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What is Intelligence and How is it Measured?

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 29 May 2018 | comments*Discuss
Intelligence General Intelligence

Intelligence is a term that is difficult to define, and it can mean many different things to different people. In fact, it has divided the scientific community for decades and controversies still rage over its exact definition and form of measurement.

In the popular sense, intelligence is often defined as the general mental ability to learn and apply knowledge to manipulate your environment, as well as the ability to reason and have abstract thought. Other definitions of intelligence include adaptability to a new environment or to changes in the current environment, the ability to evaluate and judge, the ability to comprehend complex ideas, the capacity for original and productive thought, the ability to learn quickly and learn from experience and even the ability to comprehend relationships.

A superior ability to interact with the environment and overcome its challenges is often seen as a sign of intelligence. In this case, the environment does not just refer to the physical landscape (eg. mountains, forests) or the surroundings (eg. school, home, workplace) but also to a person’s social contacts, such as colleagues, friends and family – or even complete strangers.

Researchers asked about the aspects of intelligence felt that factors like problem-solving ability, mental speed, general knowledge, creativity, abstract thinking and memory all played important roles in the measure and standard of intelligence. Most agree that intelligence is an umbrella term which covers a variety of related mental abilities.

Measuring Intelligence

Like the definitions of intelligence, the measurement of intelligence is dogged by controversy and disagreement. While there are a number of different methods for measuring intelligence, the standard and most widely accepted method is by measuring a person’s ‘intelligence quotient’ or IQ.

Based on a series of tests which assess various types of abilities such a mathematical, spatial, verbal, logic and memory. The results from such tests done on a group that is representative of the wider popular shows the classic ‘bell-shape’ distribution, meaning that most people are of average intelligence with a few at the extreme ends of the scale.

General Intelligence or ‘g’

The concept of intelligence as a single entity was first put forth by an English psychologist named Charles Spearmen in the early 20th century. Spearman coined the term ‘General Intelligence’ or ‘g’ which was based on measure of people’s performance across a variety of mental tests.

This single intelligence was believed to enable humans to undertake common mental tasks and believed to correspond to a specific region of the brain. Recent research has supported this with a part of the brain called the ‘lateral prefrontal cortex’ being shown to the only area which has increased blood flow when test patients tackle complicated puzzles.

However, many have also questioned Spearman’s theories, in particular the simplistic nature of the ‘g’ concept and whether intelligence can really be treated as a single entity. Others have debated the dependence of intelligence on our biological make-up, citing the importance of socio-economic factors such as education.

Multiple Intelligences

More recently, scientist dissatisfied with the traditional idea of a single intelligence have postulated alternate theories of “multiple intelligences” – that is, intelligence is the result of several independent abilities which combine to contribute to the total performance of an individual.

Psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences states that intelligence can be broken down into 8 distinct components: logical, spatial, linguistic, interpersonal, naturalist, kinaesthetic, musical and intrapersonal. Thus he believes that standard IQ tests and psychometric tests focus on certain components, such as logical and linguistic, while completely ignoring other components which may be equally important.

Another psychologist, Robert Sternberg, proposes that there are 3 fundamental aspects to intelligence: analytical, practical and creative. Like Gardener, he also believes that traditional intelligence tests only focus one aspect – analytical – and does not address the necessary balance from the other two aspects.

One alternate type of intelligence often mentioned in popular media is ‘emotional intelligence’, developed by Daniel Goleman and several other researchers. This refers to an individual’s ability to understand and be aware of your own emotions, as well as those of people around you. This ability enables you to handle social interactions and relationships better.

Are You Intelligent? Or Just Clever?

In the educational context, a person’s intelligence is often equated with their academic performance but this is not necessarily correct. Certainly, a person’s ability to think analytically and use their knowledge and experience is often more important than their ability to command a large number of facts. Note also that the word intelligence comes from the Latin verb, “intellegere” which means “to understand” – however, the ability to understand could be considered different to being “smart” – the ability to adapt and “clever” – the ability to adapt creatively!

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IQ Is to me the difficult topic to measure and understand with currenthuman knowledge ofMathematics and if any tell me,we will use as the most demanding industry to take part inseeking solutions for the greater challenges of our universe and our time .may be we want to knowalso that who is the most intellegentpersonality today on the planet called the Earth & his or her I Q ?
DNA or Dr.molecule - 30-Oct-12 @ 7:29 AM
I have read far and wide on intelligence and I am amazed that nearly all the books argue the same or similar points from different angles. The only in-depth discussion on intelligence which explains in depth the difference between animal and human intelligence in plain easy to read language is the book Human Ascent written by Australian Psychologist Henry Gobus. Definitely a book you should put on top of your list. Reggie
Reggie - 28-Sep-12 @ 11:10 AM
Psychologists are themselves confused with the term what intelligence is.As for as my thinking is concern " intelligence " is the capability in the indidual to take decision onthe threshold of the problem.
Bilal - 14-Sep-12 @ 10:07 AM
Is it so that intelligence as defined by Psychologist Howard Gardner cannot be measured precisely by some tests till date, and it can just be observed by the presence of different characteristics present in the individual?
mandeep - 4-Apr-12 @ 3:29 PM
this is the first time thai i can read something that is really interesting about intelligence... thanks for share this...
sirsoulbearer - 29-Feb-12 @ 5:37 AM
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