General intelligence, also known as g factor, refers to the existence of a broad mental capacity that influences performance on cognitive ability measures. Other terms such as intelligence, IQ, general cognitive ability, and general mental ability are also used interchangeably to mean the same thing as general intelligence.
What Is General Intelligence (G Factor)?
General intelligence can be defined as a construct that is made up of different cognitive abilities. These abilities allow people to acquire knowledge and solve problems.
This general mental ability is what underlies specific mental skills related to areas such as spatial, numerical, mechanical, and verbal abilities. The idea is that this general intelligence influences performance on all cognitive tasks.
How It Works
General intelligence can be compared to athleticism. A person might be a very skilled runner, but this does not necessarily mean that they will also be an excellent figure skater.
However, because this person is athletic and fit, they will probably perform much better on other physical tasks than an individual who is less coordinated and more sedentary.
Psychologist Charles Spearman helped develop a statistical technique known as factor analysis, which allows researchers to use a number of different test items to measure common abilities. For example, researchers might find that people who score well on questions that measure vocabulary also perform better on questions related to reading comprehension.
In 1904, he suggested that this g factor was responsible for overall performance on mental ability tests. He noted that while people certainly could and often did excel in certain areas, people who did well in one area tended also to do well in other areas.
All tasks on intelligence tests, whether they related to verbal or mathematical abilities, were influenced by this underlying g factor.
Components of General Intelligence
There are several key components that are believed to make up general intelligence. these include:
- Fluid reasoning: This involves the ability to think flexibly and solve problems.
- Knowledge: This is a person's general understanding of a wide range of topics and can be equated with crystallized intelligence.
- Quantitative reasoning: This involves an individual's capacity to solve problems that involve numbers.
- Visual-spatial processing: This relates to a person's abilities to interpret and manipulate visual information, such as putting together puzzles and copying complex shapes.
- Working memory: This involves the use of short-term memory such as being able to repeat a list of items.
How Is It Measured?
Many modern intelligence tests measure some of the cognitive factors that are thought to make up general intelligence. Such tests propose that intelligence can be measured and expressed by a single number, such as an IQ score.
The Stanford-Binet, which is one of the most popular intelligence tests, aims to measure the g factor. In addition to providing an overall score, the current version of the test also offers a number of score composites as well as subtest scores in ten different areas.
What Do IQ Test Scores Mean?
While scoring systems vary, the average score on many is 100 and the following labels are often used for different scoring ranges:
- 40 - 54: Moderately impaired or delayed
- 55 - 69: Mildly impaired or delayed
- 70 - 79: Borderline impaired or delayed
- 80 - 89: Low average intelligence
- 90 - 109: Average
- 110 - 119: High average
- 120 - 129: Superior
- 130 - 144: Gifted or very advanced
- 145 - 160: Exceptionally gifted or highly advanced
What Is a Genius IQ Score?
While the concept of intelligence is still the subject of debate within psychology, researchers believe that general intelligence is correlated with overall success in life. Some of the effects that it may have on an individual's life include areas such as:
One of the most obvious effects of general intelligence is in the realm of academic performance. While intelligence plays a role in academics, there has been a great deal of debate over the extent to which it influences academic achievement.
Research has shown that there is a strong association between general mental ability and academic achievement, but it doesn't act on its own. Some research suggests that between 51% and 75% of achievement cannot be accounted for by g factor alone.
This means that while general intelligence does affect how well kids do in school, other factors can play a major role.
IQ scores have long been thought to correlate to career success. This is why psychological testing has become so prevalent for pre-employment screening and career placement.Many have questioned, however, whether a general mental ability was really more important than specific mental abilities.
A 2020 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded that both general intelligence and specific mental abilities play an important role in determining career success including income and job attainment.
The importance of g factor for job success becomes greater as the complexity of the work increases. For occupations with a high degree of complexity, having a higher general intelligence becomes a greater asset.
Health and Longevity
The field of cognitive epidemiology looks at associations between general intelligence and health. Just as health can play a role in influencing intelligence, a person's intelligence may have an impact on their health. Studies have found that high IQ individuals have a lower risk of:
- Coronary heart disease
- Some cancers
Research has found that people who have higher general intelligence also tend to be healthier and live longer, although the reasons for this are not entirely clear.
Research also suggests that people with higher intelligence scores also tend to earn higher incomes. However, it is important to note that other factors play a mediating role including education, occupation, and socioeconomic background.
