further research, he found that some people possess specific kinds of ability that enable them to excel in particular activities but not others. He called this kind of specific intelligence, s. Performance on any particular task would include a mixture of g and s.

In contrast, in the 1930s an American psychologist called Thurstone identified seven primary mental abilities in his factor analysis of test scores (Thurstone, 1931). His research, therefore, did not support the idea of g, but instead supported the existence of a range of special abilities, such as verbal comprehension as opposed to reasoning.

One problem with psychometric theories is that they are constructed based on how people perform on particular tests. This is limiting, because what goes into the tests will determine what is discovered. Psychometric theories, therefore, are as much a reflection of the way the tests have been constructed as they are of the actual underlying nature of intelligence.

A second challenge to the psychometric approach concerns the static nature of the measurement process. Many psychometric tests measure a person’s performance on one test completed at one moment in time. They are, therefore, not sensitive to intelligence as a dynamic process. (The learning potential approach attempts to address this issue.)

Cognitive theories of intelligence

Unlike the psychometric approach, which describes how people differ from each other in terms of their intellectual abilities, the cognitive theories of intelligence try to answer the question of why people differ in this way. These theories investigate the ways people take in and process information (see descriptions of information processing in other chapters in this section). A brief look at Sternberg’s theory of intelligence highlights the cognitive approach to intelligence.

Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence (1984) focuses on how people process and control information. It is called the ’triarchic’ theory because it contains three components which describe different dimensions of information processing, as follows (see Figure 15.4):

Metacomponents are the higher-order, executive processes used in planning, monitoring and evaluating performance (Sattler, 2002).

Performance components are the processes involved in the execution of a given task, which has been conceptualised or planned by the metacomponent (Sternberg, 1997).

Knowledge acquisition components are involved in learning and storing new information.


Figure 15.4 Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence

Sternberg also argued that there are different kinds of intellectual competence which respond to different environmental demands (Cianciolo & Sternberg, 2004). He felt that these function together to allow the person to be successful in a particular sociocultural context. The three types of intellectual competence are as follows:

Analytical competence is comparable to the traditional notions of intelligence; it allows the person to evaluate, compare and contrast information.

Practical competence allows the person to apply appropriately what they know in a particular setting such that they can successfully manage everyday demands. An interesting example of practical intelligence is demonstrated in the work of Serpell (1994) in Box 15.3.

Creative competence concerns those aspects of intelligence involved in handling new tasks and situations (Sattler, 2002).

People who are most successful in life make the best use of their unique set of competences while also working on areas of weakness. A person’s set of competences will also impact on his/her career choice and subsequent success (Cianciolo & Sternberg, 2004).

Sternberg’s approach makes an important contribution to the study of intelligence because it argues that people can be intelligent in different ways, and that everyday intelligent behaviour is an important aspect of intelligence. Sternberg’s idea of contextual intelligence encourages sensitivity to intelligence in multicultural societies, such as South Africa. Sternberg also believes that all three intellectual competences should be taught in schools.

Eclectic theories of intelligence

Eclectic theories of intelligence draw ideas from many different approaches to cognition.

One problem with traditional views of intelligence is that it entails mental competence. Howard Gardner proposed a theory called the multiple-intelligence theory which represents a broader view of intelligence.

Gardner’s idea of intelligence focuses on the value of problem solving or creativity in its cultural context (Sternberg et al., 2008). Like Thurstone, Gardner argued that there is more than one form of intelligence, but he goes beyond the description of scores to seek evidence for different intelligences. He originally identified seven core intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal (Gardner, 1993). In 2000, Gardner added naturalistic intelligence and also considered adding existential intelligence (the ability to consider the meaning of life) (Gardner, 1999).

The first three core intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial) are similar to what is assessed in psychometric tests (see Box 15.2). The other five are different. Musical intelligence involves the ability to perceive understanding pitch, rhythm, and timbre, and to understand and manipulate musical symbols. Bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence involves the abilities used in skilled movements such as dancing or athletics. Interpersonal intelligence refers to the ability to understand others and relationships. Intrapersonal intelligence refers to a person’s ability to understand and have insight into their own behaviour. Naturalistic intelligence refers to a greater connectivity to nature, the ability to grow things and interact with animals, and the capability to recognise and classify different species.

