Intelligence as the Ability to Learn Critical Essay

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The notion of “intelligence” and how it is measured have been debated for decades. However, nature and origins of intelligence are indefinable, and its value and accuracy of the intelligence tests are ambiguous. There is an understanding that intelligence mostly defined as the capacity the ability to acquire knowledge. Intelligence may include the ability to learn from past experiences, act with purpose, have critical thinking skills and adapt to new or stressful situations. This essay will focus on identifying important points on Cattell’s article (Carroll, 1984) and will critically reflect on the relevance of the article as usable knowledge for the teacher in South African.

Sternberg (2018) summarises intelligence as the capacity to learn from experience, using metacognitive processes it enhance learning as well as the ability to adapt to the surrounding environment. What one culture considers as less intelligent according to another culture may be emphasised as intelligence. Often the use implicit and context-relevant definitions of intelligence to make assessments of intelligence (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2017). However, these implicit theories of intelligence may differ from one culture to another. With South Africa being diverse there are many definitions of intelligence. Sternberg & Sternberg ( 2017)explain that the explicit definitions of intelligence also focus on assessment. Taking this definition into account intelligence can be defined as anything that the test measure.

Throughout history researchers such as Spearman, Binet and Plato have made available different definitions of intelligence. Taking the various definitions into account current conceptualization suggests that intelligence involves the level of ability with regards to the ability to learn, recognize and solve problems. When looking at the learning aspect of intelligence it would involve components such as acquisition, retention as well as the ability to use knowledge. The ability to recognize problems are to be able to make use of the knowledge mainly when recognising possible problems in a specific environment that may need to be addressed. With regards to problem-solving one should be able to take the knowledge acquired and come up with useful solutions to a problem that was identified. Moreover, intelligence involves various mental abilities such as logic, reasoning and problem-solving.

Accordingly, research and psychologist Binet developed the first intelligence test which enabled the French government to identify learners who need academic assistance. Binet introduced the notion of the concept of mental age. Intelligence testing is a tool that has led to the development of tests, test that test skill and aptitude. However, the notion of intelligence testing has spur deliberations and controversy regarding the use of testing, cultural biases that may be involved and main influences on intelligence. Various researchers have produced numerous theories that assist in explaining the nature of intelligence.

However, Spearman was accredited with inventing factor analysis theory. He refers to the general intelligence as the “g” factor. According to Spearman (1904) the general factor, which he labelled the “g” factor provides the key to understanding intelligence. Spearman believed “g” to be the result of “mental energy.” It was investigated that learners who performed well on the one cognitive test would then perform well on the other tests as well. Spearman (1904) concluded that intelligence is a general cognitive ability that can be measured and numerically expressed.

A more recent idea has emerged, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner (2011) proposed that numerical expressions of human intelligence, such as in the IQ test, are not a full and accurate depiction of people’s abilities. Sternberg (2018) further explains intelligence as the mental activity which is directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection and shaping of real-world environments relevant to one’s life. Both Sternberg and Gardner agree that intelligence is much broader than previously defined, Sternberg instead proposed that some of Gardner’s types of intelligence may be viewed as individual talents.

Additionally, the Psychometric Approach to intelligence focuses on the performance on a standardized aptitude test. An aptitude test foresees what one’s future ability to acquire skills or knowledge. However, achievement tests measure the existing skills and knowledge. An intelligence test can be given to a group of people or to an individual. The commonly used individual intelligence tests are the Binet-Simon scale, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.

Terman constructed the earliest version of what is known as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale which expands on and revises the Binet-Simon scale. This test yields scores with regards to the intelligence quotients (IQ). The Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is the mental age divided by the chronological age and multiplied by 100. IQ scores allowed children of different ages to be compared. There are two problems with regards to the intelligence quotient approach. Firstly, it is that the score is in the top range of an age group varies, depending on the age. Secondly, this scoring system has no meaning for adults. However, the Wechsler Scales is widely compared to the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. According to Sternberg & Sternberg (2017), the scoring system has been changed to yield a different set of scores more consistent with theorizing in cognitive psychology: verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory and processing speed.

Psychologists who have an interest in the structure of intelligence have mainly relied on a statistical method (factor analysis) for separate theories or concepts into two parts. The first part is separated into a few hypothetical factors. The second part is the abilities that are believed to form the basis of individual differences with regards to the test performance. Sternberg & Sternberg (2017) state that the ideas are that the more highly two tests are correlated; the more likely they are to measure the same thing. The main theorist of the factorial theories is the Spearman, Thurstone, Guilford, Cattell, Vernon, and Carroll.

Carroll (1984) explains in his article that such as Binet, Spearman and Thurstone he has abiding concerns for the meaning of intelligence in terms of the cognitive processes that underlie it. In 1930 Cattell completed his doctoral thesis on “The nature of ‘intelligence’ and the principles of cognition. Carroll (1984) states that it had to do with the subjective character of cognitiion and the pre-sensational development of perception. His dissertation was an experimental study which had no connection with mental testing. However, there is a slight connection with Spearman’s theories of cognition. Spearman’s research included administering different tests to assess various individuals’ cognitive abilities (Cocodia, 2014). It was in Spearmean’s laboratory that Cattell became interested in the nature of intelligence and mental testing. Carroll (1984) postulates that before turning his attention to personality and motivation research, Cattell published according to his own account, roughly a dozen contributions to the field of ability research.