While g factor has a number of effects, other variables are also important. Factors such as socioeconomic status and emotional intelligence, for example, can interact with general intelligence and play a major part in determining a person's success.
The notion that intelligence could be measured and summarized by a single number on an IQ test was controversial even during Spearman's time. IQ and intelligence testing have remained topics of debate ever since. While influential, g factor is just one way of thinking about intelligence.
Thurstone's Primary Mental Abilities
Some psychologists, including L.L. Thurstone, challenged the concept of a g-factor. Thurstone instead identified a number of what he referred to as primary mental abilities:
- Associative memory
- Number facility
- Perceptual speed
- Spatial visualization
- Verbal comprehension
He suggested that all people possess these mental abilities, although to varying degrees.People could be low in some areas and high in others.
Gardner's Multiple Intelligences
More recently, psychologists such as Howard Gardner have argued against the notion that a single general intelligence can accurately capture all of human mental ability. Gardner instead proposed that multiple intelligences exist.
Each intelligence represents abilities in a certain domain such as visual-spatial intelligence, verbal-linguistic intelligence, and logical-mathematical intelligence.
Left Brain vs. Right Brain Dominance
A Word From Verywell
Research today points to an underlying mental ability that contributes to performance on many cognitive tasks. IQ scores, which are designed to measure this general intelligence, are also thought to influence an individual's overall success in life.
However, while IQ can play a role in academic and life success, other factors such as childhood experiences, educational experiences, socioeconomic status, motivation, maturity, and personality also play a critical role in determining overall success.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Tikhomirova T, Malykh A, Malykh S. Predicting academic achievement with cognitive abilities: Cross-sectional study across school education.Behav Sci (Basel). 2020;10(10):158. doi:10.3390/bs10100158
Lang JWB, Kell HJ. General mental ability and specific abilities: Their relative importance for extrinsic career success.Journal of Applied Psychology. 2020;105(9):1047-1061.doi:10.1037/apl0000472
Kanazawa S. Childhood intelligence and adult obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013;21(3):434-40. doi: 10.1002/oby.20018
Kajantie E, Räikkönen K, Henriksson M, et al. Stroke is predicted by low visuospatial in relation to other intellectual abilities and coronary heart disease by low general intelligence. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(11):e46841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046841
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
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What is meant by the g factor in intelligence? ›
Spearman's General Intelligence (g)
General intelligence, also known as g factor, refers to a general mental ability that, according to Spearman, underlies multiple specific skills, including verbal, spatial, numerical and mechanical.
G factor: represents the ability to reason and solve problems. G stands for general intelligence. S factor: Some are better at writing and music while others are better at math. S stands for specific knowledge.What is Spearman's g factor theory of intelligence? ›
Spearman's two-factor theory proposes that intelligence has two components: general intelligence ("g") and specific ability ("s"). To explain the differences in performance on different tasks, Spearman hypothesized that the "s" component was specific to a certain aspect of intelligence.What is the g factor group of answer choices? ›
The g factor refers to a person's general intelligence that can be reflected in an IQ score. General intelligence is believed to impact a person's performance on cognitive tasks.
General intelligence, also known as g factor, refers to the existence of a broad mental capacity that influences performance on cognitive ability measures.What is the meaning of general intelligence? ›
Ans. General intelligence is a term that consists of a variety of cognitive talents. These skills enable people to learn new things and solve issues. This broad mental capacity underpins specialised mental talents in spatial, mathematical, mechanical, and linguistic skills.What is the value of g factor? ›
In atomic physics, the electron spin g-factor is often defined as the absolute value or negative of ge: g s = | g e | = − g e . The value gs is roughly equal to 2.002318, and is known to extraordinary precision.What is g factor in education? ›
They call it simply g, which is short for the general mental abili- ty factor. The gfactor is a universal and reliably measured distinction among humans in their ability to learn, reason, and solve problems.Is the g factor the core of intelligence? ›
Understanding the g-factor is relevant for all inquiries into the nature of intelligence. It is a core concept which underlies more observable cognitive phenomena. It can apply to all cognitive systems, whether it be a single biological entity, an artificial entity, a combination of both, or a broader system.What was Gardner's theory? ›
Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences proposes that people are not born with all of the intelligence they will ever have. This theory challenged the traditional notion that there is one single type of intelligence, sometimes known as “g” for general intelligence, that only focuses on cognitive abilities.
