Intelligence: Nature or Nurture?

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Intelligence by definition is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills” (Oxford Dictionary, 2014). However, many psychologists argue that there is no standard definition of ‘intelligence’, and there have been many different theories over time as psychologists try to find better ways to define this concept (Boundless 2013). While some believe in a single, general intelligence, others believe that intelligence involves multiple abilities and skills. Another largely debated concept is whether intelligence is genetically determined and fixed, or whether is it open to change, through learning and environmental influence. This is commonly known as the nature vs. nurture debate.
On the ‘nature’ side of the debate is the
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Binet was involved in creating one of the more recent forms of intelligence test, referred to as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. A similar test is that formulated by Wechsler (Neisser et al. 1996). These led to the measure of IQ (“intelligence quotient”) being founded, where an individual’s “mental age is divided by their chronological age and multiplied by 100” (Gardner 2006, p. 3). The tests measure intelligence through verbal and non-verbal tasks, assessing scholastic aptitude, school achievement and specific abilities (Neisser et al. 1996, p. 78).
Charles Spearman’s theory (1904) also takes the psychometric approach that there is a general intelligence. Spearman maintains that intelligence is hereditary and an individual is born with their maximum mental ability. This suggests that intelligence cannot be changed or strengthened. The concept of ‘general intelligence’ suggests that an individual has an underlying intelligence, in which their performance in one type of cognitive task is often similar to their performance in another (Boundless 2013). Spearman demonstrated this through the correlations between tests, where individuals who performed well in one test, often performed well in others. This led Spearman to the conclusion that intelligence is defined as a single factor. However, critics refute Spearman’s conclusions, as they argue that one cannot reduce all factors of intelligence to an indefinable “g” (Neisser et al. 1996).
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