Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Intelligence IS and IS NOT

Intelligence (as defined by narrow theories)- those mental abilities measured by IQ tests and their proxies (SAT etc.) does not provide a comprehensive assessment of cognitive skills. These theories provide a scientific concept of intelligence generally symbolized as g, or "in some cases where the fluid / crystalized theory is adopted intelligence (Gf) and crystalized intelligence (Gc)" (Stanovich, 2009, p. 13). Fluid intelligence reflects reasoning abilities (and to a degree processing speed) across a variety of domains, particularly novel ones. Crystalized intelligence reflects declarative knowledge acquired by acculturated learning- general knowledge, vocabulary, and verbal comprehension, etc. Mental abilities assessed by intelligence tests are important, but a variety of important mental abilities are missed by intelligence tests.

It is important to point out that the research I have reviewed and the research I propose does not suggest there are multiple intelligences or that intelligence is unimportant. Critics of intelligence routinely point out the intelligence does not encompass many domains of important psychological functioning. “However, these standard critiques of intelligence tests often contain the unstated assumption that although intelligence tests miss certain key noncognitive areas, they encompass most of what is important cognitively” (Stanovich, 2009, p. 5). These popular assumptions have been thoroughly refuted, and in fact intelligence tests do not assess many important cognitive skills. Intelligence tests are radically incomplete measurements of good thinking. It is commonplace for critics, writers and the lay public to suggest that intelligence has nothing to do with real life- that it’s not important in real life. Decades of research have shown otherwise- intelligent tests do measure important cognitive skills. “[S]cientific evidence does converge on the conclusion that MAMB IT [mental abilities measured by intelligence tests] picks out a class of mental operations of considerable importance. The problem is just that folk psychology values those mental operations- and the tests used to measure them- too much” (Stanovich, 2009, p.54).

Cognitive abilities assessed on intelligence tests are not about:

- personal goals and their regulation
- tendency to change beliefs when faced with contrary evidence
- argument & evidence evaluation

Intelligence tests do not measure important thinking dispositions, such as: openness to experience, belief perseverance, level of confirmation bias, reliance on intuition, impulsiveness, myside bias, one-sided bias, need for cognition, need for closure, alternative hypothesis testing, thought flexibility, fully disjunctive reasoning etc.

In short, cognitive abilities assessed on intelligence tests are not measurements of rationality, but measurements of algorithmic- level cognitive capacity. Good thinking is more than just intelligence.


Stanovich, K. (2009). What Intelligence Tests Miss: the psychology of rational thought. Hartford, CT: Yale University Press.

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