Critically evaluate recent developments in intelligence research

Intelligence research has had two different main stems. One concentrated on the existence of a single general intelligence and the other stressed the existence of multiple intelligences. To date the resulting conflict between these two approaches has not been solved although most educational psychologists tend to utilise the concept of multiple intelligence as it is more dynamic, flexible and beneficial in educational settings. The aim of this brief is to investigate some of the existing intelligence researches and to explore current implications for educational psychology.

The Unitary Intelligence Construct

Individual differences in intelligence represents one of the most intriguing existing topics investigated by psychologists (Jensen, 1998). There are two main theory types in the study of intelligence: theories propagating one uni-linear construct of general intelligence (g), and theories promoting multiple different intelligences. Intelligence research started basically with Binet and Simon (1905) who used intelligence test to differentiate between dull and bright students. In his eyes, intelligence quotient (IQ) was simply an average of numerous dissimilar abilities, not as a real thing with definite properties that could be studied. Galton in contrast believed that intelligence is a real faculty with a biological basis and could be studied using reaction times on simple cognitive tasks. Galton’s way of thinking led to Spearman's (1904) invention of factor analysis which is a statistical strategy that assesses the inter-correlations among certain tests, and reduces the most highly linked independent dimensions to smaller groups, termed factors. Utilising factor analysis, Spearman discovered that all tests of intelligence have positive loadings on the general factor and called this factor general intelligence (g). He was, in other words, the first individual who believed that all individuals would possess to varying degrees a general intelligence factor (termed g).

This type of low-factor intelligence theories did not prove to be very successful in predicting educational performances at school or university and it was criticised that a general intelligence test (IQ test) does not assess all of the abilities that are essential for being successful in all important daily and life and educational situations. Additionally, the concept of g does not answer conclusively whether and what intellectual performances and abilities do change or are modifiable over time. For instance, an individual’s intelligence quotient seems to be considerable stable and static over one’s different life stages, but at the same time one’s intellectual performances are regarded to be dynamic and prone to changes during one’s lifetime. In other words, infant’s reasoning skills and thus their performance on reasoning tests enhances continuously through childhood. This would mean however, that an infant’s IQ represents nothing more than his or her rank among peers as IQ is thought to remain static during one’s lifetime and there is no space for improvements (Garlick, 2003).

Therefore, Pearson’s theory was criticised by Thurstone (1938) who rotated the independent intelligence dimensions and who by doing so was able to question the predominance ascribed to g. Moreover, he discovered seven central mental abilities, contrasted to the one promoted by Spearman and devised with the help of these abilities the Test of Primary Mental Abilities. As a matter of fact, this test is still quite popular although its predictive power has been strongly disputed since it is not greater of that of g. In a similar vein, factor analysis was criticised as the central mental abilities identified by factor analysis rely heavily on the type of intelligence test items employed. Consequently, researchers who employed other test items and/or factor analyses presented a range of 20 to more than 150 factors which supposedly represent intellectual abilities (e.g. Guildford, 1982).

The Bell Curve

Only recently Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray published The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994). This book proved to be a good example how powerful misleading constructs about and theories of intelligence can be. The authors of the Bell Curve Herrnstein and Murray claimed that the United States can be divided up into intelligent and unintelligent individuals with the intelligent people destined to control and reign over the less intelligent individuals. As today’s world is knowledge based and driven people have to be divided up according to their intelligence potential. The Bell Curve, furthermore, included the notion that intelligence is largely inherited and biologically pre-determined. These, in truth, politically incorrect and racially discriminative claims were in a similar vein to Jensen’s (1969) writings which maintained that “educational enrichment programs of the Great Society were inherently limited by the immutability of intelligence” (Hunt, 1995, p.356). Jensen’s claims did not remain unanswered for a long time but most scientists and educational psychologists opposed these views and claimed that a solitary general intelligence does not exist (Gardner 1983). Ceci and Liker agreed with Gardner (1983) and argued that although such a thing like general IQ might exist it does solely affect narrow aspects of everyday life but excludes other in educational and everyday setting essential abilities and intelligences. Thus, the Bell Curve tapped into a key question in the intelligence discussion which either promotes mental competence as a single ability, applicable in many settings, or as an amalgamation of specialised abilities.

