The g factor (also known as general intelligence, general mental ability or general intelligence factor) is a construct developed in psychometric investigations of cognitive abilities and human intelligence. It is a variable that summarizes positive correlations among different cognitive tasks, reflecting the fact that an individual’s performance on one type of cognitive task tends to be comparable to that person’s performance on other kinds of cognitive tasks
The g factor typically accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the between-individual performance differences on a given cognitive test, and composite scores (“IQ scores”) based on many tests are frequently regarded as estimates of individuals’ standing on the g factor. The terms IQ, general intelligence, general cognitive ability, general mental ability, or simply intelligence are often used interchangeably to refer to this common core shared by cognitive tests.The g factor targets a particular measure of general intelligence.
The existence of the g factor was originally proposed by the English psychologist Charles Spearman in the early years of the 20th century. He observed that children’s performance ratings, across seemingly unrelated school subjects, were positively correlated, and reasoned that these correlations reflected the influence of an underlying general mental ability that entered into performance on all kinds of mental tests. Spearman suggested that all mental performance could be conceptualized in terms of a single general ability factor, which he labeled g, and a large number of narrow task-specific ability factors. Today’s factor models of intelligence typically represent cognitive abilities as a three-level hierarchy, where there are a large number of narrow factors at the bottom of the hierarchy, a handful of broad, more general factors at the intermediate level, and at the apex a single factor, referred to as the g factor, which represents the variance common to all cognitive tasks.