Joy Paul Guilford: biography of this American psychologist

Joy Paul Guilford was an American psychologist, considered by many to be one of the greatest exponents of factor analysis. by addressing the complex area of ​​individual and personality differences.

He is well known for his psychometric studies on intelligence and, in a very original way, on creativity. His view of intelligence was contrary to that of most psychologists of his time, who saw it as a unitary thing.

He knew how to value human diversity and tried to find out how it could be explained. In addition, he argued that traditional CI tests did not know how to adequately assess skills that were not recurrent in the school setting.

Today we are going to talk about the life and theory of one of the great thinkers of the 20th century throughout this brief biography of Joy Paul Guilford, Who also had a professional life characterized by working in various universities and serving his country during WWII.

Biography of Joy Paul Guilford

Joy Paul Guilford was born March 7, 1897 in Marquette, Nebraska. From an early age he showed an interest in individual differences, Observe how family members showed differences in different skills. As he was about to graduate from the University of Nebraska, he began working as an assistant in the psychology department.

A graduate of Cornell University between 1919 and 1921, he studied under Edward Titchener, who is credited with founding the first psychology laboratory in the United States. While in this university, Guilford administered information questionnaires to children, In addition to working as a director at the university psychological clinic.

JP Guilford returned to work at another university between 1927 and 1928, particularly in Kansas, but changed jobs to eventually be hired as an associate professor at his native University of Nebraska, working from 1928 to 1940.

During World War II (1939-1945) worked in the US Air Force psychological research unit, At Santa Anna Air Force Base, Calif. It was during the conflict that he began working at the University of Southern California, participating in a soldier skills project. The objective was to select those who had the best skills to manage fighter jets.

After the end of the conflict he continued to work in California, continuing his research on intelligence questionnaires. He also focused on aspects that had not traditionally been treated with due importance: divergent thinking and creativity. He worked there until he left university research in 1967. JP Guilford died on November 26, 1987 in Los Angeles, California.

Intelligence work and theory

From an early age, Guilford’s greatest interest was individual differences. His work focused on how people were different in the two aspects related to intelligence and creativity..

Even in the mid-twentieth century, there was a more or less accepted idea that differences in intellectual performance meant that there were people with better and worse abilities and that group characteristics such as race, l ethnicity or gender influenced this.

Since we saw intelligence as a unitary thing, we came to see that the person who scored low on an IC questionnaire was simply not worth it. Although this point of view may seem grossly exaggerated, the truth is that few researchers have defended it.

Guilford, more to see individual differences as a negative thing, he knew how to value them and tried to observe what mechanisms could be behind them to explain them. In addition, he tried to see how human intelligence manifests itself.

divergent thoughts

First, in the 1950s, Guilford raised the idea of ​​“divergent intelligence”. He formulated this concept when he saw that creatives have a certain tendency to think outside the norm. or that solutions were offered that were not what one would normally expect for the same problem. According to Guilford, the characteristics of this type of thinking are as follows:

1. Mastery

Ability to produce multiple ideas or solutions to a problem in a short period of time.

2. Flexibility

Ability to take a different approachs for a specific problem.

3. Originality

Being able to generate new ideas, Something different from what is already known.

4. Elaboration

Ability to develop, develop and present ideas in an interesting way, make the most of it.

Reviews of intelligence tests

According to Guilford, traditional CI questionnaires did not promote divergent thinking. He felt that they focused only on skills that were useful in the school curriculum at the time. since digital and visuospatial capabilities prevailed over creativityYou could say that a person was bad at mathematics but very good at artistic drawing, but was considered not very intelligent.

This is why during the years he worked at the University of Southern California, he developed several questionnaires to be able to measure the intellectual capacities of creative people.

Laying the foundations for multiple intelligence

During the first half of the 20th century, the idea was that intelligence was a unitary thing, which can be defined with a single parameter. This was the concept of intelligence that Charles Spearman had shown with his idea of ​​the general intelligence factor.

Guilford didn’t think so, and he considered intelligence to be made up of various intellectual capacities which differed from person to person. Based on this idea, he proposes a three-dimensional or cubic model, in which he explains in more detail his vision of the composition of human intelligence.

Here are the 3 dimensions of the model as well as the detail of its components

mental operations

This dimension originally only had 5 components, since “Encoding” and “Memory” formed a single factor, called “Memory”.

1. Cognition

Understand, understand, discover and be aware of the information.

2. Memory

Includes encoding and storage information.

3. Divergent production

Generate multiple solutions for the same problem.

4. Convergent production

Deduce a unique solution to a problem.

5. Assessment

the ability to judge whether a response / solution is appropriate, consistent and valid for the problem posed.


This category contains the following:

1. Figurative

Information which is in the form of drawings or which is not verbalized. Includes auditory and visual content.

2. Symbolic

Symbols that have a meaning: numbers, letters …

3. Semantics

Information captured by words and phrasesOrally, in writing or by reflection.

4. Behavioral

What is interpreted from the behavior of others. Content size originally had four factors, but in later revisions “figurative” was divided into “auditory” and “visual”.


These contain these elements:

1. Units

They represent the smallest information that can be captured.

2. Classes

Sets of elements sharing attributes.

3. Relations

Those are the connections between elements, either because they are associated or antagonistic.

4. Systems

Organized articles that interact between them.

5. Transformations

All the changes that knowledge has.

6. Implications

Inferences and predictions that can be made based on the knowledge we have.


Guilford, with Thurstone, was one of the first psychologists to consider that the idea of ​​intelligence was not a unitary conceptThat is, it could not be described with a single score, but taking into account several factors that each represented interrelated skill sets.

Today, thanks to the development of sciences which in Guilford’s time were underdeveloped, such as developmental psychology, neurology and artificial intelligence, have shown that intelligence and, in general, the mind is built from the interaction of various neurological modules relatively independent.

Over time, JP Guilford’s ideas have been revised and some of his findings on the theory of multiple intelligences brought to light. Robert Sternberg and Howard Gardner are clear examples of this update. However, no one doubts that Guilford was the one who sowed the seed on the idea that intelligence is something that has many components, and that we are not all intelligent in the same way.

Bibliographical references:

  • Guilford, JP (1967). Joy Paul Guilford. A history of psychology in autobiography. 5. 169-191.
  • Guilford, JP (1936) Psychometric methods. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Guilford, JP (1939) General psychology. New York, New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.
  • Guilford, JP (1950) Creativity, American Psychologist, volume 5, number 9, 444-454.
  • Guilford, JP (1967). The nature of human intelligence.
  • Guilford, JP and Hoepfner, R. (1971). Intelligence analysis.
  • Guilford, JP (1982). Ambiguities in cognitive psychology: some suggested remedies. Psychological review, 89, 48-59.

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