6
Ability Profiles

Jan-Eric Gustafsson and Richard E. Snow


INTRODUCTION

In the previous chapter on the history of intelligence testing, Lohman contrasted theorists who emphasized a general ability construct (G) with those who favored one or another list of multiple, more specialized abilities. As he noted, one way of resolving this dispute is to construct hierarchical models of ability organization, with G at the top and various differentiations of more specialized abilities beneath it. Then, ability constructs can be chosen from different levels of referent generality to serve further theory, research, and practice as needed (see also Coan, 1964; Cronbach, 1990). The criterion is thus the usefulness, not the truthfulness, of the different levels. However, hierarchical models of ability organization not only provide identification of ability constructs at different levels but also allow for explicit contrasts among constructs within and between levels. These contrasts are often expressed as ability profiles.

The present chapter examines the nature, uses, misuses, strengths, and limitations of special ability constructs and, particularly, profiles of such constructs. We begin with a brief definition of the problem, for both research and practice. We then present a conceptual framework and some of the basic psychometrics of profiles. Next we review some examples of profile use, noting several problems that need to be addressed and misuses that need to be avoided. Finally, we examine some extant research on profiles and suggest some potentially profitable lines for further work.

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