Chapter 4 Intelligence and Mental Abilities

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Chapter 4 Intelligence and Mental Abilities


  • Intelligence—general ability to engage in cognitive processing; various theories have very different viewpoints;

  • some (psychometric, factor analytic) contend that “it” is a fixed trait;

  • others (e.g. Sternberg) contend that “it” is maleable;

  • others contend it is the ability to adapt to one’s environment (e.g. Piaget)

  • Mental abilities typically studied by domain—more specific domains/typologies of cognitive functioning (e.g. spatial, mathematical, verbal)

  • Achievement—levels of performance on cognitive/academic tasks; typically linked to learning and instruction whether formal or informal;

  • Early views re: sex/gender differences:

  • 1800’s—Francis Galton, after testing 9337 people, declared women inferior to men in all their capacities;

  • 1879—Gustav Le Bon, one of the founders of social psychology, “all psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women…recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized male…

  • Late 1800’s—women less intelligent than men

  • Early 1900’s—Binet, then Stanford-Binet; Terman did not believe in the inherent differences between women and men; Stanford-Binet test initially yielded several items on which women did better than men after these items were DROPPED from the test, no differences were observed

  • Male/masculine bias still exists in spite of the data—women and men still see males as more intelligent than females.

  • Maccoby, 1966—gender role nonconformity is positively related to IQ for both sexes (gender vs. sex).

  • Wechsler, created a non-verbal (performance) assessment of intelligence (block arrangement, copying a design, digit memory span);

  • Wechsler’s test demonstrated a difference with women scoring higher on the verbal portions and men scoring higher on the performance portions

  • Difference is relatively stable and maintained across time;

  • Some tests used to support this distinction are linked to experiences so more likely termed “achievement” tests

  • Verbal performance

  • Differences are not consistent within the verbal domain—early on, girls typically have an overall advantage on verbal performance; as they move into middle and high school, the differences tend to be segmented:

  • Girls—spelling, language use, writing

  • Boys—verbal reasoning

  • Hyde’s (1981) study: across studies, gender/sex accounts for ~1% of the difference so, there is a difference between a stable difference and a meaningful difference;

  • Hyde & Linn (1988)—differences were decreased over the next decade between the two studies

  • Mathematical Reasoning

  • During elementary school differences, when they occur favor females

  • Entrance into middle school traditionally has yielded a slight (>1%) difference in favor of males

  • More contemporary findings indicate the difference may not exist—Willingham et al., 1997;

  • Achievement test results indicate that there is a gender difference at the higher math levels with males having an advantage—one issue is access to and social acceptability of women in higher math courses;

  • Factors that impact females’ performance include potential test biases—Willingham et al., 1997—ETS eliminated items giving females advantages in verbal skills but retained those that gave males the advantage in math…double standard lives;

  • Social factors that impede females’ enrollment and excellence in math/sci

  • Parental support

  • Teachers’ support

  • Peers’ support

  • Curricular factors

  • Middle school does not always support females’ enrollment

  • Without early courses, females begin high school math at a deficit

  • Without higher level high school courses, access to college courses are limited

Spatial Performance

  • Spatial perception—ability to identify and locate planes; rod/frame, Piaget’s verticality

  • Spatial visualization—ability to “disembed” figures..find hidden objects;

  • Mental rotation—mentally changing the orientation of an object to detect an alternate view/perspective—when scoring changed to minimize speed, no differences in ability were observed—hence it may be an artifact of strategy

  • Spatiotemporal abilty—predicting direction and speed of an object to impact…

  • Again, differences tend to be small and based on experience..

  • Kass, Ahlers, & Dugger (1998):

  • If biological differences exist favoring males, then training should favor males over females

  • 21 females and 21 males –using practice tasks with feedback on direction and degree of error, females improved significantly—males showed no difference when compared with the control group (no training). Further, there were no differences between males and females following training and these findings held in a 3 week posttest…hence, there is evidence that spatial ability, at least in this type of task, is primarily experiential..

  • Naglieri & Rojahn (2001) used assessment of basic processes

  • Planning

  • Attention

  • Simultaneous processing

  • Successive processing

  • Woodcock-Johnson Revised test

  • This is considered to go beyond discipline (math, language, spatial) based achievement and assess more basic mental processes

  • 3 age groups 5-7 yrs; 8-10yrs; 11-17 yrs

  • 2200 kids from a national sample with approximately equal numbers of boys and girls

  • Advantages went to girls in planning, attention, and successive processing

  • Differences were around .25 standard deviation

  • No age by sex interaction

  • Female advantage is likely due to the faster maturation of frontal and prefrontal lobes of the brain

  • Implications tend to focus on the need to reexamine instructional strategies and social factors within the instructional context…

Message is : biology of femaleness and maleness is the same the world over yet the gender differences that are found in cognition are not universal…Halpern, 1995, pg. 84…
So, differences are likely due to options available and supported for sexes…
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