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Thurstone's theory of primary mental abilities

Thurstone's theory of primary mental abilities

September 20, 2023

Thurstone's theory of 7 mental abilities , which appeared in the 1920s, is one of the most important psychological models on intelligence that exist.

The differential characteristic of this author in relation to others of the time was its focus on the multiple nature of intellectual skills, thus opposing the Spearman g factor.

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Thurstone's theory of intelligence

Louis Leon Thurstone (1887-1955) is considered one of the most influential authors in the field of psychometrics. His main contribution is his theory of the 7 primary mental aptitudes , which opposed the unitary and hierarchical models of intelligence proposed by other pioneers such as Charles Spearman or P. E. Vernon.

In a very particular way, Thurstone denied the existence of a general factor of intelligence (the famous "g factor") to which the rest of cognitive capacities would be subordinated. For this author intelligence should be understood as a set of primary mental aptitudes not reducible to a single higher level dimension.

Along with authors such as Charles Spearman and Raymond B. Cattell, Thurstone is considered one of the main responsible for the establishment of methods of factor analysis in psychology . These mathematical tests have the objective of identifying the number and structure of the different factors that weigh in some type of psychological measure.

Thurstone's goal was to find a configuration of intelligence that was true to empirical data but kept as simple as possible; that is to say, He tried to explain the different aptitudes that form intelligence with a few higher order factors. Each of them maintained a strong correlation with a specific type of intellectual evidence.

The influence of Thurstone's work has been very notable in the later developments of the psychology of intelligence. Thus, we can find inspiration from the model of primary mental abilities in the most recent versions of important tests such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scales and the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.

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The 7 primary mental aptitudes

After his first research, for which he used 56 different intelligence tests, Thurstone identified 9 primary mental factors or abilities.

Numerous subsequent studies have repeatedly validated 7 of these factors, so we can say that the Thurstone model has a solid measurement capacity.

1. Verbal comprehension (factor v)

The verbal comprehension factor is associated with knowledge related to language in all its manifestations; it would include, therefore, vocabulary, semantics, syntax or pragmatics. The tests that weigh in factor v include tests of reading comprehension, ordering of text segments, spelling, verbal analogies, etc.

2. Verbal fluency (w)

This ability can be defined as the ability of a person to emit coherent and structured verbal sequences quickly and naturally. To measure it, various types of tests that involve the speedy production of speech ; thus, for example, the classic test of giving names of animals that begin with a certain letter could be used.

3. Numerical ability (n)

The numerical aptitude tests consist mainly of basic mathematical calculations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Although they can be more complex, in the factor n they weigh mostly the simple arithmetic calculation tasks; the most relevant aspects are the speed of operations and the accuracy of the answers .

4. Spatial ability (s)

The s factor is manifested in the spatial orientation, in the representation of objects in space or in the tasks of rotation; given that these are very broad capacities, often spatial fitness is divided into two or three secondary factors . The relevant tests involve the prediction of movements, the comparison of figures from different perspectives, etc.

5. Associative memory (m)

This factor is associated with a specific aspect of memory: the ability to retain pairwise associations of elements . In this way, to measure the associative memory tests that involve images, words (in visual or auditory format), symbols, etc are used; they can be presented in the same modality or in combinations of more than one of these materials.

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6. Perception speed (p)

In the factor p, all those cognitive tests that are based on the comparison between different elements or in the identification of structures and sequences. Therefore, the aptitude that Thurstone denominated "speed of perception" refers to the speed with which we find the similarities and differences between several items.

7. General reasoning (r) or induction (i)

Some of the investigations that have been carried out around the Thurstone model partially distinguish factor r from factor i. While the second corresponds to the capacity for inductive thinking (find general rules with predictive value from series of elements), "general reasoning" has a more marked mathematical weight.

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Intelligence and aptitude || Chapter 1 || psychology || Theory of primary mental abilities (September 2023).

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