Gardner argued that these core intelligences are largely autonomous. Each has particular information-processing capacities, problem-solving features and developmental trajectories. As a result, assessment should be designed to examine the cognitive potential or competence in each of these intelligences.

The multiple-intelligence theory also implies that the development of intelligences may proceed at different rates and individuals can display an uneven profile of abilities across intelligences. According to Gardner, assessment should be sensitive to what individuals are capable of accomplishing.


Source: Serpell (1994, p. 160)

Researchers sampled two contrasting, low-income neighbour-hoods (one in Lusaka, Zambia, and the other in Manchester, England) to test the hypothesis that environment plays a pivotal role in moulding our intelligence. Eight-year-old boys and girls were asked to reproduce a standard pattern, such as a square with diagonals, a human figure, or a flower. In the drawing version of the task, the child was given a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and asked to copy a printed standard. In the wire-modelling task, the child was handed a strip of wire and asked to make a model just like a standard wire model. The researchers also administered a clay-modelling version of the same task, which they predicted would be of equal difficulty for both samples, since many Zambian children make models from natural clay during the rainy season, and many English children play with industrially produced modelling clay. As the researchers had predicted, the English children performed significantly better on the drawing task, the Zambian children performed much better on the wire-modelling task, and there was no group difference on the clay-modelling task.

Although Gardner’s theory offers an interesting alternative and, in the context of South Africa, opens up the promise of greater sensitivity to differing intelligences arising out of different contexts, it has a number of limitations:

•It is not clear why particular core intelligences are singled out. Why, for example, is musical ability a core intelligence and not an ability or skill? Why are other forms of intelligence (e.g. religiosity) not considered as intelligence?

•It argues against the idea of g, which many psychologists have come to accept underlies all forms of cognition.

•It has been suggested that naturalistic intelligence is not so much an intelligence as an interest.

The learning potential theories of intelligence

The psychometric approach views intelligence as a relatively fixed capacity. Intelligence tests measure this capacity in a static way; a person has an opportunity to demonstrate how they think by responding to a standardised test at one moment in time. Starting from a developmental perspective, however, with a focus on the changing nature of thought, a very different view of intelligence emerges. From this perspective, it is not what has been achieved that is important, but rather the potential to develop achievement that is given priority. The learning potential theories of intelligence treat intelligence as the potential for change rather than some fixed capacity.

This idea is captured in Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development (see Chapter 3). This zone is the gap that exists between what learners can achieve unassisted and what they can potentially achieve with the assistance of another person (Vygotsky, 1978). The potential that individuals have concerns how they gain from the way others mediate their experience for them.

From this view, the measurement of intelligence should focus on how people can respond to interventions or opportunities to improve their performance, rather than on a normative test (Haywood & Lidz, 2007). Unlike psychometric tests, which are based on achievement and assume that subjects have had equal opportunities to learn, learning potential approaches employ psycho-educational assessment procedures that follow a pretest— intervention—post-test format (Haywood & Lidz, 2007).

Feuerstein’s mediated learning (Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman & Miller, 1980) is an example of this approach. After World War II, thousands of war orphans and young immigrants from over 70 countries were sent to Israel. By traditional measures of intelligence, the majority of these children appeared to be extremely low functioning. Feuerstein and colleagues argued, however, that this was due to the traumatic experiences these young people had experienced and the lack of adequate mediation due to the context of the war, rather than due to inherent cognitive abilities. Feuerstein conducted numerous studies to demonstrate that task-specific training designed to promote metacomponential thinking, among other things, could change performance so that these children could achieve normal levels of cognitive development (Feuerstein, 2002). He argues that a lack of mediated learning experience is the most important cause of retarded performance in children.

Bradbury and Zingel (1998) have demonstrated the effectiveness of mediated learning in South Africa by facilitating peer interaction within a sample of primary school children from diverse cultural backgrounds. An example of a dynamic assessment using the ideas of the learning potential approach is given in Box 15.4.

