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Cognition and Intelligence



This unit is found in greater depth in cognitive psychology courses. Cognitive psychologists study how we reason, types of reasoning, problem solving and decision making.

In the second section, we focus on intelligence, in particular. Intelligence is a hotly debated topic. What is intelligence? How do we measure it?

When we assess any characteristic, there are several considerations in measuring that attribute. The first consideration is reliability. Our measure must be reliable, that is, it can be trusted to give us the same score if we repeat the measure. If a measure is not reliable it is difficult to use it to make decisions. There are several ways to measure the reliability of an instrument.

The second characteristic is validity. An instrument should measure what it says it measures. If an intelligence test measures only the ability to read, what does that mean we should do with the results?

Tests also need norms or standardization. Norms allow us to make comparisons of scores. For instance, we say that an IQ of 110 is normal. We can say that because the test can been given to thousands if not millions of people and we can say with pretty good certainty that 110 is in the middle range of scores. Standardization (remember all those tests you took in school?) means that everyone takes the test in the same way. This means, again, we can make comparisons of the score with more certainty that we are measuring the same thing.

None of these characteristics are absolute guarantees but they do give us more confidence in scores and thus we can use them with confidence.

One characteristic that is tested frequently is that of intelligence. A basic controversy centers on the nature of intelligence. Is it one factor or are there multiple intelligences? More current theories lean toward the latter interpretation of intelligence. A second controversy is over the nature/nurture aspect of intelligence. This controversy is ongoing and not likely to be resolved soon.


Finally there is the issue of creativity. What is creativity? Is a scientist more creative than a ballerina? Again, there are no absolute answers.