The term cognitive ability generally refers to the capacity to mentally process, comprehend, and manipulate information—in short, the ability to learn. For example, reasoning deductively or inductively, grasping general principles from observing the behavior of objects, mentally rotating objects in one’s mind, quickly and accurately comprehending what one is reading, and dealing effectively with mathematical concepts are all cognitive abilities. Cognitive abilities largely constitute what most people intuitively call intelligence. Cognitive abilities are also referred to as cognitive aptitudes.

The scientific study of cognitive abilities has a long and sometimes contentious history. However, researchers’ interest has centered on two common themes: the structure of cognitive abilities (i.e., how many are there, and what do they look like?) and the impact of differences in cognitive abilities on ...

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