Theories of emotional intelligence

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences included the notion of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. These are aspects of emotional intelligence. John Mayer and Peter Salovey (1990) developed the first formal theory of emotional intelligence (EI). They defined EI as ’the capacity to reason about emotions, and of emotions to enhance thinking’ (Mayer & Salovey, 1997 in Mayer, Salovey & Caruso, 2004, p. 197). Salovey et al. (2004) say that EI includes the ability to accurately perceive emotions and to use emotional knowledge for growth. There are four areas of EI ability, described by Mayer et al. (2004) as the four-branch model:

•the ability to perceive emotion (e.g. to ’read’ the emotional expressions of others)

•the ability to use emotion to facilitate thought (e.g. to solve an interpersonal problem in the workplace)

•the ability to understand emotions (e.g. to understand how basic emotions make up more complex ones)

•the ability to manage emotion (e.g. how to change one’s emotions to facilitate harmony).

These four branches form the basis for the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). EI theory argues that people who have emotional intelligence are more successful in their personal and working lives. They form stronger emotional bonds with others, are able to maintain a greater sense of emotional stability and cope better with life’s challenges.

The theory of EI has received various criticisms (see, for example, Waterhouse, 2006). These have included that the EI construct is not clear (there are different versions of it) and that there is insufficient research evidence of the relationship between EI and real-world success. These criticisms have been answered in an article by Cherniss, Extein, Goleman and Weissberg (2006), who argue that there are various constructs of EI because the field is young and growing dynamically. Cherniss et al. (2006) also provide considerable evidence supporting links between EI and workplace success, in particular. Daniel Goleman (1995) expanded the Mayer and Salovey model, and used the term EQ for his construct of emotional intelligence. Goleman identified five main constructs: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy and motivation. As with other models of emotional intelligence, Goleman’s model has also been criticised for being too broadly defined and for not actually being a form of intelligence (Locke, 2005).


•The psychometric approach describes the structure of intelligence by examining the relationships between the different kinds of mental abilities. Results from multiple tests are statistically analysed using factor analysis; the resulting factors form the basis for the sub-tests.

•There has been much debate about whether intelligence is a general capacity or different abilities. Spearman said that intelligence consisted of two factors: a general intelligence and specific intelligence. In contrast, Thurstone identified seven primary mental abilities in his factor analysis of test scores.

•The psychometric approach is limited by the test content and they measure intelligence as a static entity.

•The cognitive theories of intelligence try to answer the question of why people differ in intellectual ability; they investigate how people take in and process information.

•Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence contains three components of information processing: metacomponents, performance components and knowledge acquisition components.

•Sternberg also argued that there are three types of intellectual competence: analytical, practical and creative; these allow the person to be successful in a particular sociocultural context.

•The cognitive approach contributed the idea that people can be intelligent in different ways, as well as the importance of everyday intelligent behaviour.

•Eclectic theories draw ideas from many different approaches to cognition.

•Howard Gardner proposed multiple-intelligence theory which represents mental and other aspects of intelligence; he focused on the value of problem solving and creativity in their cultural context.

•Gardner originally identified seven core intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal, later adding one more (naturalistic) and considering another (existential).

•Gardner’s theory has been critiqued for not indicating why these particular intelligences have been selected rather than others; the theory also argues against the widely accepted idea of g.

•The learning potential theories of intelligence treat intelligence as the potential for change rather than some fixed capacity.

•Vygotsky saw this process of learning/change as occurring in the zone of proximal development.

•The learning potential approach says that the measurement of intelligence should focus on how people respond to interventions rather than on normative tests (which assume that subjects have had equal opportunities to learn).

•Feuerstein’s mediated learning is an example of the learning potential approach; this theory argues that a lack of mediated learning experience is the most important cause of retarded performance in children.

•Mayer and Salovey developed the first formal theory of emotional intelligence (EI). Their model has four branches: the ability to (1) perceive emotion, (2) use emotion to facilitate thought, (3) understand emotion and (4) manage emotion.

•EI theory argues that people who have emotional intelligence are more successful in their personal and working lives.

•EI theory has been criticised for being an unclear construct and having a lack of research evidence; however, this is a young and growing area of intelligence theory.

•Goleman expanded the EI model, using the term ’EQ’ for his construct of emotional intelligence.


