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In this lesson, you will learn about the psychologist David Wechsler who introduced the theory that intelligence is a multidimensional global capacity that should be measured as an age-appropriate performance skill.

Who Was David Wechsler?

David Wechsler’s accomplishments ranged from inventing one of the first lie detectors, to writing over 50 articles and books that focused on intelligence theory, and the impact of various emotions and character traits on achievement and life success.

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But perhaps his greatest contribution to intelligence theory was the invention of a variety of practical, skills-based intelligence tests that not only provided evidence for his theory but are also still widely-used today.

Criticism of the Old Theories

Similar to other cognitive psychologists of his time, Wechsler came to understand that the theories of intelligence that preceded him were much too simplistic. He was concerned that intelligence tests based on these theories were not useful in a practical sense. For example, when Wechsler began building his career, many of the tests being used were only appropriate for adults with a certain level of reading and writing skills.

Because he believed that factors like age and experience impacted individuals’ intellectual strengths and weaknesses, he felt strongly that both intelligence theory and intelligence testing should take such variability into account.

Wechsler’s Intelligence Definition

In Wechsler’s opinion, single factor theories of intelligence – that is the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of theory-building – did a poor job of describing the full range of intellectual abilities that human beings displayed in their daily lives. Besides age and experience, these theories also left out other important factors. Some of these included emotion and the impact of the environment in which people found themselves. Instead, Wechsler argued that intelligence was a global capacity that involved dimensions of intelligence that could be more deeply described and evaluated. Among these, he thought, were individuals’ ability to perceive the world around them accurately, to act with purpose, and to find solutions to the problems they faced in life.

The Big Picture

Wechsler used his theory to develop several important intelligence tests that are still in use today.

These tests focused on a wide variety of practical tasks and were modified to use with different age groups from pre-school children to older adults. For example, Wechsler built tasks into his tests that measured general knowledge, the use of language, the ability to reason, memory, spatial skills, the ability to sort and sequence tasks, and problem-solving. In addition, he and his team developed a system to take scores on individual segments of the tests and combine them to produce an overall Intelligence Quotient (or IQ score). This not only represented a person’s overall level of intelligence, but acknowledged their unique combination of underlying intellectual skills and abilities as well.Results on Wechler’s tests did a better job of describing intelligence both in an individual and as a general attribute of human functioning. The tests also helped to identify potential problems that could be addressed by education or other interventions so that individuals might improve their ability to succeed in the world. In this way, Wechsler’s theory of intelligence did what the best theories should do: it laid the groundwork for the refinement of intelligence theory in the years that followed, and it led to a long-lasting practical application.

Lesson Summary

David Wechsler’s work significantly expanded the notion of intelligence proposed by his predecessors in intelligence theory. He believed that intelligence wasn’t a single unitary capacity, but rather a combination of a variety of underlying abilities. These were influenced by emotion, environment and the age of the individual.

Because of his early experiences with the testing of intelligence, Wechsler was able to devise a series of new tests that combined paper and pencil tests of general intelligence with practical skills testing, such as sequencing pictures and working with physical objects. The results of his tests reinforced the importance of his theory of intelligence by providing evidence of the underlying dimensions that combined to determine the global capacity for intelligence any individual exhibited.The tests Wechsler developed are still in use today. His understanding of intelligence as multidimensional also laid important groundwork for the continued refinement of intelligence theory and intelligence testing to this day.

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