Intelligence can be described as the ability to perceive or infer information and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context. There has been extensive research into the construct that is intelligence, with no single definition for it. This article will explore the different aspects of intelligence, with a look into the scientific definitions of it, and how it works in our everyday lives.
Definition of intelligence in psychology
Psychologist Robert Sternberg defined intelligence as mental activity directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection, and shaping of real-world environments relevant to one's life (Sternberg, 1985). Psychologists have long debated how to best conceptualize and measure intelligence (Sternberg, 2003). These questions include how many types of intelligence there are, the role of nature versus nurture in intelligence, how intelligence is represented in the brain, and the meaning of group differences in intelligence.
Theories of Intelligence
Different researchers have proposed a variety of theories to explain the nature of intelligence. Here are some of the major theories of intelligence that have emerged during the last century:
British psychologist Charles Spearman (1863–1945) described a concept he referred to as general intelligence or the g factor. After using a technique known as factor analysis to examine some mental aptitude tests, Spearman concluded that scores on these tests were remarkably similar. People who performed well on one cognitive test tended to perform well on other tests, while those who scored badly on one test tended to score badly on others. He concluded that intelligence is a general cognitive ability that can be measured and numerically expressed.ï»¿
Primary Mental Abilities
Psychologist Louis Thurstone (1887–1955) offered a differing theory of intelligence. Instead of viewing intelligence as a single, general ability, Thurstone's theory focused on seven different primary mental abilities:ï»¿
- Associative memory - The ability to memorize and recall
- Numerical ability - The ability to solve arithmetic problems
- Perceptual Speed - The ability to see differences and similarities among objects
- Reasoning - The ability to find rules
- Spatial visualization - The ability to visualize relationships
- Verbal comprehension - The ability to define and understand words
- Word fluency - The ability to produce words rapidly
Theory of Multiple Intelligences
One of the more recent ideas to emerge is Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner proposed that the traditional idea of intelligence, based on IQ testing, did not fully and accurately depict a person's abilities. His theory proposed eight different bits of intelligence based on skills and abilities that are valued in different cultures:
- Bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence: The ability to control your body movements and to handle objects skilfully
- Interpersonal intelligence: The capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations, and desires of others
- Intrapersonal intelligence: The capacity to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs, and thinking processes
- Logical-mathematical intelligence: The ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and the capacity to discern logically or numerical patterns
- Musical intelligence: The ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch, and timbre
- Naturalistic intelligence: The ability to recognize and categorize animals, plants, and other objects in nature
- Verbal-linguistic intelligence: Well-developed verbal skills and sensitivity to the sounds, meanings, and rhythms of words
- Visual-spatial intelligence: The capacity to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly
Triarchic Theory of Intelligence
While he agreed with Gardner that intelligence is much broader than a single, general ability, the psychologist Robert Sternberg suggested that some of Gardner's types of intelligence are better viewed as individual talents. Sternberg proposed what he referred to as successful intelligence, which involves three different factors:
- Analytical intelligence: Your ability to evaluate information and solve problems
- Creative intelligence: Your ability to come up with new ideas
- Practical intelligence: Your ability to adapt to a changing environment
Signs of extreme intelligence
Researchers have looked into the many different traits highly intelligent people have in common. For instance, a 2016 study published in the British Journal of Psychology, found that highly intelligent people prefer to be alone. It was found that smarter people tend to experience lower life satisfaction the more often they socialize with friends. According to evolutionary psychology, people evolved to be intelligent to solve problems. So those who are happier being alone were seen as highly intelligent because they can solve problems on their own without needing any help.
Empathy and Compassion
According to research, there is a correlation between high emotional intelligence and high IQ in psychological assessments. The higher a person scores in traits of empathy, the higher the person will score in traits of effective verbal comprehension. In other words, empathy, which is part of emotional intelligence, and comprehension, which is part of cognitive intelligence, are directly linked.
Having self-control means you having maturity, it is knowing how to control emotions and impulses so they won't cause any harm. According to Jackson (2019), having self-control is a sign of intelligence because it means an individual is more likely to think before they speak or act. When [these people] experience discomfort in their lives, they also work to solve the issue and reduce the discomfort quickly, (Jackson 2019).
In a world where people talk to prove who they are, highly intelligent people are the opposite. Instead of boasting about their accomplishments or telling people how right their opinions are, they're usually quiet and observant. When an individual can take everything in, they can see things that others missed like subtle patterns.
Good working memory
A good working memory and general intelligence are highly correlated. When one has a good working memory, this means they have executive functioning skills, good short-term memory, and the ability to focus and pay attention. It also means they have cognitive flexibility, and can easily transition from one thing to another.
Signs of an intelligent person
According to Dr. Katie Davis, a clinical neuropsychologist, creativity is a definitive sign of intelligence because it requires thinking flexibly/outside the box and necessitates the ability to shift and change patterns of thinking from one way to another. Below are a few signs that an individual may be intelligent:
Wanting to learn more is a trait common in intelligent people, and it also advertently makes one smarter. A study in the Journal of Individual Differences showed a correlation between people who scored high on IQ tests as a child and adults that were more curious and open to new ideas. Psychology research from Georgia Tech also showed that those with high curiosity are more tolerant of ambiguity, which requires a sophisticated thinking style.
Talking to yourself
A study from psychologists Paloma Mari-Beffa and Alexander Kirkham of Bangor University (2004) showed that talking out loud to yourself improves self-control, an important form of intelligence. They gave study participants a set of tasks and accompanying written instructions, asking them to read the instructions silently or out loud. The measured concentration and performance from those who read out loud were far better than those who did not.
A 2008 Yale University psychology study showed that highly intelligent people tend to stay open-minded to others' points of view, not formulating their own until hearing multiple voices. This doesn't mean they're fickle, though, as the study also showed open-minded people are more likely to be confident about their opinion once formed and less likely to be manipulated.
Underestimating your capabilities
Psychologists discovered the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says that people who are less competent or bright consistently overestimate their mental abilities while intelligent people are far more aware of their limitations. Knowing one’s limitations means you're more likely to surround yourself with people to offset your limitations. It also makes you hungrier to learn more, which makes you smarter.
Characteristics of low IQ adults
Intellectual disability (ID), also known as a general learning disability is a generalized neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by significantly impaired intellectual and adaptive functioning. It is defined by an IQ under 70, in addition to deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors that affect every day, general living. People with this disorder may exhibit the following characteristics:
Poor emotional control
IQ and EQ are often directionally proportional. This is because people with higher IQ and EQ all have one thing in common; exceptional neurological development. People with low IQ are mentally less developed and are bound to lacking control in both their thoughts and emotions.
Though high IQ people are also prone to this, for entirely different reasons, Low IQ people get into substance abuse not to dull and numb the senses, but because they crave for the sensational stimulation itself (Lim, 2020). They also rarely think about the consequences and only see the direct pleasure they derive from their reward system, because of a lack of future-order consideration and thinking ability. With poor impulse control, low IQ people easily fall into addiction (Lim, 2020).
Low impulse control
Individuals with a lower IQ are very impulsive and impatient. This, again, has to do with their reward system and a lack of future-order thinking. The inability to think deep and long-term is overwhelming which will lead to poor planning and judgments on their part.
Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Dissecting practical intelligence theory: Its claims and its evidence. Intelligence. 31 (4): 343–397
Lindah Mavengere is a Business Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.
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