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individual personality characteristics constituting the subjective conditions for successfully performing a particular type of activity. Abilities are not tantamount to the individual’s knowledge and skills. Revealed in the quickness, depth, and stability with which the methods and procedures of a particular activity are mastered, abilities are the internal psychological regulators that determine the possibility of mastery.
There are three basic problems in the study of abilities: the origin and character of abilities, types of abilities and their diagnosis, and the principles underlying the development and formation of abilities.
In philosophy, abilities were long regarded as properties of the soul, as special, innate, hereditary powers. These ideas are echoed in everyday speech and have even been revived in the scientific literature, owing to advances in genetics. The English philosopher J. Locke and the French materialists, who proposed that the individual’s abilities are completely dependent on external conditions, criticized the idea of innate abilities as groundless. The mechanistic character of this point of view was overcome in Marxist philosophy, which poses the problem of abilities on the basis of an understanding of human beings as aggregates of social relations and on the basis of the dialectical approach to interpreting the relationship between the internal and the external. Anatomical and physiological characteristics, the preconditions for the development of abilities, are innate, but abilities develop through the performance of different types of activities and through complex interactions between individuals.
An ability manifested in the performance of a particular activity has a composite structure and diverse components. This structure is associated with the common phenomenon of compensation: when certain components are weak or absent, a high ability for a particular activity is attained by developing other components. The composite structure of abilities also explains the observation that different combinations of personality and physiological traits are found in individuals who demonstrate a highly developed ability in a particular activity.
In psychology there is no uniform, generally accepted typology of abilities. Various principles have been used in constructing such typologies, including differences in the main types of activities (ability in engineering, science, and the arts, and on a more specific level, ability in mathematics, physics, and so forth), differences associated with the sense organs and higher nervous system, and operational definitions based on various tests, the results of which are factor analyzed. Testing is an attempt to identify, on an experimental basis, general abilities that meet the requirements for not one but many different types of activities. Psychologists sometimes postulate the existence of general intellect, or an invariable, comprehensive intellectual endowment (intelligence quotient). Soviet psychological literature criticizes this postulate.
The diagnosis of abilities or of the potential for their development is of great practical significance, particularly for vocational guidance in the choice of a career and in sports. Diagnosis is based on tests that make possible the quantitative evaluation of abilities.
The qualitative level of abilities is expressed in the concepts of talent and genius, which are usually distinguished according to the results of activity. “Talent” refers to a set of abilities that make it possible to produce something outstanding for novelty, a high degree of refinement, and social significance. Genius, the highest degree to which talent develops, makes possible fundamental advances in a particular sphere of creativity.
The development of abilities for particular types of activities is a major problem in psychological and pedagogical research, which has demonstrated the possibility of developing an ability by creating a personality set to master the object of an activity. The scientific development of programs of action to master a particular type of activity is very important. For example, researchers have created methods for developing an ear for music in persons who lack this ability.
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Leont’ev, A. N. “O formirovanii sposobnostei.” Voprosy psikhologii, 1960, no. 1.
Petrovskii, A. V. Sposobnostii Irud. Moscow, 1966.
Krutetskii, V. A. Psikhologiia matematicheskikh sposobnostei. Moscow, 1967.
N. G. ALEKSEEV