The WHOs of Intelligence Theories: David Perkins

david_perkins_1In his 1992 book, Smart Schools, David Perkins analyzes a number of different educational theories and approaches to education. His analysis is strongly supportive of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. 

Perkins (1995) examines a large number of research studies both on the measurement of IQ and of programs of study designed to increase IQ. He presents detailed arguments that IQ has three major components or dimensions.

  1. Neural intelligence. This refers to the efficiency and precision of one’s neurological system.
  1. Experiential intelligence. This refers to one’s accumulated knowledge and experience in different areas. It can be thought of as the accumulation of all of one’s expertise.
  1. Reflective intelligence. This refers to one’s broad-based strategies for attacking problems, for learning, and for approaching intellectually challenging tasks. It includes attitudes that support persistence, systemization, and imagination. It includes self-monitoring and self-management.

There is substantial evidence to support the belief that a child’s neural intelligence can be adversely affected by the mother’s use of drugs such as alcohol and cocaine during pregnancy. Lead (such as from lead-based paint) can do severe neural damage to a person. Vitamins, or the lack thereof, can affect neural intelligence.

Moreover, there is general agreement that neural intelligence has a “use it or lose it” characteristic. It is clear that neural intelligence can be maintained and, indeed, increased, by use.

Experiential intelligence is based on years and years of accumulating knowledge and experience in both informal and formal learning environments. Such knowledge and experience can lead to a high level of expertise in one or more fields. People who live in “rich” learning environments have a significant intelligence advantage over people who grow up in less stimulating environments. Experiential intelligence can be increased by such environments.

Reflexive intelligence can be thought of as a control system that helps to make effective use of neural intelligence and experiential intelligence. A person can learn strategies that help to make more effective use of neural intelligence and experiential intelligence. The habits of mind included under reflexive intelligence can be learned and improved. Metacognition and other approaches to reflecting about one’s cognitive processes can help.

Skipping over some details, human intellectual competence appears to divide along three dimensions. Following Raymond Cattell (1971) and John Horn (1985), I shall refer to these dimensions as fluid intelligence (Gf), crystallized intelligence (Gc), and visual-spatial reasoning (Gv). Cattell and Horn describe them as follows:

  • Fluid intelligence is the ability to develop techniques for solving problems that are new and unusual, from the perspective of the problem solver.
  • Crystallized intelligence is the ability to bring previously acquired, often culturally defined, problem-solving methods to bear on the current problem. Note that this implies both that the problem solver knows the methods and recognizes that they are relevant in the current situation.
  • Visual-spatial reasoning is a somewhat specialized ability to use visual images and visual relationships in problem solving--for instance, to construct in your mind a picture of the sort of mental space that I described above in discussing factor-analytic studies. Interestingly, visual-spatial reasoning appears to be an important part of understanding mathematics.

There is little agreement on a general definition of intelligence, but most people would agree that it involves, at least, the ability to learn and apply what has been learned.

Appropriate to our time, Robert Sternberg adds further that it involves the ability to adapt to the environment, or modify the environment, or seek out and create new environments.

It is clear that there is little correlation between assessed l.Q. and what people are able to learn and do in the real world. Many cognitive researchers are proving that intelligence is, in fact, an open, dynamic system, modifiable at any age and ability level.

This relatively short article gives a brief introduction to seven principles of experiential learning. Quoting from the article, they are:

  1. LAW OF REINFORCEMENT: Participants learn to repeat behaviors that are rewarded.
  1. LAW OF EMOTIONAL LEARNING: Events that are accompanied by intense emotions result in long-lasting learning.
  1. LAW OF ACTIVE LEARNING: Active responding produces more effective learning than passive listening or reading.
  1. LAW OF PRACTICE AND FEEDBACK: Learners cannot master skills without repeated practice and relevant feedback.
  1. LAW OF PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: New learning should be linked to (and build upon) the experiences of the learner.
  1. LAW OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES: Different people learn in different ways.
  1. LAW OF RELEVANCE: Effective learning is relevant to the learner’s life and work.


Theories of Intelligence. Retrieved June 14, 2013 from of Intelligence


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