Why is Spearman's concept of g factor important? ›
According to Spearman, every individual is born with a different level of the ”g” factor, and the greater the ”g” factor, the greater are the chances that the person will succeed in various aspects of life, whereas the ”s” factor is not inborn, people acquire this factor through experiences and from their surrounding ...What is g in group theory? ›
In abstract algebra, the center of a group, G, is the set of elements that commute with every element of G. It is denoted Z(G), from German Zentrum, meaning center.Who made the g factor? ›
The British scientist Charles Spearman postulated that there is one dominant general intelligence factor (also called the G factor), that governs all cognitive abilities.What is a general factor in psychology? ›
(symbol: g) a hypothetical source of individual differences in general ability, which represents individuals' abilities to perceive relationships and to derive conclusions from them.What are the two types of general intelligence? ›
Research has proposed two types of general intelligence. Crystallized-type intelligence is acquired knowledge, such as vocabulary or mathematics. Fluid-type intelligence is the ability to solve unfamiliar visual and verbal reasoning problems.What is the difference between g factor and IQ? ›
IQ is a score derived from a set of standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence. The g-factor (general intelligence factor) is the underlying psychometric construct that the IQ tests are trying to measure. This tag is specifically for discussions about these formal constructs.Is the G factor affected by learning? ›
Yes, it can be of great help when it comes to problem-solving and quickly learning new concepts, but you have to apply other methods/techniques and invest effort to become successful. In other words, the “g factor” doesn't work on its own.Is g factor fluid intelligence? ›
Fluid intelligence (gf) refers to basic processes of reasoning and other mental activities that depend only minimally on prior learning (such as formal and informal education) and acculturation. Horn notes that it is formless and can "flow into" a wide variety of cognitive activities.Why is Gardner's theory important? ›
Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has had an important impact on how we think about human intelligence. Rather than simply focusing on a single measure of human cognitive ability, it can be helpful to consider all of the different mental strengths that an individual may possess.Why is it important to learn Gardner's theory? ›
Students often equate intelligence with grades and/or test scores. But teaching students about Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory can show them that they are all intelligent in different ways. This perspective can boost their confidence and increase their motivation to learn.
What is Gardner's theory quizlet? ›
American psychologist Howard Gardner proposes that we have multiple intelligences. He has identified eight, each of which is independent of the others. -musical.How did Spearman measure general intelligence g quizlet? ›
How did Spearman measure general intelligence (g)? He inferred g from tests of various abilities, such as vocabulary, memory, and reasoning.What is the main concept behind Spearman's theory of general intelligence quizlet? ›
Charles Spearman developed his theory of general intelligence. Spearman argued the general intelligence allows someone to accurately predict how well one would perform in other areas. LL Thurstone developed his idea of specific mental abilities.What is the difference between g factor and S factor? ›
The “g” factor is linked to the general ability, while the “s” factor is linked to the specific ability. The “g” factor reflects the capability of a person in doing the general mental ability tasks, and the “s” factor is responsible for recognizing the specific abilities of a person.What is the G in order of operations? ›
The G stands for groupings so it includes parentheses, brackets, braces, and fraction bars. The E stands for exponents just like in the old PEMDAS acronym. The M stands for both multiplication and division, in order from left to right. And the S stands fro subtraction and addition, in order from left to right.What is a partition of G? ›
Introduction. I propose the following definition: A partition of any group G is any class [H] of subgroups of G such that every element other than the identity of G is contained in one and only one H.Is g-factor the same as IQ? ›
IQ is a score derived from a set of standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence. The g-factor (general intelligence factor) is the underlying psychometric construct that the IQ tests are trying to measure.Is the g-factor the core of intelligence? ›
Understanding the g-factor is relevant for all inquiries into the nature of intelligence. It is a core concept which underlies more observable cognitive phenomena. It can apply to all cognitive systems, whether it be a single biological entity, an artificial entity, a combination of both, or a broader system.Why is the g factor important? ›
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 employment. The most widely accepted contemporary theories of intelligence incorporate the g factor.How is g factor measured? ›
PCA or EFA: A standard approach to calculating a g factor would be to use principal components analysis (PCA) or exploratory factor analysis (EFA). Basically, you administer a broad battery of cognitive ability measures. Then you use these tests as variables in a PCA or EFA.