It is not possible to infer within-person structures of cognitive abilities from between-person structures

October 27, 2020

Schmiedek, F., Lövdén, M., von Oertzen, T., & Lindenberger, U. (2020). Within-person structures of daily cognitive performance differ from between-person structures of cognitive abilities. PeerJ, 8, Article e9290.

Over a century of research on between-person differences has resulted in the consensus that human cognitive abilities are hierarchically organized, with a general factor, termed general intelligence or “g,” uppermost. Surprisingly, it is unknown whether this body of evidence is informative about how cognition is structured within individuals. Using data from 101 young adults performing nine cognitive tasks on 100 occasions distributed over six months, we find that the structures of individuals’ cognitive abilities vary among each other, and deviate greatly from the modal between-person structure. Working memory contributes the largest share of common variance to both between- and within-person structures, but the g factor is much less prominent within than between persons. We conclude that between-person structures of cognitive abilities cannot serve as a surrogate for within-person structures. To reveal the development and organization of human intelligence, individuals need to be studied over time.

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