Neo was a 10-year-old boy who had a number of behavioural problems, including conduct difficulties, an oppositional, defiant attitude, stubbornness and poor interpersonal behaviour. According to his maternal grandmother, Neo had never attended any formal schooling except for the three months he had spent in Grade 1 a little more than 18 months previously. Neo had been living with his maternal grandparents since he was three-and-a-half months old. His biological mother left him in the care of her sickly parents and contributed nothing (materially or otherwise) for him. He lived in a rural area. His grandparents were uneducated and very poor, and struggled to make ends meet. His main chore in the family was to look after his grandfather’s cattle, and he vehemently refused to do anything else. He disliked everything that had to do with school and was teased by his peers for being the only child in the village who did not go to school. He seldom played with other children because he often got into physical fights with them.

In sessions with Neo, a thorough emotional and intellectual assessment was made using numerous psychological tests such as the SSAIS-R, the Draw-a-Person test (DAP), the Kinetic Family Drawing (KFD) and the Beery test. Both his SSAIS-R and DAP fullscale IQ were around 61, which was extremely low. The Beery test indicated that his mental age was three-and-a-half years below his chronological age. In his KFD, he drew only himself, omitting the rest of the family members, which possibly indicated a sense of not belonging in that family.

Initially during the sessions, Neo was uncooperative and resistant to most activities. He showed little interest, appeared anxious and exhibited a negative attitude towards being tested. But after a few sessions, when the therapeutic support was fully established, Neo started engaging in a number of activities such as reading, drawing and completing different puzzles. These activities allowed the tester to model suitable behaviour and/or appropriate ways of approaching certain activities for him. The tester modelled how to draw a human figure, and how to do some arithmetic, reading and spelling exercises.

In the seventh session, Neo did a post-test of all the tests mentioned above (except the KFD) and his scores had improved drastically. His SSAIS-R’s full-scale score was around 78 and his IQ estimate on the DAP was now 87. Apart from changes in the tests scores, there was a tremendous improvement in his adaptive functioning skills. His attitude towards school had changed and he was looking forward to starting school the following year.

The issues of race and culture in intelligence testing

From the time intelligence tests were developed through to the present day, there has been evidence that there are racial and cultural differences in measured cognitive abilities as determined by performance on tests (Sternberg et al., 2008). The italicised part of the sentence is important, as the following section will reveal. The challenge for psychologists studying this construct is how to understand these differences (Gopaul-McNicol & Armour-Thomas, 2002). A great deal of controversial research and argument surrounds this issue (Nisbett et al., 2012). The argument primarily relates to whether or not one believes that differences in intellectual ability are innate or the result of environmental influences. Famous theorists who believed that these differences are innate include Arthur Jensen, and Herrnstein and Murray (1994). To help address this argument, we need to consider whether intelligence tests reflect real differences in intellect across cultures. To be able to answer this, we have to be sure of a number of things:

•The test must be reliable. Reliability concerns whether or not a person tested on different occasions would receive the same score. In other words, how consistent is a person’s score? Without some confidence that a test is reliable, we cannot be sure that intelligence is being measured accurately. (See Chapter 6 for an in-depth discussion of reliability.)

•The test must have construct validity, which concerns whether a test relates to the hypothetical construct it is measuring. If the assumption was that a test measures g, but in fact it is measuring only one specific ability, then the test would be invalid. If the norm tables used in a test do not represent that person’s background, this would also make the results invalid. (See Chapter 6 for an in-depth discussion of validity.)

•The test must have face validity, which concerns whether the assumptions that have been made about the nature of intelligence are appropriate for the particular culture or group being studied. Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences and Sternberg’s contextual intelligence suggest that intelligence will be influenced by what abilities are promoted and supported in different settings. If a test is measuring a specific ability, for example musical ability, but this is not one highly regarded in the particular setting, then the test would have limited validity for that culture.

The test must have content validity. This relates to whether the content of the test includes representative samples of whatever aspects are being measured (Foxcroft & Roodt, 2009). For example, if a test is of verbal intelligence, it needs to cover all aspects of verbal ability. If a particular subgroup has not had the same opportunities to learn or master the content, then there is content validity bias and/or item selection bias. Many of the tests in current use in South Africa show these kinds of biases. For example, Cockcroft (2013) notes that the content of the SSAIS-R is based on Western cultural knowledge, making it invalid for those children not familiar with this knowledge.

