New intelligence notes

New intelligence notes-1999

Themes about intelligence

Individual Adaptive ability

Thought and cognitive processes

Tomasello and Call (1997) are good examplars of this approach, focussing on the types of mental representations and the flexibility in application of those representations. They borrow from Piaget's stock of representation types.

Learning and transfer or generalization of abstractions

For example, an "oddity" rule is one of these widely used problems. Harlow's apparatus and his concept of "learning set" and Rumbaugh's "transfer" relating to relative brain size exemplify this approach.

Scaling individuals --"tests"

Human "intelligence" tests

Are there many types of intelligence, one general factor, or some combination of each?

Application of Piaget's S-M, and other "stage" measures.

One of the recent criticisms of Piaget's theory is relevant here. Piaget implied that these stages of development changed the way one thought in all domains. That is, a sensori-motor "thinking" thought about everything in s-m terms; likewise a "logical" thinker was logical in consideration of all problems. While this may be somewhat unfair a criticism, it is true that humans can be very advanced in some domains --experts, while not at all advanced in others. And this may not have much relation to age. The point in regard to non-human primates is that one might observe domain specific skills due to specific adaptations or experiences that should not imply that the species (or individual) has more general capabilities.
This takes us back to Descartes' point about "instincts" not being indicative of reason.

Comparing species

Despite much against the idea, there continues to be a sense that somehow we can talk about the relative intelligence of species -- relating it variously to brain size and complexity and ability to learn arbitrary abstract rules.

Define it away in terms of component parts

Perhaps differences in various circumstances result from differing perceptual or memory factors. Or maybe there are differences in personality that increase success in certain problems but not others?

Famous old guys and their ideas

Descartes (see old notes)


"My object in this chapter is soley to shew that there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals in their mental faculties." 35 ..I have found....(among) animals of many kinds, including birds, that the individuals differ greatly in every mental characteristic..36" (Of course variability is required for natural selection to function.) Darwin notes two means for acquiring intelligent instinctive actions-- Lamarckism (p.38 though not in those terms) and natural selection of variations ..."

Darwin relates an anecdote of a monkey trainer who selected his monkeys on the basis of "their power of attention. If when he was taking and explaining anything to a monkey, its attention was easily distracted, as by a fly on the wall....the case was hopeless...On the other hand, a monkey which carefully attended to him could always be trained. 45"
"No doubt that it is always difficult to distinguish between the power of reason and that of instinct.. 46"
This again shows how shrewd Darwin was -- the anecdote anticipates one of the recent findings of enculturated apes; his comment on the difficulty of doing what Descartes advocated is also on the mark. Without a careful history of the individual, it is probably impossible to sort out instinct vs "reason."


Darwin' s cousin, wrote "Hereditary genius", was inventor of regression and correlation, and founder of the eugenics movement. (See old notes.)


Binet was a member of a group dedicated to improving education and developmental opportunities. In 1904 the French Minister of Public Instruction appointed a commission to develop objective criteria for the educability of children. Binet and Simon essentially used teachers judgments about necessary skills and objectified them in their tests. Hence Binet's test and those derived from it inherently have "intelligence" related to success in formal schooling.


Terman -- a psychologist at Standord University --adapted Binet's test (1916) and added a number of features especially standardization and applied it across the board expanding its use from determining mental retardation to scaling "intellect" for many purposes including identification of high ability individuals.
Terman (1922) [INTELLIGENCE TESTS AND SCHOOL REORGANIZATION] advocated using his test for among other things, organizing classrooms to have a intellectually homogenous group of students.


At the beginning of the US involvement in WW I, Yerkes was president of the APA and worked to involve psychologists in the war effort. Along with Thorndike, and Terman, he developed the Army Alpha Test of Intelligence, perhaps the first developed in the United States. This was used starting in 1917 to evaluate nearly 2 million recruits and officers.


Argued all ability came down to efficiency with trial and error learning.



James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934)


(See Chevalier-Skolnikoff, S. (1977). A Piagetian model for describing and comparing socialization in monkey, ape, and human infants. [136-166] )

Factors in human intelligence studies

Parental education


Brain size

Confluence model and birth order


Early experiences

Genetic background


See old notes. This reveals the complexity of "intelligence" in any individual.

Speculation on evolutionary advances in "intelligence"

Social factors

Foraging factors

Language provides an incremental leap in intelligence

A coincidental by-product of other factors

Body size increases lead to allometric brain size increases

What are characteristics of "intelligent" creatures?

Data from Gould (1977), Passingham (1980) and reflection suggest a complex of interrelated characteristics are observed in intelligent creatures. Many of these derive from the neotenous condition of primates but can be expected to reflect "intelligence" in other species who happen to have similar characteristics. (Note that many of these are not independent of one another.)

large brain and "surplus" neurons

This probably is important in representing experience and "working memory."

long life

The more experience to accumulate.

high parental investment

This works in serveral ways from promoting nutrition and safety to Zajonc's "confluence theory" of intellectual development.

small number of offspring (reproductive strategy)

(see above!)

long period of immaturity and degree of immaturity at birth

The better to shape the brain for new circumstances and to learn from experienced adults. Also consider the function of "play" (see Carpenter's comments on his gibbons.) Is it surprising that humans continue to play well into advanced age?

high manipulative ability

Manipulating a limb or vocal tract requires a brain capable of representing, planning, and transmitting information. These manipulations themselves may be useful or their brain space might be used for other intelligent activity.

dexterity in hand, paw, claw, bill, trunk, tentacle, and vocal tract

The puppetmeister metaphor is useful here; how may strings and how often must you pull them gives a rough indication of the sophistication of the system. Generally speaking, more degrees of freedom require greater information flow per unit time. (Consider an octopus puppet!)
The most complex example is probably speech, where Darley, F. L., Aronson, A. E., & Brown, J. R. (1975). Motor speech disorders . Philadelphia: Saunders estimate 14,000 muscles must be controlled and at a very rapid rate! But elephants' trunks are also quite sophisticated in design.

reafferent effects on CNS

as we have discussed, the CNS is shaped in part by its feedback from sensory and motor organs.

decreases boredom factor (increase curiosity?)

Like play, or as part of it, having many things to explore only adds to one's repertoire -- representations that might be useful at a later time.

complex vocal communication

Both brain requirements and social functions are important. There may be effects of increased attention to others as models or sources of information.

complex social organization

Keeping track of one's place in the social hierarchy requires lots of skills and knowledge of others. In addition to driving for a larger brain, such demands may push for inferential skills in discerning others motives, etc.

high visual acuity

Vision requires a sophisticated nervous system that can be used for "intelligent" actions--vision thus is perhaps a useful preadaption for intelligence. It may be particularly important enabling the use of visual imagery in problem solving. See Piaget's "figurative intelligence" and Kohler's "insight", etc. Both of these are examples of how mental representations are applied more or less flexibly in solving problems with engaging in the actual movements that may result in a trial with a dangerous error.