The Nature of Intelligence


L.L. Thurstone

Table of ContentsPrevious

In closing, it should be pointed out that the interpretation of mind, and particularly of intelligence, that these chapters represent is not in all particulars novel, because it is at least implied in current psychological discussion. The contribution is primarily in calling attention to the possible fruitfulness, for the understanding of human conduct, of an attitude of inquiry concerning the satisfactions that normal people seek. It is in this direction that we shall probably find the most illuminating facts concerning human nature and conduct. That the environment is an extremely essential factor in determining conduct is, of course, obvious. The point that I am stressing in many different ways is that when we are studying human nature, either in the laboratory or in our daily lives, it is much more conducive to psychological insight to look for the satisfactions that people seek through their conduct, than to judge them as merely responding to a more or less fortuitous environment. The case cannot rest solely on the degree of accuracy of description because either point of view lends itself fairly well to accurate description of conduct. The case will be decided by the relative success of the two attitudes. It is my belief that the attitude, which is implied in the so-called new psychology, has given, in a relatively short space of time, more insight into human conduct than the thoroughly objective point of view which has in recent years become established in scientific psychology, and which has been borrowed from related objective sciences.


Our interpretation of consciousness as incomplete behaviour, and our placement of the sources of conduct in the inner self, should have ramifications in the fields of ethics, education, and esthetics. Morals should be a legitimate subject-matter for psychology, not in the superficial sense of merely establishing " bonds " between available stimuli and the behaviour that is declared to be expedient, but in a much more human way in which social conduct and non-social conduct are understood as expressing conflicts of a self. This is the modern tendency in the interpretation of crime and other deviations from the conventional codes. Why should not psychological studies be furthered with a point of view that has been found effective in actually dealing with human conduct ? Is it not a handicap to change our point of view when we pass from the situations in which we actually deal with conduct to the situations in which we attempt to formulate it with academic and scientific precision ? In the field of education our interpretation should prove particularly applicable. A brand of educational psychology is being taught to prospective teachers in which they are drilled in the jargon of establishing " bonds " between stimuli and the desired behaviour. It would be more appropriate to describe the normal impulses of children, and the methods by which children may be induced to express these impulses in ways that are profitable. Again, the accuracy of description is not the criterion by which a choice, of interpretation should be made, because both of them work for descriptive purposes. Take, as an example, the troublesome question of interest in students. If we assume

(166) that the child naturally seeks satisfactions that are typical for its age and maturity, we shall find interest to be merely the relevancy of the environment to the wants that originate in the child. A stimulus that does not serve as a tool for the child's satisfaction, as seen by the child, is simply not a stimulus. It is not attended to. The central problem of interest is, therefore, first of all, to list the desires of children and the numerous ways in which these desires may be satisfied. It is the teacher's task to use the innate desire of the child as the motive power for its own work, and to make available those stimuli which the child normally seeks and which also serve the instructional purposes. If a lesson is not so arranged that it serves as an avenue of natural self-expression for the child, there is no internal motive power to make the child think, and the teacher is thereby increasing her own labours. These facts may be accurately described with the stimulus-response jargon, but the teacher who is so equipped does not develop insight into the causal factors at work in the child's mind. That teacher is more fortunate who realizes that the starting-point for the educative process is in the child's own mind, and that the tools of education are merely the means whereby we attempt to induce the child to express its own self in a direction that may be ultimately advantageous.

I hope, further, that the consistent interpretation of mental phenomena as conduct in the process of being formed, and the interpretation of every mental state as incomplete action, will assist to some extent in unifying the several schools of psychology which are now talking totally different languages. The structuralist and the functionalist devote

( 167) themselves to mental states as such, the behaviourist confines himself to behaviour that can be physically seen and measured, the psychiatrist is primarily interested in the subconscious sources of queer conduct. The content of these three main types of psychological inquiry constitutes, according to our present interpretation, the three phases of a continuum. Conduct would be thought of as starting in the obscure sources of the inner self which psychiatrists are studying. These sources become impulses as introspectively known to the conscious self. They are now studied by the academic schools of psychology as though they were more or less distinct entities. These impulses, as consciously known, would be thought of as conflicts which are being decided while the contestants are still unexpressed in conduct. The behaviour, and the cessation of behaviour that accompanies satisfaction, would be thought of, not as the exclusive and only possible subject-matter for psychology, but rather as the biological objective for which mind does its work. In a certain sense, our interpretation is behaviouristic, because behaviour is the centre about which the mental antecedents are interpreted, and yet behaviour is, after all, only a means to an end in the satisfactions that we seek. Psychology starts with the unrest of the inner self, and it completes its discovery in the contentment of the inner self. only with such an interpretation can human psychology be considered to be human. With it, also, we are able to follow with genuine interest the medical, psychological, and behaviouristic studies that throw light on the causal factors in human conduct.


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2