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Intelligence is a key construct employed to know how individuals differ from one another. It also provides an understanding of how people adapt their behaviour according to the environment they live in. In this section, you will read about intelligence in its various forms. Psychological notion of intelligence is quite different from the common sensical notion of intelligence. If you watch an intelligent person, you are likely to see in her/him attributes like mental alertness, ready wit, quickness in learning, and ability to understand relationships. The Oxford Dictionary explains intelligence as the power of perceiving, learning, understanding, and knowing. Early intelligence theorists also used these attributes in defining intelligence. Alfred Binet was one of the first psychologists who worked on intelligence. He defined intelligence as the ability to judge well, understand well, and reason well. Wechsler, whose intelligence tests are most widely used, understood intelligence in terms of its functionality, i.e. its value for adaptation to environment. He defined it as the global and aggregate capacity of an individual to think rationally, act purposefully, and to deal effectively with her/his environment. Other psychologists, such as Gardner and Sternberg have suggested that an intelligent individual not only adapts to the environment, but also actively modifies or shapes it. You will be able to understand the concept of intelligence and how it has evolved, when we discuss some important theories of intelligence.


Psychologists have proposed several theories of intelligence. Theories can be broadly classified as either representing a psychometric/structural approach or an information-processing approach. The psychometric approach considers intelligence as an aggregate of abilities. It expresses the individual’s performance in terms of a single index of cognitive abilities. On the other hand, the informationprocessing approach describes the processes people use in intellectual reasoning and problem solving. The major focus of this approach is on how an intelligent person acts. Rather than focusing on structure of intelligence or its underlying dimensions, information- processing approaches emphasise studying cognitive functions underlying intelligent behaviour. We will discuss some representative theories of these approaches.

We mentioned above that Alfred Binet was the first psychologist who tried to formalise the concept of intelligence in terms of mental operations. Prior to him, we find the notion of intelligence described in general ways in various philosophical treatises available in different cultural traditions. Binet’s theory of intelligence was rather simple as it arose from his interest in differentiating more intelligent from less intelligent individuals. He, therefore, conceptualised intelligence as consisting of one similar set of abilities which can be used for solving any or every problem in an individual’s environment. His theory of intelligence is called Uni or one factor theory of intelligence. This theory came to be disputed when psychologists started analysing data of individuals, which was collected using Binet’s test.

In 1927, Charles Spearman proposed a two-factor theory of intelligence employing a statistical method called factor analysis. He showed that intelligence consisted of a general factor (g-factor) and some specific factors (s-factors). The g-factor includes mental operations which are primary and common to all performances. In addition to the g-factor, he said that there are also many specific abilities. These are contained in what he called the s-factor. Excellent singers, architects, scientists, and athletes may be high on g-factor, but in addition to this, they have specific abilities which allow them to excel in their respective domains. Spearman’s theory was followed by Louis Thurstone’s theory. He proposed the theory of primary mental abilities. It states that intelligence consists of seven primary abilities, each of which is relatively independent of the others. These primary abilities are: (i) Verbal Comprehension (grasping meaning of words, concepts, and ideas), (ii) Numerical Abilities (speed and accuracy in numerical and computational skills), (iii) Spatial Relations (visualising patterns and forms), (iv) Perceptual Speed (speed in perceiving details), (v) Word Fluency (using words fluently and flexibly), (vi) Memory (accuracy in recalling information), and (vii) Inductive Reasoning (deriving general rules from presented facts).

Arthur Jensen proposed a hierarchical model of intelligence consisting of abilities operating at two levels, called Level I and Level II. Level I is the associative learning in which output is more or less similar to the input (e.g., rote learning and memory). Level II, called cognitive competence, involves higher-order skills as they transform the input to produce an effective output.

J.P. Guilford proposed the structureof- intellect model which classifies intellectual traits among three dimensions: operations, contents, and products. Operations are what the respondent does. These include cognition, memory recording, memory retention, divergent production, convergent production, and evaluation. Contents refer to the nature of materials or information on which intellectual operations are performed. These include visual, auditory, symbolic (e.g., letters, numbers), semantic (e.g., words) and behavioural (e.g., information about people’s behaviour, attitudes, needs, etc.). Products refer to the form in which information is processed by the respondent. Products are classified into units, classes, relations, systems, transformations, and implications. Since this classification (Guilford, 1988) includes 6 5 6 categories, therefore, the model has 180 cells. Each cell is expected to have at least one factor or ability; some cells may have more than one factor. Each factor is described in terms of all three dimensions. The above mentioned theories are representations of psychometric approach to understand intelligent behaviour.

Theory of Multiple Intelligences Howard Gardner proposed the theory of multiple intelligences. According to him, intelligence is not a single entity; rather distinct types of intelligences exist. Each of these intelligences are independent of each other. This means that, if a person exhibits one type of intelligence, it does not necessarily indicate being high or low on other types of intelligences. Gardner also put forth that different types of intelligences interact and work together to find a solution to a problem. Gardner studied extremely talented persons, who had shown exceptional abilities in their respective areas, and described eight types of intelligence. These are as follows:

Linguistic (skills involved in the production and use of language) : It is the capacity to use language fluently and flexibly to express one’s thinking and understand others. Persons high on this intelligence are ‘word-smart’, i.e. they are sensitive to different shades of word meanings, are articulate, and can create linguistic images in their mind. Poets and writers are very strong in this component of intelligence.

Logical-Mathematical (skills in scientific thinking and problem solving) : Persons high on this type of intelligence can think logically and critically. They engage in abstract reasoning, and can manipulate symbols to solve mathematical problems. Scientists and Nobel Prize winners are likely to be strong in this component.

Spatial (skills in forming visual images and patterns) : It refers to the abilities involved in forming, using, and transforming mental images. The person high on this intelligence can easily represent the spatial world in the mind. Pilots, sailors, sculptors, painters, architects, interior decorators, and surgeons are likely to have highly developed spatial intelligence.
Musical (sensitivity to musical rhythms and patterns) : It is the capacity to produce, create and manipulate musical patterns. Persons high on this intelligence are very sensitive to sounds and vibrations, and in creating new patterns of sounds. Bodily-Kinaesthetic (using whole or portions of the body flexibly and creatively) : This consists of the use of the whole body or portions of it for display or construction of products and problem solving. Athletes, dancers, actors, sportspersons, gymnasts, and surgeons are likely to have such kind of intelligence.

Interpersonal (sensitivity to subtle aspects of others’ behaviours) : This is the skill of understanding the motives, feelings and behaviours of other people so as to bond into a comfortable relationship with others. Psychologists, counsellors, politicians, social workers, and religious leaders are likely to possess high interpersonal intelligence.

Intrapersonal (awareness of one’s own feelings, motives, and desires): This refers to the knowledge of one’s internal strengths and limitations and using that knowledge to effectively relate to others. Persons high on this ability have finer sensibilities regarding their identity, human existence, and meaning of life. Philosophers and spiritual leaders present examples of this type of intelligence. Naturalistic (sensitivity to the features of the natural world) : This involves complete awareness of our relationship with the natural world. It is useful in recognising the beauty of different species of flora and fauna, and making subtle discriminations in the natural world. Hunters, farmers, tourists, botanists, zoologists, and bird watchers possess more of naturalistic intelligence.


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