This raises an important issue about testing and culture. Can any test be regarded as free of cultural influences? The idea of a culture-free test comes from the assumption that a test measures some basic fixed capacity. Thus, Anastasi (1990, p. 357) refers to culture-free testing as the ’efforts by psychologists to develop psychological tests that would measure hereditary intellectual potential independently of the influence of cultural backgrounds’. It is generally accepted now that attempts to develop a culture-free test are futile. Two strong arguments can be given for this:

•Developments in genetics have revealed that heredity and environmental factors operate jointly at all stages of the organism’s development, and so their effects are inextricably intertwined and cannot be separated (Owen, 1998).

•Intelligence tests do not generally access this underlying hereditary ability.

If we are unable to develop culture-free tests, then the alternative is to ensure the tests are at least culturally fair. Culture-fair tests are those that focus on experiences that are common to different cultures and eliminate cultural bias and prejudice. In developing culture-fair tests, the items in the test should not favour or disadvantage individuals from different cultures. For example, an item that asks, ’Who is the vice-president of the United States of America?’ would favour citizens of that country, and disadvantage citizens of South Africa. However, fairness is more complex than this. For example, Cattell’s Culture Fair Intelligence Test uses verbal instruction and so may be difficult (and unfair!) for children whose first language is not English (Gopaul-McNicol & Armour-Thomas, 2002).

Consider again the research in Box 15.3. The actual materials used for the task had a profound and different impact on the performance of the children from Britain and Zambia. Some forms enhanced their performance, other forms lowered their performance. This shows that the nature of the task must be culturally fair. More is needed than this, however. The whole context of the assessment must be considered. For example, a person not familiar with being tested in the company of an expert who reads out instructions and expects the task to be done silently in a closed room and away from friends (the normal conditions for intelligence testing) is likely to be anxious. Can this be regarded as a culturally fair assessment? The ideas of the learning potential theorists are relevant here. They would argue that in such circumstances it is what people learn from such situations rather than the assessment itself that might be more informative of their intellect.

So, when differences on scores are found across cultures, do these reflect real differences in intellect across those cultures? It would only be possible to say ’yes’ to this question if we were certain that the test was reliable, had construct, face and content validity, and that both the test and the circumstances surrounding the testing were culturally fair to the people being tested. These are very difficult conditions to satisfy perfectly.

South Africa has a history of using tests improperly so as to draw invalid conclusions (Nzimande, 1995). For example, Fick (1929) administered individual measures of motor and reasoning abilities, which had been standardised for white children, to large samples of African (black), coloured, Indian and white school children. He found that the mean score of African children was inferior to that of Indian and coloured children, with the white children having a mean score superior to all groups. He attributed the inferior performance of African children to innate differences. Although these findings were strongly disputed by Biesheuvel (1943), Fick’s findings stood and served as an important impetus for the formulation of the notorious Bantu Education Act of 1953. This particular instance clearly indicates the inappropriate use of psychological testing because the instrument used was not standardised for African, Indian and coloured children.

To date, most tests have been developed in particular settings for particular people. In South Africa, the focus has been mainly on literate, schooled people who have English or Afrikaans as their home language. Clearly, a lot more research needs to be done on intelligence and its measurement in South Africa, and great care must be taken in understanding the cultural dynamics around testing. The theories of intelligence, however, provide rich and useful ways of giving direction to this research.


An extreme case of people who believed that characteristics and traits are primarily inherited was to be found in the eugenics movement. The term was coined by Francis Galton. Eugenics is the belief that the human population can be improved by various means. These included promoting reproduction of people who have desired traits (e.g. high intelligence), limiting reproduction of those with least desired traits (e.g. mental retardation) and, at its most extreme, ending life (e.g. euthanasia of the disabled) (Levine & Bashford, 2010).

Eugenics grew from about 1880 and reached a peak in the 1920s. Its basic assumption was that some human life is more valuable (for the public good) than other human life; therefore, according to Galton, human reproduction had to be planned and managed (Levine & Bashford, 2010).

