Measures of Cognitive Functioning

Subject: Sciences
Pages: 6
Words: 1632
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


Learning about the measures of cognitive functioning, one has to look at several theories of intelligence to obtain a full understanding of how the mind works. Piaget’s theory of intelligence was divided up into stages of development so one could understand what was deemed normal development during each stage of life. Though this theory has many positives, the negative is that is it not used often in the field of clinical testing and it is not influenced in the field of psychological testing. Piaget’s theory is most commonly used in the laboratory in research projects.

Another theorist, Vernon, used factor analysis to determine the mental abilities of humans. Vernon believed not in stages of development as Piaget did but in three dimensions of intelligence. Vernon obtained the majority of his research information from others who had conducted tests and research on intelligence. Vernon’s theory is the most widely used in intelligence testing today.

Creating an intelligence test requires one to take into consideration the emotional competence, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence of the subject. Comparing and contrasting the result will allow the researcher to understand the intelligence of the individual and potentially a group. Measures of achievement also allow the researcher to better understand the individual and how relationships are built to foster further intelligence.

Developmental Theory of Human Intelligence

One of the major theories of intelligence is in the area of development. As stated, “the key element in these theories is how the mind develops with age and experience.” (Hogan, 2003, pg. 289). These theories are based on stages where further knowledge is acquired. Each particular stage holds its own unique characteristics and traits that are different from one another through development. Each individual experiences each stage but “not necessarily at the same age.” (Hogan, 2003, pg. 289) The stages are not reversible and every individual passes through each stage.

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Intelligence

Piaget’s theory basically unifies how biology and experience structure children’s cognitive development. From experience, each child adapts to his or her environment and moreover, builds mental structures that help further knowledge and intelligence. Piaget’s theory of intelligence, deriving from cognitive development, came out of his interest in understanding the processes that children use to construct his or her knowledge of the world. Piaget categorized these processes children use to develop knowledge; schemes, assimilation, accommodation, and organization to remain at equilibrium.

Piaget’s theory supposes that people develop schemes, actions, or mental descriptions that organize their knowledge through the process of assimilation or accommodation. Accommodation occurs when children adapt their schemes to fit new incoming information and experienced situations. The process of assimilation is the ability to incorporate new information into the already existing knowledge of the scheme. Children are then able to group and cognitively organize their experiences through these processes.

Piaget’s Stages of Development

Piaget’s stages of cognitive development appear to be related to brain growth and maturation. Brain maturation occurs before adolescence, showing that much of development occurs in childhood when the abundance of learning takes place. To make sense of the world, children cognitively organize their experiences into categories to help them organize knowledge and the ability to “figure things out.” The process of equilibration is a mechanism that Piaget identifies to describe how children switch from one stage to the next. They assimilate and accommodate to understand logic further. Once this is figured out, they return to equilibrium. “According to Piaget, the human mind develops into four main stages,” (Hogan,2003, pg. 290) sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages.

The Sensorimotor stage is the first stage of cognitive development where children learn basic interaction with the environment. They tend to be limited to sensory input, and basic reflex behaviors such as sucking and grasping.

The Preoperational Stage begins around the age of two where children begin to understand the world through pictures, images, and drawings. Children begin to understand the world symbolically. Egocentrism occurs quite often in this stage of development. At this stage, children are completely concerned with reasoning and figuring out the world with the “why” question, for example. They also lack the ability to understand conservation tasks, which is the ability to understand quantities, length, arrangements of objects, and the ability to see other individual points of view.

The concrete operational stage occurs between the ages of 7-12. At this age, they understand conservation tasks, and the ability to reverse thinking. Children can logically reason and replace intuitive reasoning. They also become less egocentric.

The formal operational stage begins around the age of 12. They begin to have abstract thinking and can problem solve easily. They understand cause and effect and what could happen.

Disadvantages of Piaget’s theory

Piaget’s theory of intelligence and cognitive development has some disadvantages even though his work has remained one of the most influential contributions to the field of psychology and education today. As stated by Hogan, “it has not had much influence in the field of testing.” (2003, pg. 290). Piaget’s conversation tasks in particular have shown to be involved with laboratory research projects more often than applied to “the kinds of tests psychologists would use for clinical testing. (Hogan, 2003, pg. 290).

Philip E. Vernon (1905 – 1987)

Philip E. Vernon, a British intelligence theorist, was influenced by Charles Spearman, who is considered to be the first formal theorist on the mental abilities of humans (Plucker, 2003). Vernon preferred factor analysis as his research tool. Factor analysis is a “class of statistical methods for identifying dimensions underlying many scores or other indicators of performance” (Hogan, 2003, p. 680).

