International Education Journal

Articles from the Educational Research Conference 2001


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Schooling and intelligence: Effects of track of study on level and profile of cognitive abilities

Jan-Eric Gustafsson
Goteborg University

Paper presented at the Spearman Conference, Sydney, 2001


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The main purpose of the paper is to investigate effects of schooling on intelligence, with a particular emphasis on two questions: (1) is there a causal effect of schooling on intelligence, and if so how strong is the effect, and (2) what aspects of intelligence are being influenced? Reviews of the empirical research on the effect of schooling on intelligence are presented, and it is concluded that the research indicates that there is an effect of around 2 IQ points per year of additional schooling. Some interpret the effect of schooling on intelligence as an improvement in test performance only, there being no change in intelligence, while others view the change as a real change in intelligence. In order to obtain a better understanding of the nature of the change in intelligence as a function of schooling it is proposed that research should leave the notion of an undifferentiated concept of intelligence in favor of a multidimensional conception of intelligence. It is also proposed that rather than studying effects of an undifferentiated amount of schooling effects of different types of curricula on different aspects of intelligence should be investigated. An empirical study is presented in which changes in intelligence during two years of study on different tracks in upper secondary education are investigated for a group of some 14 000 males. At enlistment to military service at age 18 a cognitive test battery measuring Fluid ability (Gf), Crystallized intelligence (Gc) and General visualization (Gv) ability was administered. A latent variable model with five factors was fitted to the grades in the leaving certificate from grade 9 of compulsory school, and the five factors were used to control for entry differences to the tracks of upper secondary school. Effects corresponding to an improvement of about 3 IQ points are estimated for academic tracks. The academic tracks with technical and science orientation cause at least as strong an improvement in Gv, while for Gc weaker positive effects were obtained for the academic tracks and some of the vocational tracks. It is concluded that certain schooling experiences may cause improvements both in general cognitive ability, and in specific abilities.


Gustafsson, J.E. (2001) Schooling and intelligence: Effects of track of study on level and profile of cognitive abilities. International Education Journal, 2 (4), 166-186.

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