In differential psychology, the models of intelligence can be divided into two: factorial (hierarchical) or multifactorial (considering intelligence as a set of skills independent of each other).

In this article we will analyze in detail a hierarchical model, Burt’s Intelligence Model . Cyrill Burt based on Charles Spearman’s theory and added some changes. To explain intelligence, Burt establishes four primary factors and a general intelligence that encompasses them (G factor).

Burt’s Intelligence Model: Features

The hierarchical theories of intelligence divide their components into (from more specific to more general): specific factors (concrete tests), minor group factors, major group factors and finally, at the top of the “pyramid”, we find the well-known G factor

Cyrill Burt (1883-1971) was an English psychologist who made contributions to educational psychology and statistics. He was one of Charles Spearman’s (1863 – 1945) most successful disciples or successors. His model of intelligence is a synthesis of the work done by his predecessors, and he influenced the work of Cattell and Vernon.

He developed Burt’s so-called Intelligence Model, a hierarchical model of intelligence, where he established different levels, “links” or factors organized hierarchically. He focused on the existence of a structure formed by four primary factors and a general intelligence that subsumes them .

Burt’s Intelligence Model is a structural model that starts from a hierarchical arrangement of intelligence factors. It defends the supremacy of genetic variables to explain the differences in intelligence.

Burt’s Theory

Burt develops his theory through a hypothesis he establishes in 1945, where he postulates some differences in intellectual development. According to him, at the intellectual level, the hierarchical structure of intelligence is gradually reached, where all aptitudes occupy a specific place. These aptitudes are distributed from a level of indifference (g) to a detailed level of specialisation (s) .

Thus, in 1949 Burt’s developed Intelligence Model appears. In it he recognizes the existence of 18 group factors located below the general intelligence factor “g”, in different hierarchical levels.

Burt establishes that there is an undoubted “g” factor , since the correlations between cognitive tests are positive, but they are not hierarchical because there are factors that are common to certain types of tests but not to all of them.

Structure of intelligence

In Burt’s Intelligence Model, the author organizes the structure of intelligence into 5 increasingly complex levels, which range from the capture of stimuli to their processing and linkage with other cognitive elements (as we shall see in the following point).

According to C. Burt, intelligence is the general capacity whose structure is a hierarchical system of mental levels. As we have seen, Burt was Spearman’s successor, and completes the latter’s model with two other factors: group factors and accidental factors.

Differences and similarities with Charles Spearman

As we have seen, Burt accepts from Spearman the idea of the existence of a universal capacity (which he calls General Intelligence). His G-factor or General Intelligence, on the other hand, is of a practical nature and not intellectual .

In addition, Burt’s Intelligence Model differs from Spearman’s in that it gives importance to a number of group factors that would lie between the “g” factor and Spearman’s “s” factors.

The existence of these group factors coincides with the data provided by evolutionary studies that showed that from a shapeless intelligence a more specific set of aptitudes was generated until the development of very specific skills or abilities of certain tasks.

Hierarchical levels

The hierarchical levels that are established in Burt’s Intelligence Model are levels of mental processes.

These levels are differentiated by their degree of specificity, their content and the operations they include . They are the following (ordered from more complex, general or hierarchical to less):

1. General factor

We start with the most general level (the fifth level). This is Spearman’s G factor, i.e. general intelligence . This factor allows, includes and encompasses the other four levels. Furthermore, it influences and affects them.

2. Relationship

These are the relational processes that we put into practice in our reasoning. They include the different processes that allow us to coordinate and manage the different mental processes .

3. Association

These are the associative processes related to memory and habit formation . That is, they include the association capacities, and they allow us not only to relate elements, but also to recognize them, memorize them and form habits with them.

4. Perception

These are complex cognitive processes related to perception and coordination of movements. These processes allow the passage to the cognition of the information captured .

5. Sensation

It’s the most basic and simple level. It includes the different basic sensory and motor skills or abilities that we have.

Bibliographic references:

  • Andrés Pueyo, A. (1997). Manual of Differential Psychology. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
  • Carbajo, M.C. (2011). History of intelligence in relation to the older people. Revista pedagógica, 24, 225-242.
  • Sánchez Elvira Paniagua, A. (2005). Introduction to the study of individual differences. Madrid: Ed. Sanz y Torres. 2nd Edition.