Everyday wisdom in people with mental retardation: Role of experience and practical intelligence

Date of Completion

January 2000


Education, Special|Psychology, Clinical




For many people with mental retardation, little correlation exists between IQ level and actual level of everyday functioning. To explore the role of experience in everyday functioning, a study was designed comparing the everyday function of adults with mental retardation with children of comparable mental age (MA-matched). Adults with mild and moderate mental retardation were found to function significantly better than MA-matched children on all aspects of daily living as measured by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales. These findings provide experimental support to the little explored claim that people with mental retardation function better than MA-matched younger persons on tasks where experience is crucial. Moreover, they demonstrate the limitations of using the MA-match methodology in a domain that is so clearly dependent upon experience. ^ The current definition of mental retardation requires a significantly subaverage IQ score, existing concurrently with related limitations in adaptive skills. However, the definition and measurement of adaptive skills is not satisfactory partly due to mixing of intellectual and behavioral components. The study of practical intelligence, which refers to the cognitive underpinning of everyday function, may serve to clarify the definition of adaptive skills as it promotes clear differentiation between doing and understanding. However, measures of practical intelligence for people with mental retardation are not available. To further explore the role of practical intelligence in the everyday function of people with mental retardation an experimental video instrument was developed to assess practical intelligence as represented by the ability to identify, explain, and solve practical problems. Even after controlling for initial differences in mental level, a strong correlation was found between practical intelligence, as well as experience, and level of activities of daily living among adults with mild and moderate mental retardation. This suggests that everyday functioning of people with mental retardation is explained better by practical intelligence than with academic intelligence and that practical intelligence, within a general model of human competence, may indeed promote a more natural and ecologically-valid definition of mental retardation as a condition marked by deficits in both academic and everyday intelligence.^