According to Plucker (2003), Vernon identified intelligence as consisting of three dimensions. Intelligence A is the basic intelligence of humans or animals. It is this intelligence that allows for adaptation to the environment. Intelligence A is rooted in genetics and is maintained by the central nervous system. Intelligence B is outward behavior such as “cleverness, the efficiency and complexity of perceptions, learning, thinking, and problem-solving” (Plucker, 2003, 4). Intelligence B is not genetic but is the result of environmental stimulation and genetic interplay (Plucker, 2003). Intelligence C was regarded as the “score or IQ obtained from a particular test” (Plucker, 2003, 4).

Vernon’s Hierarchical Model of Intelligence

Interestingly, Vernon did very little research himself and instead focused on collecting the immense amount of research that was done by others. Once he gathered this research, including all intelligence theories that were published thus far up to 1950, he put together a summary and named it Vernon’s hierarchical model of intelligence (Hogan, 2003).

This slide contains Vernon’s hierarchical model of intelligence. Vernon’s model “has become perhaps the most widely cited hierarchical theory of intelligence… and is the summary most often referenced in the professional literature” (Hogan, 2003, pp. 286-287).

The small letter “g” at the top refers to Spearman’s “g” which represents Charles Spearman’s theory that “performance on [the] tests was mostly dependent on one general mental ability” (Hogan, 2003, p. 280).

The two major group factors are related and combined form “g”. The v:ed refers to verbal: educational and the k:m is spatial: mechanical (Hogan, 2003). From these two major groups emerge the minor group factors. Examples of these subfactors include verbal and numerical abilities under the v: ed and spatial and psychomotor abilities under Spatial: mechanical. The vertical lines at the bottom were referred to as specific factors by Vernon. From the minor group factors, clusters of other abilities are formed, yet are not easily defined (Hogan, 2003).

Constructs of Intelligence

Most intelligence tests are made up of subtests that each measure a part of intelligence in a different way and the collective sum of the tests best describes an individual’s intelligence. According to Frost 2004, emotional competence demonstrates self-efficacy in eliciting social transactions. Emotional intelligence is composed of mental abilities or capacities. Social competence as a construct focuses on patterns of learned behaviors that can be observed (Frost, 2004).

Comparison and Contrast

Intelligence Achievement

Bridging and buffering are separate constructs. According to DiPaola and Tschannen, buffering is exemplified when a move to control as many environmental factors as possible is implemented. This is achieved by creating formal procedures outside of a request. Bridging strategies have parental support that influences the fostering of achievement (DiaPaola & Tschannen-Moran, 2005). Both buffering and bridges have a possibility of being high, it builds bridges to helpful elements in the parent community and seek to include them but at the same time can withstand the attempted influence of disruptive elements in the community. It could also be high in bridging but low in the buffering or the reverse, low bridging and high buffering. Finally, a school might not be successful in either bridging or buffering in its relationship to parents and community members, so that positive parents and community members who share the school’s goals are not brought into a relationship in meaningful ways and disruptive parents have a great deal of influence (DiaPaola & Tschannen-Moran, 2005).

Constructs of Achievement

Intelligence and achievement involve thinking, feeling, behavior, mathematics, linguistics, and relationships. When evaluating intelligence truth-getting; development with age and ability to learn are evaluated. Achievement is based on the ability to foster good relationships with parents and the community to be affected (DiaPaola & Tschannen-Moran, 2005).


Both Piaget and Vernon brought forward helpful theories in understanding how the mind works. Piaget offered theories that help to explain the development of the mind from a more biological standpoint, illustrating how the mind achieves full development as one comes out of childhood with the ability to problem-solve and comprehend abstract thoughts. However, this theory provides very little assistance in actually studying how the mind works or measuring its abilities. For this, Vernon’s theories are more applicable as it uses factor analysis in measuring mental abilities in three dimensions.


  1. DiPaola, M. & Tschannen-Moran, M. (2005). Bridging or Buffering? The impact of schools’ adaptive strategies on student achievement.
  2. Frost, D. (2004). The psychological assessment of emotional intelligence.
  3. Hogan, T.P. (2003). Psychological testing: A practical introduction. Hoboken, NJ:John Wiley & Sons
  4. Plucker, J. A. (Ed.). (2003). Human intelligence: Historical influences, current controversies, teaching resources.