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Conceptualizations Of Intelligence

Past approaches to the study of intelligence (from its origin in work with children) were primarily concerned with academic or intellectual performance outcomes. Current conceptualizations of intelligence, by contrast, often distinguish between academic, practical, and social intelligence. All of these, however, are basically manifestations of intellectual competence. The contemporary study of intellectual competence has been largely driven by three perspectives: The first sees competence as a set of latent variables (latent variables are not directly observable but are inferred by statistical means, e.g., factor analysis, from sets of observed variables that are related to the "latent variables") that represent permutations of variables identified by studies of basic cognition. This perspective has been characterized as a componential or hierarchical approach. The second perspective views competence as involving specific knowledge bases. The third focuses on the "fit" or congruence between an individual's intellectual competence and the environmental demands faced by the individual.

Componential/hierarchical approaches to intelligence. The three major examples of such approaches are: Robert Sternberg's triarchic theory of intelligence; Paul Baltes' two-dimensional model; and the hierarchical model linking intellectual competence with basic cognition proposed by Sherry Willis and K. Warner Schaie.

Sternberg proposed a triarchic theory of adult intellectual development that involves metacomponents, and experiential and contextual aspects (a metacomponent is a necessary component required for the others). The metacomponential part of the theory involves an information-processing approach to basic cognition, including processes such as encoding, allocation of mental resources, and monitoring of thought processes. The second component of the theory posits that these processes operate at different levels of experience, depending upon the task—the basic components can operate in a relatively novel fashion or, with experience, they may become automatized. For example, identifying a driver's response pattern under a specific traffic condition; this response then becomes automatic whenever a similar condition is encountered. According to Sternberg, the most intelligent person is the one who can adjust to a change in a problem situation and who can eventually automate the component processes of task solution. The third aspect of the theory is concerned with how the individual applies the metacomponents in adjusting to a change in the environment.

Baltes proposed a two-dimensional componential model of cognition. The first component is identified as the mechanics of intelligence, which represent the basic cognitive processes that serve as underpinnings for all intelligent behavior. The second component of the theory is labeled the pragmatics of intelligence. This is the component that is influenced by experience. Baltes argues that the environmental context is critical to the particular form or manifestation in which pragmatic intelligence is shown. The concept of wisdom has been linked with, and studied within, the pragmatics of intelligence.

Willis and Schaie conceptualized a hierarchical relationship between basic cognition and intellectual competence. Basic cognition is thought to be represented by domains of psychometric intelligence, such as the second-order constructs of fluid and crystallized intelligence and the primary mental abilities associated with each higher-order construct. The cognitive abilities represented in traditional approaches to intelligence are proposed to be universal across the life span and across cultures. When nurtured and directed by a favorable environment at a particular life stage, these processes and abilities develop into cognitive competencies that are manifested in daily life as cognitive performance.

Intellectual competence, as represented in activities of daily living, is seen in the phenotypic expressions of intelligence that are context- or age-specific. The particular activities and behaviors that serve as phenotypic expressions of intelligence vary with the age of the individual, with a person's social roles, and with the environmental context. Problem solving in everyday activities is complex and involves multiple basic cognitive abilities. Everyday competence also involves substantive knowledge, as well as the individual's attitudes and values associated with a particular problem domain.

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