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Guilford's Intelligence theory

Guilford's Intelligence theory

September 20, 2022

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

From a classic view that intelligence is treated as a unique and unitary capacity to others that consider that it was a set of independent capacities among themselves and passing through others that stipulated the existence of hierarchically organized skill sets, a a lot of theories and models 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 .

  • Related article: "The theories of human intelligence"

Intelligence as a construct

As just mentioned, there is a great variety of perspectives regarding what the term intelligence means, and the investigations carried out have varied greatly the focus of its study and analysis.


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

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

  • Maybe you're interested: "Francis Galton's theory of intelligence"

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 that together with Raymond Cattell and Thurstone is one of the models of the most relevant contributions in regard to the conception of intelligence as a set of skills.


Guilford's model is based on the consideration of intelligence as the process by which the human being transforms the information of the environment into mental contents, so that he has an operational vision of it. The author establishes three separate and independent dimensions based on perception, transformation of information and response issuance.

Specifically, it talks about input elements or contents, operations and output or product elements s. His model is therefore three-dimensional, and is usually represented as 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 non-hierarchical, being the different skills independent. The intelligence is therefore a set of skills separated from each other that allow our adaptation to the environment.


  • You may be interested: "Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences"

The three dimensions of Guilford

For Guilford's theory of intelligence, the three main dimensions of each of the skills that shape the intelligence are three: the contents or perceptions, the operations that are carried out with them and, finally, the products or results of developing the first .

1. The contents

By contents are understood all that set of information and data collected, whether from the external environment or from the subject itself. It is mainly about the data, without any work being done on them . In short, we are talking about the basic element from which the agency works to develop content from operations.

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

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

2. The processes or operations

The operations refer to the set of procedures that the agency performs to transform the input information into other output information. In other words, it is the processing of the information of the contents in such a way that some 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 the meaning of the information collected.
  • Memory : it is based on the retention of information in order to operate at some time with it.
  • Converged production : creation of possible alternatives based on the information obtained previously. It involves the agglutination of previous information to select the appropriate response.
  • Divergent production : it is an act of creation of alternatives different from the habitual ones and contained in the memory. It is based on generating a novel response from the data obtained without.
  • Evaluation : realization of comparisons between the different contents that allows establishing relationships.

3. The products

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

Within the products, Guilford's theory of intelligence considers the existence of several types .

  • Units : simple and basic answers. A word, idea or elementary action.
  • Lessons : conceptualizations or organizations of similar units in some sense.
  • Relations : it is the idea of ​​a connection between the different information handled. For example, lightning is linked to thunder.
  • Systems : organizations of diverse information that interact with each other.
  • Transformations : any modification carried out with respect to the information collected.
  • Implications : establishment of connections between information suggested by a specific element without this connection appearing specifically as information. Relations of causality or covariation between elements are established.

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 is part of intelligence. Previously, it was not considered that the creation of alternatives was an indication of intelligence , based on his study in the search for a single correct alternative.

From Guilford, however, the study of creativity began to work as part of the intellectual capacity. The generation of new response alternatives equally efficient among them or even more efficient than the pre-established ones allow modifications and flexible action in known situations, and may generate new results. In fact, today the presence of creativity is a basic requirement to talk about subjects with intellectual giftedness.

Bibliographic references:

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

P62. Intelligence – Guilford’s Structure of Intellect (September 2022).


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