Initial Research

The psychologist Charles Spearman in 1904 made the first formal factor analysis of correlations between the tests. He found a single common factor explained the positive correlations among tests. This is an argument still accepted in principle by many psychometricians. Spearman named it g for “general factor” and labelled the smaller, specific factors or abilities for specific areas s. In any collection of IQ tests, by definition the test that best measures g is the one that has the highest correlations with all the others. Most of these g-loaded tests typically involve some form of abstract reasoning. Therefore, Spearman and others have regarded g as the (perhaps genetically determined) real essence of intelligence. This is still a common but not universally accepted view. Other factor analyses of the data, with different results, are possible. Some psychometricians regard g as a statistical artifact. One of the most commonly used measures of g is Raven’s Progressive Matrices, which is a test of visual reasoning.

 Behavioral genetic research has established that the construct of g is highly heritable. It has a number of other biological correlates, including brain size. It is also a significant predictor of individual differences in many social outcomes, particularly in education and the world of work. The most widely accepted contemporary theories of intelligence incorporate the g factor

 It is argued that this reflects much of what is known about intelligence from research. A hierarchy of factors is used; g is at the top. Under it are 10 broad abilities that in turn are subdivided into 70 narrow abilities. The broad abilities are:

  • Fluid Intelligence (Gf) includes the broad ability to reason, form concepts, and solve problems using unfamiliar information or novel procedures.
  • Crystallized Intelligence (Gc) includes the breadth and depth of a person’s acquired knowledge, the ability to communicate one’s knowledge, and the ability to reason using previously learned experiences or procedures.
  • Quantitative reasoning (Gq) is the ability to comprehend quantitative concepts and relationships and to manipulate numerical symbols.
  • Reading and writing ability (Grw) includes basic reading and writing skills.
  • Short-term memory (Gsm) is the ability to apprehend and hold information in immediate awareness, and then use it within a few seconds.
  • Long-term storage and retrieval (Glr) is the ability to store information and fluently retrieve it later in the process of thinking.
  • Visual processing (Gv) is the ability to perceive, analyze, synthesize, and think with visual patterns, including the ability to store and recall visual representations.
  • Auditory processing (Ga) is the ability to analyze, synthesize, and discriminate auditory stimuli, including the ability to process and discriminate speech sounds that may be presented under distorted conditions.
  • Processing speed (Gs) is the ability to perform automatic cognitive tasks, particularly when measured under pressure to maintain focused attention.
  • Decision/reaction time/speed (Gt)reflects the immediacy with which an individual can react to stimuli or a task (typically measured in seconds or fractions of seconds; it is not to be confused with Gs, which typically is measured in intervals of 2–3 minutes).

Modern tests do not necessarily measure all of these broad abilities. For example, Gq and Grw may be seen as measures of school achievement and not IQ. Gt may be difficult to measure without special equipment.

g was earlier often subdivided into only Gf and Gc, which were thought to correspond to the nonverbal or performance subtests and verbal subtests in earlier versions of the popular Wechsler IQ test. More recent research has shown the situation to be more complex.

Modern comprehensive IQ tests no longer give a single score. Although they still give an overall score, they now also give scores for many of these more restricted abilities, identifying particular strengths and weaknesses of an individual.