Raymond B. Cattell’s theory of intelligence is one of the most influential in this field of study.
This multifactorial and hierarchical theory proposes that there is a general intelligence factor which depends on genes and manifests itself in multiple cognitive capacities, which factor analysis groups together into two factors: fluid and crystallized intelligence.
Cattell’s theory of intelligence
Raymond Bernard Cattell (1905-1998) was an English psychologist who rose to fame thanks to his psychometric research on the human mind, Which focused particularly on personality and intelligence. From factor analysis, of which he was a pioneer, he developed two very influential theories on these psychological constructions.
Other topics of interest to Cattell included motivation, emotion, learning, creativity, academic and career guidance, and social interaction. However, he is best known for his factor theory of personality and the 16PF questionnaire, which was derived from his model and remains one of the most widely used today.
In the work of this author is very remarkable the influence of statistician Charles Spearman, Who used factor analysis even before Cattell. In particular, Cattell’s theory of intelligence is derived from Spearman’s two-factor theory, which argued that there is a general cognitive factor (g) that explains lower level skills.
John L. Horn, a disciple of Cattell, later developed his theory, focusing on fluid and crystallized intelligence; the same was done by John B. Carroll. This is why the theory that we are going to describe in this article is often called “Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory”.
First-rate cognitive skills
By factor analysis, Cattell identified a number of the main factors that structure intelligence. He paid particular attention to the first two, which he identified with a fluid and crystallized intelligence; we will discuss these two factors in detail in the next section.
1. Fluid reasoning
This skill consists of flexible and deliberate use of mental operations to adapt to new situations and solve problems in which one has no experience. It is also known as fluid intelligence and includes processes such as inductive and deductive reasoning, concept formation, classification, and relationship identification.
The Understanding-Knowledge factor, which corresponds to crystallized intelligence, is the knowledge accumulated over the course of life and is influenced by the socio-cultural context as well as by the level of education. It is mainly based on the learn verbal and procedural information.
3. Quantitative knowledge
Quantitative knowledge is defined as the amount and depth of numerical and mathematical knowledge, both declaratively and procedurally. It is acquired mainly through formal education, so it is associated with a crystallized intelligence.
4. Ability to read and write
This factor is similar to the previous one, although in this case the material is not mathematical but linguistic. abilities such as reading comprehension, ability to spell, knowledge of languages and reading speed are related to this ability.
5. Short-term memory
For Cattell, short-term memory is the ability to store and process information obtained at the last minute, approximately; Therefore, in current terms, it would be more appropriate to think about working memory when conceptualizing this factor.
6. Long-term storage and recovery
this fitness it is associated with long-term memory and also with operations, As it encompasses the sub-factors that allow the consolidation of information in memory, as well as its retrieval and processing. Related factors include free memory, mastery of the association of ideas, ease of naming, and creativity.
7. Visual processing
Cattell defined visual processing as an ability to generate, store, retrieve and modify images. This factor includes other lower order factors such as visual memory, visualization, detection of visual patterns, spatial scanning, and mental rotation.
8. Auditory processing
Tasks involving sound perception and the functioning of the auditory system are related to this skill. Some of the sub-factors that make up auditory processing include frequency and pitch discrimination, resistance to sound distortion, and memory of sound patterns.
9. Processing speed
This factor is defined as the ability to perform easy or over-learned cognitive tasks effectively. It is associated with different types of materials; for example, the speed of calculation and the speed of reading and writing depend on this skill, but the same goes for the speed of reasoning and perception.
10. Reaction time and decision
The tenth first-order skill described by Cattell is the ability to respond or make decisions quickly when certain stimuli emerge. Weight in the time of choice between the alternatives, in the speed of semantic processing and in that of mental comparison, among other inferior factors.
Fluid and crystallized intelligence
Cattell attached great importance to two of the primary cognitive skills: Comprehension-Knowledge and fluid reasoning. He believed that these two factors, which he called “crystallized intelligence” and “fluid” respectively, to a large extent explained the rest. This dichotomy remains very popular in the psychology of intelligence.
According to this author and many subsequent studies, fluid intelligence has an important genetic-hereditary component, Is influenced by physical condition, decreases in old age and participates in the resolution of new problems. This type of intelligence encompasses skills such as spatial reasoning, memory, and processing speed.
On the other hand, crystallized intelligence is derived from learning; therefore, it is more influenced by culture and socialization than by fluid and is not as affected by age. Verbal skills mainly depend on crystallized intelligence and executive functions are also influenced by it.
Cattell’s analyzes they further identified a general underlying factor to both fluid and crystallized intelligence: historical fluid intelligence, which is fundamentally equivalent to the “g” factor described by Spearman and many subsequent authors. This nuclear cognitive factor has a biological character and is mainly related to fluid intelligence.
Therefore, and although Cattell’s theory of intelligence is often classified as a multifactorial model, it is also true that it has a relevant hierarchical component. Fluid intelligence influences different skills, many of which also weigh on a primary factor related to learning (crystallized intelligence).