The eugenics movement reached its depths in the Nazi regime in Germany. Not only were Jewish people destroyed, but also gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled. Eugenics policies present clear violations of human rights, especially as they relate to reproduction, and they are also open to political manipulation and abuse.


•It is clear that there are racial and cultural differences in measured cognitive abilities, as shown by test performance. Do these tests reflect real differences in intellect across cultures? To answer these questions, several aspects of the test and the testing context must be considered.

•The test’s reliability must be assessed to see if it produces consistent scores.

•The test must have construct validity: it must measure what it says it measures. The test norms must also be representative of the test-taker’s background.

•The test must have face validity: the assumptions made about the nature of intelligence must be appropriate for the particular culture or group being studied.

•The test must have content validity: the test must cover a representative sample of what is being measured. Item selection bias must be avoided.

•The test should be culture free. However, this is virtually impossible because hereditary and environmental factors are so intertwined that they cannot be separated.

•At least the test should be culture fair. It should not have items which favour or disadvantage individuals from different cultures. In addition, attention should be paid to the test-taker’s familiarity with the testing context.

•South Africa has a history of using tests improperly so as to draw invalid conclusions. Most tests have been developed for literate, schooled people who have English or Afrikaans as their home language. More research needs to be done on intelligence and its measurement in South Africa, and great care must be taken in understanding the cultural dynamics around testing.


While the idea of intelligence has been around since time immemorial, it is still a subject of debate and controversy. In the early history of modern psychology, intelligence was seen as the capacity for thinking and attempts were made to measure this capacity. This started the psychometric movement of psychological testing, which continues to this day. Alongside this movement there have arisen alternate conceptions of intelligence, which include the information-processing theories, the eclectic theories such as the multiple-intelligence theory, and the learning potential theories. These perspectives on intelligence offer insights into how the nature and quality of individual thinking are related to an individual’s internal processing of information and his/her engagement in different social and cultural activities. All these approaches to intelligence, and the debates between them, enable psychologists to determine the value of using intelligence tests for predictive and diagnostic purposes. At the same time, they reveal the limitations and misuse of testing, especially when this is considered in relation to cultural and social contexts.


Imageage-based norms: values reflecting the distribution of scores for particular age groups, from which a standard IQ score can be calculated

Imagebodily-kinaesthetic intelligence: a form of intelligence that involves the abilities used in skilled movements such as dancing or athletics

Imagechronological age (CA): a person’s actual age in years

Imagecognitive theories of intelligence: theories that attempt to investigate what might lie behind the apparent differences in intelligence

Imagecomponential dimension: the component of Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence that is concerned with the internal mental processes that underlie human intelligence

Imageconstruct validity: the degree to which a test succeeds in measuring the hypothetical construct it is said to be measuring

Imagecontent validity: the degree to which the test represents the aspect being measured

Imagecontextual dimension: the component of Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence that conceptualises intelligence in relation to the external world

Imagecore intelligences: the fundamental intelligences identified by Gardner

Imageculture-fair tests: tests that focus on experiences that are common to different cultures and eliminate cultural bias and prejudice

Imageculture-free testing: efforts by psychologists to develop psychological tests that measure hereditary intellectual potential independently of the influence of cultural backgrounds

Imagedeviation IQ: an index that gives the relative position of a person on an intelligence scale compared to his/her peers, and which can be applied to children and adults

Imageeclectic theories of intelligence: theories that draw ideas from many different approaches to cognition

Imageexperiential dimension: a component of Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence that is concerned with those aspects of intelligence involved in handling different tasks and situations

Imageface validity: the appropriateness of a test for the people of a particular culture

Imagegeneral intelligence (g): a general capacity for inferring and applying common sense to experiences drawn from various situations

Imageintelligence: a hypothetical construct referring to some mental capacity, power or process linked to actual performance

Imageintelligence quotient (IQ): an index that summarises a person’s level of general intellectual functioning on an intelligence scale using the formula (MA/CA), but which is invalid for people over 16 years of age

Imageinterpersonal intelligence: a type of intelligence that refers to the ability to understand others and relationships

Imageintrapersonal intelligence: a type of intelligence that refers to the ability to understand and have insight into our own behaviour

Imageknowledge acquisition components: according to Sternberg’s componential sub-theory, a kind of information processing that refers to learning and storing new information

