What is Intelligence? The Top Theories Defying Smarts

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/ published 5 months ago

What is Intelligence? The Top Theories Defying Smarts

Psychologist Alfred Bined developed the first IQ test, helping the French government to identify schoolchildren needing extra academic assistance. He was the first to introduce the concept of mental age or a set of abilities that children should possess at certain age

How do you define intelligence? Do you know what intelligence is? For starters, it is one of the most talked subjects in psychology. But there is no standard definition for what constitutes intelligence. There are many theories, though. Some researches view intelligence as a single and general ability. Others see it as a range of aptitudes, skills, and talents. Let’s see the different theories.

What is intelligence?

Through history, researchers have tried and proposed different definitions for the term. While they vary from one to another, they have several common themes. For example, many of these suggest that intelligence is:
- Ability to learn from experience, having acquisition retention and use of knowledge as important component of the term’s definition
- The ability to recognize problems, to put knowledge to use, and identify possible problems you need to address in your environment
- Solving problems, recognizing is just one part of the equation, the other being the ability to take what you have learned and come up with a useful solution to the problem


We also need to talk about the different mental abilities that construct intelligence. Those are logic, problem-solving skills, planning skills, and reasoning skills.

Brief history of the term

In recent years, intelligence has been one of the most controversial and talked subjects in psychology. But that hasn’t always been the case. The term “intelligence quotient”, or commonly known as IQ, first came to existence in the early 20th century. German psychologist William Stern came up with the term.
And then psychologist Alfred Bined developed the first IQ test, helping the French government to identify schoolchildren needing extra academic assistance. He was the first to introduce the concept of mental age or a set of abilities that children should possess at certain age.
Since then, the IQ test has emerged as a widely used tool. We have developed many other tests of skill and aptitude. And the intelligence test continues to spur debate and controversy over testing, biases, influences, the meaning of intelligence, and even the way we define intelligence.
Here are some popular theories about intelligence.

Spearman theory

Commonly known as the two factor theory of intelligence, Spearman gave the definition for this theory in 1904. And his two-factor theory proved to be a significant and momentous important event in the history of mental testing.
According to his theory the mental traits are not independent. There is a common element in our cognitive abilities. The basis is that every different intellectual activity involves a general factor, which it shares with all other intellectual activities, and a specific factor, which it shares with none.


Spearman called the general factor general intelligence. According to him, “it is a word with so many meanings that finally it has none”. Spearman denote the term by a letter “g” and the specific factor by “s”.
Mathematically speaking, his theory reflects that every individual measurement of every intellectual ability may be resolved into two factors. The general factors, common to all abilities measured, and the specific factor, an individual on a given mental test by simple equation: S= a1g + a2S.
The letters a1 and a2 represent the weights or loads of the two factors respectively.

Primary mental abilities

Louis L. Thurstone, offered a different theory of intelligence. He didn’t view it as a single and general ability. Instead, he focused on different primary mental abilities.
Those are: associative memory (the ability to memorize and recall), numerical ability (solve arithmetic problems), perceptual speed (notice differences and similarities among objects), reasoning (ability to find rules), spatial visualization (visualize relationships), verbal comprehension (define and understand words), and word fluency (the ability to produce words rapidly).

Sampling theory of Godfrey Thomson

Godfrey Thomson was the most active critic of Spearman’s work in Britain. He claims that the two factor theory is not the only possible explanation of the facts.
Godfrey proposed that we can explain these facts on the hypothesis that there are multiple of group factors in intellectual abilities. And each of them is common to a limited number of different intellectual ability. Therefore, less restricted in its range than any of the specific factors Spearman proposes, and yet, not of universal range as his G factor.
Thomson proposed the sampling theory. According to it, every test samples a certain range of the elementary human abilities. Some with a wide range and some with a narrow range. He also believes in the G factor or general ability, but for Godfrey, it is not a basic entity. Instead, he considers it a constant combination of the ability elements.


He also believes the group factor are combinations, more or less stable, of more limited collection of elements.

Theory of multiple intelligences

Howard Gardner proposed a new and modern idea of intelligence. He believes in multiple intelligences. He believed that the traditional idea, based on the IQ test, does not fully and accurately depict a person’s abilities.
Instead, he proposed eight different intelligences based on skills and abilities. This theory is similar in a way to the primary mental abilities by Louis L. Thurstone. Here are the eight different intelligences Gardner proposes:
- Body-kinesthetic intelligence: ability to control body movements and handle objects in a skillful manner
- Interpersonal intelligence: capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, desires, and motivations of others around us
- Intrapersonal intelligence: capacity to be self-aware and in tune with our own feelings, values, and beliefs
- Logical-mathematical intelligence: ability to think conceptually and abstractly, ability to discern logically or numerical patterns
- Musical intelligence: ability to produce and appreciate rhythm and timbre
- Naturalistic intelligence: ability to recognize and categorize animals, plants, and objects in nature
- Visual-spatial intelligence: capacity to think in images and pictures and to visualize accurately
- Verbal-linguistic intelligence: well-developed verbal skills, as well as sensitivity to the sounds and rhythms of words

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