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The Dimensional Shift in Intelligence - An Expository Approach

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The Evolution of Intelligence[edit]

Intelligence has proven to be one of the most controversial areas of Psychology; though being one of the oldest areas of the discipline. This discipline dates back to the 1880's with the work of Francis Galton.[1] The body of research and theorising is extensive, yet it has proven inadequate in fabricating what may be deemed a satisfactory definition of intelligence.

It it cited that at a symposium convened by the Journal of Educational Psychology in 1921 to discuss the meaning of intelligence, 17 experts in the field posited almost as many interpretations of what constitutes intelligence. These postulations ranged from the “ability to learn” (Buckingham), “the power of good responses from the point of view of truth or fact” (Thorndike), “the ability to carry on abstract thinking” (Terman), “the ability of the individual to adapt himself adequately to relatively new situations in life” (Pintner), “involving two factors - the capacity for knowledge and the knowledge possessed” (Henmon), to the “the capacity to acquire capacity” (Woodrow).[1]

The Shift in Understanding Intelligence[edit]

Early theories proposed that intelligence consisted of a single general ‘ability factor’. Spearman (1904), as cited in Parr stated all branches of intellectual activity have in common one fundamental function or general ability factor. However by 1927, Spearman’s research further revealed that the fundamental function might actually consist of a group of related functions, each being saturated by the general factor. This assertion was not agreed on by Thorndike, who posited that intelligence instead consisted of independent and specific mental abilities; such as abstract, social, and mechanical capabilities. This postulation was further elaborated by Thurstone (1935), and resulted in the birth of the ‘multiple-factor’ theory of intelligence.[2]

J.P. Guilford was a psychologist whose contribution changed the standard definition of intelligence. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1927, where he studied under Edward Titchener. Guilford was primarily influenced by the work of Charles Spearman, but ultimately rejected his predecessor's views and understanding of intelligence. Guilford went on to develop new parameters; built upon the views of L. L. Thurstone, which argued that intelligence consisted of independently operating factors, and could be measured. He first proposed a model with 120, then 150, and finally 180 independently operating factors in intelligence.[3],[4]

Guilford's commitment to extending the knowledge of intelligence and how the intelligence of individuals could be measured was a tremendous advantage for both psychologists and educators. He stated that “psychology should be the chief basic science upon which the practices of education depend, and that it should supply education with the information it needs concerning the processes of understanding, learning, and thinking, among other things”.[3]

J. P. Guilford - Education and Career[edit]

Guilford worked as an assistant in the psychology department as an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska. He then went on to graduate school at Cornell University, where from 1919 to 1921 he studied under Edward Titchener. While at Cornell, Guilford also served as director of the university's psychological clinic.

After spending a year at the University of Kansas; from 1927 to 1928, he became Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska, remaining there from 1928 to 1940. His appointment as a psychology professor at the University of Southern California also occurred in 1940, where he stayed until 1967.[4]

Guilford was promoted to be Chief of the Psychological Research Unit during World War II. He had oversight for developing the Stanine project; which organized and implemented the standard nine intellectual abilities necessary for pilots to effectively fly an airplane.[3]

Selection of Intellect (SOI) Theory and Model[edit]

The Structure-of-Intellect (SOI) model aims to explain the nature of intelligence. It is represented as a three-dimensional cuboid, with three main dimensions - namely: operations, content and product complexity. The SI model is a way of explaining thinking processes using these dimensions as key interrelated concepts.[5]

Guilford's Model of Intelligence

The first version of the Structure-of-Intellect (SOI) model was presented in 1956 and originally had four types of mental contents dimension (figural, symbolic, semantic, and behavioural), five types of operations dimension (cognition, memory, evaluation, convergent production and divergent production), and six types of products dimension (units, classes, relations, systems, transformations, and implications), thus resulting in 120 factors, with over 100 having been empirically verified. However, in 1977 Guilford modified this model to divide the figural factor of the content dimension into what now exists as visual and auditory factors, thus making five types of the contents dimension, instead of four. Guilford’s Structure-of-Intellect theory is more complex than Thurstone’s, which grew out of a massive analysis of a great many existing tests.

Guilford's model can be applied to all educational levels and has the potential to improve the learner’s ability to recognize, evaluate, reason and think creatively.[2] Groth-Marnat posited that as it relates to education, an important aspect of Guilford’s theory considers intelligence as modifiable, and purports that an individual’s performance in any area of thinking can be improved through accurate diagnosis and remediation. This can help educators to determine which skills are to be emphasised in any educational approach or system and which ones can be neglected. However, the very large number of different components of intelligence which can be derived renders practical examination and utilisation very complex. The SOI model has also been widely applied in employment and recruitment through personnel selection and placement.[5]


Guilford’s SOI theory is intended to be a general theory of human intelligence, and is capable of describing basic cognitive processes in addition to different kinds of skilled thinking. Analysis has been used to determine which abilities are measured by using the same tests. The findings are that there is both confirmatory evidence and criticism of the methods used by Guilford. It is also posited that there are clear theoretical links with Piaget and with Bloom’s taxonomy, with Guilford’s operations dimension lacking only Bloom’s ‘apply’ category. Irrespective of the arguments for or against Guilford’s SOI theory, he is owed a debt by later theorists such as Sternberg and Gardner who have argued for other conceptions than ‘g’.[5]


Guilford, J.P. 1939. General Psychology. Van Nostrand.

Guilford, J.P. 1950. Creativity. American Psychologist 5: 444-454.

Guilford, J.P. 1954. Psychometric Methods. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 0070251290 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.

Guilford, J.P. 1956. A Factor-analytic Study of Verbal Fluency: Studies of Aptitudes of High-level Personnel. University of Southern California.

Guilford, J.P. 1956. Fourteen Dimensions of Temperament. American Psychological Association.

Guilford, J.P. 1959. Traits of creativity in Creativity and its Cultivation. pp. 142-161. Harper and Row.

Guilford, J.P. 1967. The Nature of Human Intelligence. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 0070251355 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.

Guilford, J.P. 1968. Intelligence, Creativity and their Educational Implications. Robert R. Knapp.

Guilford, J.P. 1971. Analysis of Intelligence. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 0070251371 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.

Guilford, J.P. 1977. Way beyond the IQ. Creative Education Foundation. ISBN 0930222016 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.

Guilford, J.P. 1980. Intelligence Education is Intelligent Education. International Society for Intelligence Education. ISBN 4924416010 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.

Guilford, J.P. 1980. Some changes in the structure of intellect model. Educational and Psychological Measurement 48: 1-4.

Guilford, J.P. 1982. Cognitive psychology's ambiguities: Some suggested remedies. Psychological Review 89: 48-59.

Guilford, J.P., & B. Fruchter. 1973. Fundamental Statistics in Psychology and Education. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 0070251487 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Fogarty, Gerard (1999). "Intelligence: theories and issues". Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279474502_Intelligence_theories_and_issues
  2. 2.0 2.1 Parr, Judith (1984). "Guilford's structure of intellect theory: An evaluation of the three dimensional model and the implications for its use in the education of the gifted child". Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/thesis/1807
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 J. P. Guilford: Studies & contribution to psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/jp-guilford-studies-contribution-to-psychology.html
  4. 4.0 4.1 J. P. Guilford. (2018). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/J._P._Guilford
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Frameworks for thinking: Cognitive structure and/or development. (2015). Studfiles, pp.195 – 199. Retrieved from https://studfiles.net/preview/2568967/page:58/

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