Additionally, the earliest paper of Cattell was regarding the development of a series of intelligence test, in which he collaborated with Bristol in 1933. Cattell developed a few intelligence tests that catered for mental ages between four and eight years. It became evident through observation that most intelligence tests such as Binet – Simon were affected unnecessary influences. According to Carroll (1984:301), it was during this time that “Cattell made his first contribution to the question of the inheritance of intelligence” using various intelligence tests such as the Binet-Simon Scale. It is these types of tests where Cattell indicated his desire to develop an instrument that would measure the basic kind of intelligence. One which was free of the effects of culture and schooling (Carroll, 1984). It was at this time that Cattell contributed to the question of intelligence.

Two papers that where published in the years 1940 and 1941 as well as other works were very important. In Cattell’s second paper, he established a series of “culture-free” tests. The content was universally in all cultures, remarked that the term ‘culture common’ would probably be more accurate than ‘culture-free’ (Carroll, 1984). Meaning that the intelligence test is free from the cultural difference, it has neutral content. Late the term changed from culture free to “culture fair.” According to Cocodia (2014) the notion of intelligence may vary based on experiences within the social and cultural environment. Meaning that the idea of intelligence and intelligence testing may differ even within cultures as well.

Cattell, who was a student of Spearman, developed the theories of fluid and crystallized abilities based on Spearman’s g theory (Cocodia, 2014). Cattell taking the works of Spearman in account theorized that Spearman’s g consisted of two distinct general factors and not a single factor as proposed by Spearman. Calling the two separate factors “fluid” and “crystallised” intelligence. The work culture free intelligence test paved the way for the theory of “fluid” and “crystallised” intelligence (Carroll, 1984). Crystallised intelligence is prior knowledge and past experiences. Crystallised intelligence will mainly be used in situations such as reading comprehension and vocabulary exams. Whereas fluid intelligence is described by Cattell (Cocodia, 2014) as that concept which does not depend on education experience or prior knowledge. Thus, fluid intelligence is the ability to reason and solve problems. Carroll (1984, p. 302) states that the “first publications containing a poposal for the exxistance of “fluid” and “crystallized” intelligence was one in the Psychological Bulletin, which concerned the measurement of adult intelligence. “Cattell’s theory focuses on the second-order abilities discovered in various structural analyses as in the Primary Mental Abilities structure’ (Cocodia, 2014, p. 182).

Cattell however speaks about how crystallisation is the product of fluidity. Cocodia ( 182) states that the validity of this statement has been questioned especially as fluid ability includes non-verbal reasoning abilities (Gf) while crystallized abilities are verbal-educational abilities (Gc). It was John Horn who was instrumental in this theory of Cattell. He was responsible for the further development of this theory. Horn’s thesis was on the based on a study which sampled adults, regarding the mental ability and personality test. This study would be categorized as psychological testing. According to Carroll (1984) Horn and others have since developed interesting ramifications of the Gf-Gc theory, particularly as it applies to the question of development and decline of cognitive abilities with age. Cocodia (182) states Cattell symbolized fluid intelligence as Gf while crystallized intelligence is Gc.

Also, in 1971 new evidence had emerged to warrant the Cattells book on abilities regarding their structure, growth and action. According to Carroll (1984) the book effectively used the Gf-Gc theory, where it was absorb into a new and more general theory, the “triadic theory”. This theory detailed how cognitive abilities could be broken up into three parts. The three parts are “capacities” (g’s), “provincial powers” (p’s) and “agencies” (a’s). Carroll (1984) asserts that these parts mentioned were not so much on the basis of their status at various factorial strata as by their nature and function. Cattell approached it with a cognitive analysis in his Ability Dimension Analysis Chart. This emphasises that there are twelve dimensions in which these factors may be characterised. Dimnsions such as the “action phase”, the content-involvent of experiental-cultural, neural-organistaion and “process parameters”. Carroll (1984) makes metions to the fact that this scheme is more complexed and thus perhaps less readily utilized than other models. Carroll (1984) states that the triadic theory plays a role in Cattell’s examination of nature-nurture issues. His study on genetics plays a major role in his thinking in the course of his career.

In my critical analysis of Carroll’s article (1984) the triadic theory would have not happened if the factor-analytic theories contibution. The triadic theory is vital for the hiearchical theory of mental abilities. But looking at it in a South African context I believe that even though Cattell is a british man his concept of cultural-fair can be utilized in not only in South Africa but the world as well. As intelligence test should be free of culture bias and should have neutral content. This implies that a culture fair test should accurately provide scores that reflect the ability of the examinee regardless of their cultural background (Cocodia, 2014).

