Information Processing Theories of Intelligence

Intelligence is the ability of a human being to learn or acquire and then apply learned knowledge and skills. So, to understand intelligence in a better way, many theories are proposed, but most of them can be boiled down into two categories: information processing theories and psychometric theories. Information processing theories focus on the mechanisms that underlie intelligence, while psychometric theories focus on the specific abilities important for intelligence. The information processing theory suggests that intelligence is based on the ability to take in, process, and store information. There are several different information processing models, but they all share the same basic idea. This theory has much evidence to support it, and the scientific community widely accepts it. In this article, we will discuss two information theories.

Triarchic Theory of Intelligence by Robert Sternberg

Triarchic theory was proposed by Robert Sternberg in 1985. According to him intelligence is "The ability to adapt, to shape and select an environment to accomplish one's goals and those of one's society and culture." In other words, he described intelligence as how well individuals can deal with the changes in their environment throughout their lives. The theory is based on information processing to understand intelligence.

Sternberg proposed three (i.e., triarchic) types of intelligence −

  • Componential, related to the thought process;
  • Experiential, related to the impact of experiences; and
  • Contextual, related to the effects of one's environment and culture.

These three sub-theories can be described as follows −

  • Componential or Analytical Intelligence − It means, how individuals analyze information to solve the problems. It is based on one's internal environment, considering the components of thought. There are three components, each having different roles: The knowledge acquisition component focuses on acquiring knowledge about ways of doing things. The second one is the higher order component, which determines how to do a particular thing. It involves planning, controlling, monitoring, and evaluating processing during problem-solving. The last one is the performance component associated with actually doing the work. Sternberg called it as creative abilities. All these components are inter-connected and operate together.

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  • Experiential or Creative Intelligence − This sub-theory accounts for the role of experiences in intelligent performance. According to Sternberg, the difference in experiences affect problem-solving ability. Experiential intelligence is associated with using previous experiences to solve new problems. In other words, it is based on uniquely integrating experiences to make new discoveries and innovations. A person who has not encountered a particular concept is likely to face more difficulty applying it than an individual familiar with it. Individuals high on this aspect of intelligence are good at finding out which information is crucial in a given situation.
  • Contextual or Practical Intelligence − This sub-theory relates to the cognitive activity required to fit into different environmental contexts. It is also known as "street smarts" or "business sense." It is based on three mental processes adaption, selection, and shaping of real-world environments. According to Sternberg, an individual initially attempts to adapt to a particular environment. If it is impossible, he tries to select a more favorable environment or reshape and modify the existing one to fit into it better. Individuals who possess this aspect of intelligence turn out to be successful in life, as they know how to be tactful, manipulate situations to their advantage and exploit inside knowledge to boost their chances of success. Although practical intelligence predicts success in life, it has a very low correlation with analytical intelligence. Moreover, a person with high practical intelligence is less likely to succeed in any academic setting (representing analytical intelligence).

PASS Model of Intelligence

PASS Model of Intelligence This model was first proposed in 1975 by JP Das, J. R. Kirby, and R. F. Jarman and later updated by Das, Naglieri, and Kirby in 1994. This theory was based on Luria's work. Luria proposed that human cognitive functions might be characterized as three distinct but connected "functional units" that supply four basic psychological activities. This view based on the same idea stating that the essential building blocks of human intellectual activity are planning, attention, and simultaneous and successive processes. These four processes are interconnected and interact with an individual's knowledge base.

Planning procedures are necessary when an individual decides how to address a problem, carry out an activity, or construct a narrative. Goal setting, as well as expecting and monitoring feedback, are all part of this component. Attention or arousal is the process that allows a person to attend to some stimuli while ignoring others selectively, resist distractions, and maintain vigilance. Simultaneous processing integrates stimuli into groups. As a result, stimuli are seen as a whole, each piece related to the others. Integrating inputs in a precise serial order is one example of successful processing. The Planning and Attention/Arousal components are derived from structures in the brain's frontal lobe. In contrast, the Simultaneous and Successive processes are derived from regions in the cortex's posterior area.

According to the theory, input information is received from both external and internal sources; internal cognitive information such as pictures, memories, and ideas are included in the input. In addition, external input data can be displayed serially or continuously. The four central processes: planning, attention-arousal, simultaneous processing, and sequential processing, as well as the knowledge base, become active when sensory input is submitted for analysis. Similarly, the output can have one of two forms: serial or concurrent. All four processes must function in the context of an individual's knowledge base. Knowledge is formed on previous experiences and comprises both formal and unintentionally obtained knowledge. It is important to emphasize that, while successful functioning is achieved by integrating all processes required by the specific activity, not every process is equally engaged in every task.

The development of CAS is built on the PASS intelligence concept. CAS is a battery that is administered individually and measures Planning, Attention, Simultaneous, and Successive processes through 14 subtests such as planned search, matching numbers, planned patterns, designed interconnection, picture memory, matrices, and so on. Das created CAS subtests by following an experimental procedure that included item development, data analysis, test revision, and re-examination until the instructions, items, and other aspects were improved. The CAS planning subtest requires the child to analyze how to solve each problem, develop a plan of action, implement the plan, ensure that the activity taken adheres to the original aim, and change the plan as necessary. These subtests are very simple to complete, but it expects from the individual to make judgments about how to address unique problems.


The two main information processing theories of intelligence are the triarchic theory of intelligence and the PASS model. Each of these theories suggests that intelligence is the result of the way information is processed by the brain. These theories focus on different aspects of information processing, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. Each theory provides a unique perspective on intelligence and offers insights into how to improve intelligence.


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