Multiple Intelligence Theory

As a matter of fact, one of the most widely accepted theory of intelligence is Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory (MI theory) (Gardner 1993). He proposed a seven (or eight) relatively independent intelligence dimensions including linguistic, inter- and intrapersonal, spatial, logical-mathematical, musical, (naturalist), and kinesthetic factors (Shearer, 2004). Gardner and his colleagues have been working on versions of new, more authentic assessment tools for the past 8 years. The results have been mixed and it is fairly difficult to decide whether this high-factor theory of intelligence has been successful or not in practice (Sternberg, 1991). The strength of this theory in contrast to other theories is that it allows for a diversity of abilities and talents of pupils and students and thus acknowledges that everyone might be an expert in one of the intelligence factors while being weaker in other dimensions. In other words, “approaching and assessing learning in this manner allows a wider range of students to successfully participate in classroom learning.” (Brualdi, 1996). Consequently, MI theory guarantees that the incomparable intellectual profiles of all pupils will be respected, recognized, and constantly re-evaluated so that they can continuously evolve. Shearer (2004) reports studies in which MI focused educational programs enabled schools to help children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Shearer continues to note that, in fact, many studies discovered that ADHD students proved to possess intellectual strengths in fields that are not normally appreciated in the educational settings (e.g. spatial intellect); and thus this example demonstrates one of the benefits of MI theory as it allows focusing on individuals’ strengths instead of rather attempting to deal with individuals’ deficits. Implying MI theory proved also to be beneficial for non-traditional learners who have had difficulties to enhance their academic knowledge and literacy skills. The reason for them having difficulties lied in the fact that many non-traditional learners possess negative self-images and usually reject to learn with the help of non-academic techniques but as MI theory empowered them to replace their negative self-concept with a positive one they could succeed in improving the literacy and general academic skills.
These recent studies led almost every educational researcher to acknowledge that Howard Gardner’s theory has and should have a pivotal impact on content and goals of educational programs and additionally (Eisner, 1994).
It is important to continue assessing MI theory nowadays and answer questions regarding the MI theory’s educational efficacy as it is already more than two decades old and many questions have yet remained unclear. To investigate the link between cerebral structures and intelligence is another current issue which needs scientists’ attention. However, research has found that there exist explicit neural structures that are inextricably related to the central elements of each of Gardner’s seven intelligences. As a matter of fact, future research must attempt to explore and investigate these links further and more precise in order to give a better account of the existing multiple intelligences in the future.

Emotional Intelligence

Intelligence research did not stop at Gardner’s theory of MI but, in fact, two of today’s most influential concepts which are still trying to be accepted as sub-constructs of intelligence are emotional intelligence (EI) and practical intelligence. However as already mentioned, ever since the beginning of the debate scientists have not reached a unitary solution or a uniform agreement about how human intelligence can be divided and intelligence has been one of the most widely studied and controversial factor in educational psychology (Sternberg & Hedlund, 2002).
The concept of emotional intelligence is deeply rooted in the construct of social intelligence which was defined as “one’s ability to accomplish relevant objectives in specific social settings” (Ford & Tisak, 1983). According to Brady (1998, p. 3), there has been at one point in time a shift from cognitive to non-cognitive aspects of intelligence “as a result of the limited predictability of cognitive potential in determining success in educational settings and in life.” This new point of view and Gardner’s already mentioned MI theory have led researchers like Salovey and Mayer to propose that emotional intelligence is a sub-construct of social intelligence. Brady (1998, p. 19) appropriately mentions that the concept of emotional intelligence represents “a move away from an exclusive focus on cognitive processes, in the examination of the ability of an individual to navigate life successfully and purposefully”. The concept of emotional intelligence has led educators to demand teaching emotional literacy at school and including a emotional intelligence related curriculum. (Liau et al., 2003). Accordingly, school lessons are should not only include abstract lessons, but must promote the children’s acquisition of such essential skills as self-discipline and empathy while facilitating the internalisation of moral and civic norms and values (Etzioni, 1994).


Current research on intelligence research cannot be entirely mentioned and discussed in a single brief paper but is a topic that has reached to such great extent popular among researchers that it could fill entire books. However, one of the main issues which has not been resolved yet is how to reach a more thorough validation of both unitary and multiple intelligence theories and more importantly how to merge both theories with each other and with other currently emerging theories such as EI theory or practical intelligence theory (Sternberg, 1988, 1997, 2000) in order to reach better results among pupils and students in educational settings and thus to enhance educational psychological study facilitating programs.


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