There are many models that have been created from psychology to try to explain the phenomenon of intelligence better and better.
One is the hierarchical model known as Vernon. This is what we will focus on this article in order to deepen this theory and know all the peculiarities that differentiate it from others. We will also learn about the strengths and weaknesses of this approach.
What is Vernon’s hierarchical model?
Vernon’s hierarchical model is a theory proposed by Canadian psychologist Philip Vernon to try to explain how intelligence works, extending the explanations offered by other models of the time to interpret and predict this phenomenon at that time.
It is also possible to find the terminology of hierarchical structure of Vernon-Burt, as Cyril Burt, a British psychologist, was another of the authors who contributed to the creation of these new models, which were based on the hierarchy of factors previously d ‘other previous approaches.
The key underlying Vernon’s hierarchical model is precisely that it is based on the premise that intelligence is not a single quality, but a range of abilities within each subject, each intended for a series of tasks, but not all with the same importance. It is precisely this hierarchy, the element that distinguishes this theory.
So what Vernon is saying is that it will be certain parts of the intelligence, in particular, that will dominate the rest. It would therefore be a factorial type model, with dominant factors and sub-factors which would be subordinate to it. Each dominant factor would have an associated group of sub-factors. At the same time, new levels can be given, creating a pyramid of factors.
This way, a very specific or very technical skill in a person, would be represented in Vernon’s hierarchical model as one of the lowest level sub-factors, because it would depend on other factors, increasingly broad and therefore higher in the hierarchy.
Structure of Vernon’s hierarchical model
We have seen a first approach to Vernon’s hierarchical model. We must now continue to investigate its structure to better understand it. We have already argued that for Vernon the most concrete intelligence abilities are at the most subordinate level of all, and from there they are upward steps to more general ones.
But what’s at the top of this pyramid? At the top of Vernon’s hierarchical model, we would find neither more nor less than the g-factor of intelligence., also known as the general cognitive factor. This concept was introduced by another psychologist, the British Charles Spearman.
Spearman was one of the pioneers of intelligence theories, and without his work much of the subsequent research that could have given rise to new theories could not have been conducted, including the one that came before us, that of the hierarchical model of Vernon.
Getting back to the g factor of intelligence, we need to know what it refers to a construction that would encompass all the possible cognitive capacities of intelligence. That is, it would be full intelligence including any kind of skill the person in question can do. The g factor represents the point in the structure where there can be more variation between different individuals.
We already know the factor at the top of the pyramid, according to Vernon’s hierarchical model. We will now continue to move forward to continue to discover the peculiarities of this theoretical structure. At a level immediately below the g factor of intelligence, would be the largest group factors. These would act as the general categories of intelligence, in a very broad sense.
These major categories would be two in number. The first is the one referred to the skills acquired during the educational process and consisting mainly of verbal and digital skills. This category is broader than it looks, as it would actually encompass any theoretical concept we could learn, as it will always be encoded verbally or numerically.
The other general category of intelligence, instead of referring to theory, does so in practice. It would encompass all matters relating to mechanical, spatial and physical intelligence. Within this block, we would find all the skills related to the exercise. As can be seen, between the two categories there would be room for any skill that could be included in intelligence.
Lower levels of Vernon’s hierarchical model
We already have the topmost part of Vernon’s hierarchical model, which is the g-factor of intelligence, and the first rung of subordination, the two big blocks we just saw. If we follow our path downwards, we would reach a new stage, with more specific factors but at the same time more subordinate to the higher levels.
Under these two large categories, which represented the larger group factors, we would find a set, the smaller group factors. The smaller are more numerous, because we no longer speak of blocks as large as in the upper echelon. These would be vast human skills.
This step represents an intermediate point in Vernon’s hierarchical model, because although we have said that these are broad skills, they remain more specific than the general categories at the higher level (remember, the education factor, verbal -numeric and practical, spatial and mechanical physics), but at the same time, they are not concrete enough to represent specific abilities.
That is why we would find yet one more step, the most subordinate of all, but at the same time it is what represents all those qualities of intelligence necessary for a very specific task. We then see in all its splendor the schema of Vernon’s hierarchical model.
We started with the highest part of the model, where there is the g factor, intelligence in general. Going down one rung, we find two main categories, one for questions relating to theory and another for practices. Continuing the decline is when lower group factors for soft skills appear. I, going down to the last step, we find the specific factors, that is to say those related to specific skills.
The importance of Vernon’s hierarchical model
After reviewing the schema posed by Vernon’s hierarchical model, we must stop for a moment to recall the importance that this approach has assumed in the studies of intelligence, throughout the twentieth century. Therefore, we have to mention two other models which preceded that of Vernon.
The one we have already anticipated, because it would be the two-factor (bifactorial) model, posed by Charles Spearman. One of those factors would be the g, which we have already talked about. It would be the general factor of intelligence. The other would be the s factor. It is on the other hand the factor, or rather specific factors.
On the other hand, there would be the theory of multiple factors, or theory of primary mental skills, Louis Leon Thurstone, American psychologist. The approach would be quite the opposite of that of Spearman, since what Thurstone suggests is that there is no general factor g, but only specific factors, which would correspond to the specific capacity of each one.
Considering the divergence of these two models, it is then that one can discover the importance of the hierarchical model of Vernon. Indeed, this approach implies the reconciliation between the two theories. And this is because Vernon took up, on the one hand, Spearman’s idea of a general factor (the g factor), but also specific factors or mental aptitudes suggested by Thurstone.
Example of Vernon’s hierarchical model
To conclude, we will quickly analyze an example that will allow a better visualization of the model. hierarchy of Vernon. This is why we are going to analyze a very specific skill, such as spelling. To do this, we’ll start from the top of this template. Any skill, whatever it is, has to start at the tip, at the g factor, because that encompasses all the others..
If we went down one step, we would realize that it is a competence corresponding to the verbal-numerical factor, because it is acquired theoretically through educational processes. If we continued to descend, already at the level of the lower general factors, we would be placed in the factor of reading, a more concrete capacity but which at the same time can subdivide.
And that’s precisely what we’re going to do, going down the bottom rung of Vernon’s hierarchical model and finding the specific specific factor, which allows us to spell a word. But this is not the only factor specific to reading, as there are many others, such as comprehension, vocabulary, or speed, among others.
- Spearman, C. (1946). General theory of factors. British Journal of Psychology.
- Thurstone, LL, Thurstone, TG (1938). Primary mental skills. Psychometric monographs.
- Vernon, PE (2014). Intelligence and cultural environment (Psychology Revivals). Routledge.
- Vernon, PE (2014). The structure of human capacities (Psychology Revivals). Routledge.