6 Intellectual Functioning

Paula Lombardi

6. Intellectual Functioning

Let’s begin with a look at the key points of what intelligence is, from the University of Minnesota.

  • Intelligence is the ability to think, to learn from experience, to solve problems, and to adapt to new situations. Intelligence is important because it has an impact on many human behaviors.
  • Psychologists believe that there is a construct that accounts for the overall differences in intelligence among people, known as general intelligence (g).
  • There is also evidence for specific intelligences (s), measures of specific skills in narrow domains, including creativity and practical intelligence.
  • The intelligence quotient (IQ) is a measure of intelligence that is adjusted for age. The Wechsler Adult lntelligence Scale (WAIS) is the most widely used IQ test for adults.
  • Brain volume, speed of neural transmission, and working memory capacity are related to IQ.
  • Between 40% and 80% of the variability in IQ is due to genetics, meaning that overall genetics plays a bigger role than does environment in creating IQ differences among individuals.
  • Intelligence is improved by education and may be hindered by environmental factors such as poverty.
  • Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify, assess, manage, and control one’s emotions. People who are better able to regulate their behaviors and emotions are also more successful in their personal and social encounters.

As you can see, there are many aspects of intelligence that may present among the different disability categories.

The disability category of Intellectual and Developmental Disability indicates a significant limitation in a student’s cognitive functioning and daily adaptive behaviors (Schalock & Luckasson, 2004; American Association on Mental Retardation, 2002). The student may have limited language or impaired speech and may not perform well academically. Compared to students with learning disabilities discussed earlier, students with intellectual disabilities have impairments to learning that are broader and more significant. They score poorly on standardized tests of intelligence. Everyday tasks that most people take for granted, like getting dressed or eating a meal, may be possible, but they may also take more time and effort than usual. Health and safety can sometimes be a concern (for example, knowing whether it is safe to cross a street). For older individuals, finding and keeping a job may require help from supportive others. The exact combination of challenges varies from one person to another, but it always (by definition) involves limitations in both intellectual and daily functioning. (Seifert, K. and Sutton, R., 2009)

Learners with other disabilities may have characteristics that affect their cognitive abilities. You will find this information on the characteristics and impact on learning focus of your reading and research. We are not going to focus on co-existing or co-morbid disabilities in the research, but it is prudent to mention that a disability may have cognitive implications when other commonly occurring disabilities are present.

Key Takeaways: Intelligence is the ability to think, to learn from experience, to solve problems, and to adapt to new situations

  • Does the disability affect the learners cognitive abilities?
  • What aspects of the disability have an impact on cognitive functioning/intelligence?


9.1 Defining and Measuring Intelligence by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Educational Psychology. Authored by: Kelvin Seifert and Rosemary Sutton. Located athttps://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/BookDetail.aspx?bookId=153.




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Intellectual Functioning by Paula Lombardi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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