Imagelearning potential theories of intelligence: an approach that understands intelligence as the potential for change rather than some fixed capacity

Imagemental age (MA): the level of ability related to the chronological age at which the average person can perform a certain level of intelligence test tasks

Imagemetacomponents: according to Sternberg’s componential sub-theory, a kind of information processing that refers to higher-order, executive processes used in planning, monitoring and evaluating performance

Imagemultiple-intelligence theory: a theory of intelligence that proposes that there are multiple, different intelligences

Imagemusical intelligence: a form of intelligence that involves operations such as pitch, rhythm, timbre and the ability to understand and manipulate musical symbols

Imagenaturalistic intelligence: the ability to grow things, interact with animals, recognise and classify species, and connect with nature

Imageperformance components: according to Sternberg’s componential sub-theory, a kind of information processing that refers to the processes involved in the execution of a given task

Imagepredictive validity: the extent to which a test is able to predict real-world success in a particular field

Imagepsychometric approach to intelligence: the approach to intelligence and intelligence testing that focuses on producing reliable tests that measure individual differences in intellect

Imagepsychometric theories of intelligence: theories that focus on describing the structure of intelligence by examining the patterns that occur within the sub-components of intelligence tests

Imagereliability: a test’s ability to give the same score to a person on different occasions

ImageSenior South African Individual Scale — Revised (SSAIS-R): a set of verbal and non-verbal sub-tests that measure general intellectual ability in order to predict scholastic achievement and diagnose specific problems

Imagespecific intelligence (s): specific abilities that enable people to excel in particular activities but not others

Imagestandardisation: establishing norms for a population

Imagetheoretical approach to intelligence: the approach to intelligence and intelligence testing that focuses on the nature and composition of intelligence

Imagetheory of emotional intelligence (EI): theory which emphasises the role of a person’s ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions

Imagetriarchic theory of intelligence: Sternberg’s approach to intelligence, which contains three sub-theories that describe different dimensions of information processing: the componential, experiential and contextual


Multiple choice questions

1.Who is credited with coining the term ’mental test’?





2.In psychological testing, what IQ score is regarded as average?





3.Which one of the following approaches conceptualises intelligence as the possibility for change rather than as a fixed capacity?

a)the eclectic approach

b)the learning potential approach

c)the information-processing approach

d)the psychometric approach.

4.Which one of the following is true?

a)The Senior South African Individual Scale — Revised (SSAIS—R) is a culturally fair test that can be used for all South Africans, regardless of their socio-economic or language background.

b)Most IQ tests are culturally free tests that can be applied to people in many different countries.

c)An item in a South African IQ test which asks ’Who is the vice-president of the United States?’ would be an example of a culturally fair test item.

d)An IQ test can never be culturally free as IQ tests do not only measure inherited ability.

5.The ability to survive in a particular environment is referred to as:

a)coping ability

b)adaptive ability

c)intelligent ability

d)mental age.

6.What are the two main uses of intelligence tests?

a)diagnostic and predictive purposes

b)determining school readiness and the appropriateness of remedial programmes

c)determining disability and the appropriateness of specialised educational programmes

d)none of the above is correct.

7.One of the major criticisms levelled against Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence is that:

a)it is too long and over-elaborate

b)it does not take context into account

c)it argues against the idea of g

d)it identifies too few types of intelligences.

8.What are the two types of intelligence identified by Spearman in his two-factor theory?

a)multiple and single

b)linguistic and logical-mathematical

c)general and specific

d)general and musical.

9.In his triarchic theory of intelligence, Sternberg identifies three different types of intellectual competence: analytical, practical and creative. Which of these can be applied by the person to manage challenges in their day-to-day context?



c)creative and analytical


10.The concept of the intelligence quotient (IQ) was developed by:





Short-answer questions

1.Explain the term ’standardisation’ in relation to the construction of intelligence tests.

2.How do learning potential theories differ from standard psychometric approaches in terms of how they conceptualise the nature of intelligence?

3.Explain the following terms in relation to intelligence testing:


b)construct validity

c)’face validity’

d)culture-free tests

e)culture-fair tests.

4.In what ways can culture negatively impact on the validity of an intelligence test outcome such as an IQ score?


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