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The 5 hierarchical theories of intelligence

The 5 hierarchical theories of intelligence

May 9, 2024

Intelligence has long been an object of frequent study within Psychology, especially in regard to basic and differential psychology. This concept refers to the ability of the human being to adapt to the environment with success and efficiency, being able to use the available cognitive resources in order to establish action plans, to capture the relationships between different stimuli, the reasoning and logic to reason and manage behavior.

There is a large number of theories and conceptualizations about what intelligence is or how it is structured, a variety in which it has gone from being a unique and general capacity to a set of relatively independent capacities. One of these conceptualizations is that of the hierarchical theories of intelligence .


  • Related article: "The theories of human intelligence"

The hierarchical theories of intelligence

They are known as hierarchical theories of intelligence those that are based on the conception that Intelligence is made up of a set of dependent skills one of the others, which establish a hierarchy among themselves in which an order is established according to which each factor includes several subfactors.

Is about a type of theory based on a factorial model and in which there are capacities that dominate and allow the existence of others. For example, starting from one of the models (specifically Vernon's model) we can consider that the ability to write comes from the linguistic capacity, which in turn is part and depends on the verbal capacity, which together with the motor skills is part of general intelligence.


In this way we would have very specific skills that would be responsible for specific behaviors or to govern specific parts of them, and in turn these skills would depend on a cognitive ability or higher order factor that encompasses a whole set of such skills. In turn, this and other skills of the same sublevel would depend on another that influences all of them, and so on.

  • Related article: "Intelligence: Factor G and Spearman's Bifactorial Theory"

Main hierarchical models

exist different models derived from the hierarchical theories of intelligence , which have established different ways of interpreting the hierarchical ranking among the factors or even the type of factors in question. Next, the most known and relevant hierarchical theories are exposed.


1. Burt's model: Hierarchical model of mental levels

The model developed by Cyrill Burt focuses on the proposal of the existence of a structure formed by four primary factors and a general intelligence that subsumes them , organizing this structure in five levels ranging from the capture of stimuli to their processing and linkage with other cognitive elements.

Specifically, level one is that of sensation, which includes the different sensory and motor capacities that we have. It is the most basic and simple level. Subsequently, in level two or perception Burt incorporates the set of processes that allow the passage to the cognition of the information captured , as well as the ability to coordinate movement.

Level three encompasses the capabilities of association, such as recognition, memory or habit , to later find in level four or relationship the different processes that allow to coordinate and manage the different mental processes.

Finally, in the fifth level is general intelligence, which allows, influences and encompasses the previous levels.

2. Vernon's hierarchical factor model

One of the best known hierarchical models is that of P.E. Vernon, who established the existence of a general intelligence from which they emerged the educational-verbal and motor-spatial factors , which in turn gave rise to skills such as fluency, numerical, linguistic, creative capacity, mechanical capacity, spatial, psychomotor or induction.

However the most important of this model is the fact that Vernon would indicate the existence of three types of intelligence depending on the level of development of biological potential in reality. I would name as intelligence A the biological potential of the person in what refers to their ability to develop and adapt to the environment, as intelligence B to the level of ability demonstrated behaviorally in reality and as intelligence C to that extractable as objective evidence of intelligence B extracted in intelligence tests.

3. Gustafsson's HILI model

The model developed by Gustafsson is called the HILI model. This model includes e integrates aspects of Vernon and Cattell , and is based on a three-level structure in which at the simplest or lowest level are the primary skills such as rational ability, verbal fluency or memory, while at the intermediate level are the factors of fluid intelligence , crystallized, visual, recovery capacity and cognitive speed and finally a higher level in which general intelligence is found.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Raymond Cattell's theory of intelligence"

4. Guttman's Radex model

Another of the hierarchical theories of intelligence is that of Louis Guttman, who proposed a model that ordered the factors obtained in different psychometric tests and organized into sections according to the similarity in complexity and content.

It establishes a hierarchy in the form of concentric circles with three main factors that are the spatial visual skill, verbal ability and quantitative-numerical ability . From there, it establishes the level of proximity of the different tests with the G factor of intelligence, the central point and hierarchically higher.

5. The Carroll strata model

This model divides the cognitive capacities into three linked strata, the most concrete being the first and the most general the third.

In the first of the strata Carroll establishes concrete skills such as induction, visual memory, musical discrimination, writing or perceptual speed . It is a total of twenty specific factors necessary for the performance of various actions both mentally and behaviorally.

The second of the strata includes eight more general and broad factors in which those of the previous stratum are included. They include fluid, crystallized intelligence, memory and learning, visual perception, auditory perception, capacity for recovery, cognitive speed and processing speed.

Finally, the third stratum refers to general intelligence, from which all previous processes and capabilities are derived.

And a mixed model: The model of Cattell and Horn

Cattell's model, in which he divided intelligence into fluid and crystallized intelligence, is widely known worldwide. But nevertheless this model was later expanded with the collaboration of John Horn , resulting in such collaboration in one of the models or hierarchical theories of intelligence.

In this model, three levels can be observed. In the first order factors we find the primary aptitudes (taken from Thurstone and Guilford), which are encompassed by the second order factors.

Finally, the third order factors are a fluid historical intelligence (from which arise secondary factors such as fluid intelligence as an element that allows the realization of links between elements by induction or deduction , visual intelligence, resilience and cognitive speed). In addition to this, along with the fluid historical intelligence is the common learning factor, which involves crystallized intelligence.

Bibliographic references:

  • Love, P.J. and Sánchez-Elvira. A. (2005). Introduction to the study of individual differences. 2nd Edition. Sanz and Torres: Madrid.
  • Maureira, F. (2017). What is intelligence? Bubok Publishing S.L. Spain.

Theories of intelligence (May 2024).


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