However, Cattell sppeaks generally about intelligence and exclude the context of peoples backgrounds that has an influence on there fluid and crystallized intelligence. He also based his findings on children who were not from South Africa, they were a Westenized world where their norms are different to that of a South African child. Cattell propsed principles for general knowledge, but general knowlegde is dependant on the context of the person. For example, one child could come from a family who is academically inclined and focuses on their studies. We could say this child has “book smart”. But another child from the same school may come from a home where the children are left to their own devices, this child will have “street smarts”. It is not to say that the one is better than the other, but because of their context or background their common knowledge is different. Therefore, what would entail common knowledge if the context of people are never the same. According to Sternberg(2018) intelligence is different within different social and cultural contexts

It is my belief that the use of test such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is not viable in South Africa is a diverse country with 11 official languages. There are still debate around the appropriate use of Western cognitive measures with individuals from very diverse backgrounds such as South Africans to that of the norm population (Cockcorft, Alloway, Copello, & Milligan, 2015). It is unfair for people whose first language is not English, or who comes from a disadvantaged background. The quality of education plays a major role when testing the IQ levels of learners. An example of this would be a learner whose first language is not English with a disadvantaged educational background may score between 20 and 25 IQ points below the American standard (Cockcorft, Alloway, Copello, & Milligan, 2015). On the other hand, learners who come from a higher income family are at an advantage compared to lower-income families. This is because learners will have better access to resources as well as educational experiences. Thus, most of the South African population belongs to various cultures and linguistic and socio-economic circumstances that differ from Western Europe, making the IQ testing differ from that of the normative groups within the European countries.

With reference to the case with Binet in Paris, in South Africa, an interest developed with regards to objective tests of intelligence. In 1962, a South African version of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale was created. However, it was not applicable to all ethnic groups in South Africa, and it was culture specific. In later years according to Le Roux (1987) the that the new Senior South African Individual Scale (SSAIS) would appeal to all ethnic groups of the country. However, the SSAIA did not measure the intelligence of younger children adequately. So, a need grew for a suitable test that would cater to children, hence the development of Junior South African Individual Scale (JSAIS) was commissioned. The question of the validity of IQ’s is still a burning issue (Le Roux, 1987). Currently, there are various methods or test that are used to test the different types of intelligence. However, none of these methods is a true reflection of one’s true intelligence without being biased in a way.

When testing the IQ level of learners their skills and ways of thinking are not taking into consideration. The learners thinking ability may be affected by genetics, home situation and experiences. There is a misconception that the intelligence tests are to test whether the learners can “learn.” Some teachers tend to look at the tests see if learners are “smart” or below average. Placing more emphasis on the score instead of the various aspects of intelligence. Different elements of intelligence depend on the test taker’s situation, and one test cannot cover every possible situation (Testing and Assessment – Reliability and Validity, 2019). Thus, the test that is widely used and are considered reliable and valid can only test a specific number of skills.

Moreover, intelligence testing various with backgrounds and experiences of learners, this creates a bias when it comes to scoring. There is evidence that the results of IQ tests may be affected by the learner’s date of birth and at what age they started school in their formative years. Learners are no longer diagnosed with learning barriers based on their academic achievements and their IQ score. Sadly, it has been my experience that some school tend to label and place learners in classes based on their results. An ideal example is in 2017 at a school I did my teaching practices at divided into classes from A – G according to results on a standardised test. This is not a true reflection on learner’s abilities. However, putting learners in an environment which is not challenging or may have less of a challenge could influence the learners when it comes to gaining the necessary knowledge and skills needed to raise their test scores.

Lastly, intelligence can be summarised as the ability to learn from past experiences and being able to adapt to one’s ever-changing environment. Intelligence, as mentioned by Carroll (1984), is both crystallised and fluid intelligence. As intelligence does not just rely on prior knowledge and past experienced, but also the ability to have thinking and reasoning skills. Cocodia (2014) mentions that intelligence is influenced by environmental factors such as education and culture. There are various psychologists and researchers who try to answer the question as to the definition of intelligence is. Unfortunately, there is a gap when it comes to the study of intelligence and intelligence testing in South Africa. With South Africa being as diverse as it is, the intelligence tests should be culture-fair, taking the diverse languages and cultures into consideration. The South African intelligence tests are outdated compared to the Westernised tests. This essay has focused on identifying important points on Carroll’s article on Cattell and has critically reflected on the relevance of the article as usable knowledge for the South African teacher.


Cite this paper

Intelligence as the Ability to Learn Critical Essay. (2020, Dec 06). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/intelligence-as-the-ability-to-learn/



How is intelligence related to learning?
Intelligence is positively related to learning as individuals with high intelligence tend to grasp new concepts and ideas more quickly and effectively. However, learning is also influenced by factors such as motivation, prior knowledge, and learning style.
What is learned intelligence?
Intelligence is the power of learning. It helps us to learn from our past experiences and make better decisions in the future.
Who defined intelligence as the ability to learn?
The definition of intelligence as the ability to learn was first proposed by Edward Thorndike in the early 1900s. This definition is still widely accepted today.
Why is intelligence so important?
The term "selfie addiction" is not an official diagnosis, but it is used to describe someone who excessively posts selfies on social media. This behavior can be a form of narcissism or self-involvement, and it can be detrimental to one's social life and mental health.
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