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Theories of Intelligence

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Numerous theories have emerged to define, explain and predict human intelligence.

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While intelligence is one of the most talked about subjects within psychology, there is no standard definition of what exactly constitutes 'intelligence.' Some researchers have suggested that intelligence is a single, general ability, while other believe that intelligence encompasses a range of aptitudes, skills and talents.

The following are some of the major theories of intelligence that have emerged during the last 100 years.

Charles Spearman - General Intelligence:

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 to examine a number of 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 general cognitive ability that could be measured and numerically expressed.

Louis L. Thurstone - Primary Mental Abilities:

Psychologist Louis L. 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." The abilities that he described were:

  • Verbal comprehension
  • Reasoning
  • Perceptual speed
  • Numerical ability
  • Word fluency
  • Associative memory
  • Spatial visualization

Howard Gardner - Multiple Intelligences:

One of the more recent ideas to emerge is Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. Instead of focusing on the analysis of test scores, Gardner proposed that numerical expressions of human intelligence are not a full and accurate depiction of people's abilities. His theory describes eight distinct intelligences that are based on skills and abilities that are valued within different cultures.

The eight intelligences Gardner described are:

  • Visual-spatial Intelligence
  • Verbal-linguistic Intelligence
  • Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence
  • Logical-mathematical Intelligence
  • Interpersonal Intelligence
  • Musical Intelligence
  • Intra personal Intelligence
  • Naturalistic Intelligence

Robert Sternberg - Triarchic Theory of Intelligence:

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." While he agreed with Gardner that intelligence is much broader than a single, general ability, he instead suggested some of Gardner's intelligences are better viewed as individual talents.

Sternberg proposed what he refers to as 'successful intelligence,' which is comprised of three different factors:

  • Analytical intelligence: This component refers to problem-solving abilities.

  • Creative intelligence: This aspect of intelligence involves the ability to deal with new situations using past experiences and current skills.

  • Practical intelligence: This element refers to the ability to adapt to a changing environment.

Final Thoughts:

While there has been considerable debate over the exact nature of intelligence, no definitive conceptualization has emerged. Today, psychologists often account for the many different theoretical viewpoints when discussing intelligence and acknowledge that this debate is ongoing.
References:

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Spearman, C. (1904). "General intelligence," objectively determined and measured. American Journal of Psychology 15, 201-293.

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thurstone, L.L. (1938). Primary mental abilities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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