Individual Differences


Intelligence as Speed of Processing

Last updated:
28 Jul 2003

Speed of Processing Theory

Are intelligent people faster at processing information?

Mike Anderson: Speed of Processing

Speed of Processing Theory

“Faster cognitive processing may allow more information to be acquired”
(Vernon, 1983).

This theory of intelligence is in many ways, a modern equivalent of Francis Galton's attempt (and others such as Jensen since) who tried to measure reaction time as a way of getting an indication of how fast the brain is working.

Galton stated that Synaptic efficiency can explain why one individual is more intelligent than another”.  We commonly use the term “slow”, for example, to describe people who perform poorly at school, or "quick" to describe those who are efficient at solving mental problems. 

In more modern terms, the basic premise is that the speed at which we process thought can explain why one individual is more intelligent than another.

Are intelligent people faster at retrieving and processing information?

So, are intelligent people faster at retrieving and processing information?

Evidence for these 'low-level' theories of intelligence come from the correlations between IQ and:

inspection time: speed of intake of perceptual (stimulus). For example, the time taken to discriminate reliably between two lines of similar length. (Deary & Stough, 1996). Lot of work done by Deary in this area and he claims high correlations between inspection time and IQ (around 0.4 )

Reaction time: individuals who have a quick reaction time are those who can process information quickly. The idea is that slow processing of information leads to an incapacity to handle complex information. Again there is some support for this notion.

Evoked potentials: with more intelligent people, their brain waves register a simpl stimulus more quickly and with greater complexity (Caryl, 1994) and their evoked brain response is faster when they perform a simple task.

Mike Anderson: Speed of Processing

Mike Anderson is an eminent researcher in the area of intelligence (he’s an Australian based at the University of Western Australia in Perth).  He’s posited a theory of Minimal Cognitive Architecture (1992, 1999) in which he suggests that one route to knowledge is through thinking, and thought is constrained by the speed of some basic processing mechanism and it is this speed that is the fount of one's general intelligence or IQ. 

According to Anderson, this speed of processing is an innate component of individual differences. Anderson (1992) however also argues that there is more to intelligence than speed of processing (p. 13). It is also to do with higher levels of knowledge which are acquired through the low-level components (such as processing speed). In other words this low-level functioning limits the higher level capacities.

Further to this, Anderson proposes that it is specificity and individual differences in types of knowledge which subsequently leads to the specific abilities such as those identified by Gardener.