Intelligence Definition

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 November 2016

Intelligence Definition

Evaluate Spearman’s contribution to our understanding of Intelligence. Plan:

* Introduction – definition of intelligence, and say what I am going to be talking about * Paragraph one /two– outline Spearman’s theory * Paragraph three/four – evaluate how organisations use Spearman’s theory * Paragraph five – evaluate strengths and weaknesses compared to Gardners theory * Conclusion – relate back to the question


Intelligence can be defined as “the capability of individuals to process information to behave effectively within the environment they are in and learn from previous experiences.” (Arnold 2010). Spearman in the 1900s came up with the General Intelligence Theory. Within this essay I am going to evaluate Spearman’s theory of general intelligence by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the theory. Firstly, looking at how Spearman’s theory can be applied to organisations, then comparing it with Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Spearman (1900’s) developed the theory of general intelligence. Spearman’s research followed that of Binet, who was commissioned by the school system in France to develop a way to differentiate those students who were uneducable, or severely mentally handicapped, from other students. Binet developed an intelligence test to do so. This test consisted of items (questions) that required complex processes of the mnd and examined the comprehensive individual. The success of Binet’s test led to a much greater question: what exactly are these tests measuring? The claim was that they were measuring intelligence.

This led to debates about what intelligence was. In endeavouring to answer this question, Spearman observed that schoolchildren’s grades across seemingly unrelated subjects were positively correlated. He then administered different types of test to many people. A statistical analysis of the results showed that there was a positive correlation between the tests for any given individual. In other words, if an individual performed well on a test of verbal abilities, then that same person also performed well on another test of a different cognitive ability, such as numerical reasoning. Spearman named this positive correlation ‘g’, that is ‘general intelligence’. He argued that ‘g’ was identified by using a large battery (number) of tests, that is ‘g’ was not measured perfectly by any single test.

His work led to others trying to create tests that would assess this general underlying ability. Spearman was the first researcher to use factor analysis (a statistical test that he developed to identify underlying commonalities, or ‘factors’). His theory is sometimes called the Two Factor Theory as he concluded that intelligence consisted of two factors. The first of these he called the ‘g’ factor, that is general intelligence that influenced all round performance. The second of these he called the ‘s’ factor, for specific abilities, which he used to account for differences between scores on different tasks, including test-specific factors such as the impact of light, temperature, the time of day that the test was given. Spearman’s major contribution lies in his ideas about general intelligence, particularly the idea that general intelligence influences all round performance.

Spearman’s ideas about general intelligence continue to influence the development of cognitive testing today. And it is in the area of testing that organisations most benefit from Spearman’s work. Specifically, the idea that there is one general intelligence influences much of the testing in selection processes within organisations.

For example, many organisations use cognitive testing (verbal and numerical critical reasoning) at early stages in their selection process to filter out those candidates that do not perform at the level required. Following Spearman’s theory more thoroughly could suggest that organisations might be justified in basing their selection activities entirely on a measure of general intelligence. However, this would lack credibility, or face validity, for the candidates, and for many managers. Indeed, some would argue strongly that there are more particular skills that they want candidates to demonstrate that are more directly relevant to the particular job.

A major weakness of Spearman’s general intelligence theory is that it can be misunderstood, leading for example to the idea that if an individual is good at one aspect of work they must be good at another aspect. For example, a computer programmer may be very good at their job, however when they are asked to write a report they may feel way out of their comfort zone and will perform badly. However, Spearman is not arguing about ability to perform a task.

Rather, he is arguing that ‘general intelligence’ explains a person’s ability across a range of cognitive tests. At this point, there is value in contrasting Gardner’s (1980’s) theory of Multiple Intelligences, which could give us a better understanding of intelligence. Gardner disagreed with Spearman’s general intelligence theory (Mullins, 2010). Instead, he thought that there are many types of intelligence and if an individual excels in one topic, it doesn’t mean they excel at everything. Theses intelligences included: Musical, Numeracy, Literacy, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal and Linguistic. Gardner found, therefore, that individuals can be intelligent in different areas. It might be argued that the value for an organisation would be a test that identified the particular kind of intelligence that each individual has.

In conclusion Spearman’s theory of general intelligence has had a significant influence on how selection testing is designed and carried out within organisations. The desire to predict performance before hiring a new employee favours the idea that there is one general intelligence that can be assessed by a battery of cognitive tests. However, new theories such as Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory (1980’s) and Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, challenge such a perspective.


  • Subject:

  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 30 November 2016

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