Intelligence is a complex construct that throughout history has been conceptualized in very different ways by various authors.

From a classical view that treats intelligence as a single and unitary capacity to others that consider it a set of capacities independent from each other and others in which the existence of hierarchically organized sets of skills was stipulated, a great number of theories and models have emerged that try to explain what intelligence is, how it is structured and how it acts.

One of these theories is the Guilford’s theory of intelligence .

Intelligence as a construct

As mentioned above, there is a wide variety of perspectives on what the term intelligence means, and the research carried out has varied greatly in the approach to its study and analysis.

However, in a general way we can consider that it is the capacity or set of mental capacities that allow our adaptation , allowing us to manage our cognitive resources in the most efficient way when facing different situations.

Thanks to intelligence we are able to correctly capture and analyse information coming from the environment or from ourselves, establish strategies and ways to manage resources and solve problems, plan our behaviour and carry it out successfully.

Guilford’s theory of intelligence

Joy Paul Guilford was an American psychologist whose contributions to the study of intelligence converge in a theory of intelligence which, together with Raymond Cattell and Thurstone, is one of the most relevant contributions to the conception of intelligence as a set of abilities.

The Guilford model is based on the consideration of intelligence as the process by which human beings transform the information of the environment into mental content, so that they have an operational vision of it. The author establishes three separate and independent dimensions based on perception, information transformation and response emission.

Specifically, it speaks of input elements or contents, operations and output elements or product s. Its model is therefore three-dimensional, and is usually represented in the form of a cube in which the interactions between the three large dimensions are interrelated to form up to 120 different factors.

It is a taxonomic model that considers the different capacities as not hierarchical, being the different aptitudes independent. Intelligence is therefore a set of aptitudes separated from each other that allows our adaptation to the environment.

The three dimensions of Guilford

For Guilford’s theory of intelligence, the three main dimensions of each of the aptitudes that make up intelligence are three: the contents or perceptions, the operations that are carried out with them and finally the products or result of elaborating the first ones.

1. The contents

By content we mean all the information and data collected, whether from the external environment or from the subject himself. It is mainly about the data, without any kind of work being done on them . In short, we are talking about the basic element from which the organism works to elaborate contents from operations.

Within the contents, we can find different types of information.

  • Figural : this is the visual information we capture, that is the images
  • Symbolic : it is about information also visual, but in this case they are elements used as signs of a language to represent a concept or idea and that have no meaning by themselves.
  • Semantics : mental contents linked to the meaning of symbols.
  • Behavioral or Behavioural : all the data coming from the link with the environment or with other individuals. It includes gestures, desires, intentions or attitudes.

2. The processes or operations

The operations concern all the procedures that the body carries out to transform incoming information into outgoing information. In other words, it is the processing of the information of the contents in such a way that products are generated in the form of a mental or physical response.

Within these operations we find the following processes:

  • Cognition : awareness or understanding of information. It is based on the ability to extract meaning from the information captured.
  • Memory : is based on the retention of information in order to operate at some point with it.
  • Convergent production : creation of possible alternatives based on the information obtained previously It implies the agglutination of previous information to select the appropriate response.
  • Divergent production : it is an act of creation of alternatives different from the usual ones and contained in the memory. It is based on generating a new response from the data obtained without .
  • Evaluation : carrying out comparisons between the different contents which allows to establish relationships.

3. The products

The products can be understood as the result of the transformations carried out through the operations to the contents. Thus, it refers to the expression or response generated by them, whether behavioural or mental.

Within the products, Guilford’s theory of intelligence considers the existence of several typologies .

  • Units : simple and basic answers. An elementary word, idea or action.
  • Classes : conceptualizations or organizations of units that are similar in some way.
  • Relations : this is the idea of a connection between the different information handled. For example, lightning is linked to thunder.
  • Systems : organizations of various information that interact with each other.
  • Transformations : any modification carried out with respect to the information captured.
  • Implications : establishment of connections between information suggested by some specific element without this connection appearing specifically as information. Causal or covariant relationships are established between elements.

Divergent thinking and creativity

Regardless of whether Guilford’s theory of intelligence is more or less valid, one of the main and most important contributions to the conception of intelligence is the incorporation of divergent thinking as a distinctive element that forms part of intelligence. Previously, it was not considered that the creation of alternatives was an indication of intelligence , basing the study of this on the search for a single correct alternative.

From Guilford onwards, however, the study of creativity began to be worked on as part of intellectual capacity. The generation of new response alternatives that are equally efficient among them or even more efficient than the pre-established ones allows for modifications and flexibility of action in known situations, and can generate new results. In fact, today the presence of creativity is a basic requirement for speaking of intellectually gifted subjects.

Bibliographic references:

  • Hernangómez, L. and Fernández, C. (2012). Personality and differential psychology. Manual CEDE de Preparación PIR, 07. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Guilford. J.P. (1977). The nature of human intelligence. Buenos Aires, Paidós.