Thinking Smart: Understanding Intelligence
Psychologists have been trying to figure out what intelligence is for a long time. Plenty of examples of a lack of intelligence exist. Just take a look at those goofy home-video shows, with scenes with the guy who forgets to turn the electricity off before trying to rewire a room. Or the woman who tries to feed a polar bear and almost becomes dinner. Maybe we are entertained by this misfortune of others caught on videotape because these people couldn’t have been any less intelligent. Another, more controversial, possibility is that we feel giddy because we did not suffer their fate.
We all differ in our abilities to solve problems, learn, think logically, use language well, understand and acquire concepts, deal with abstractions, integrate ideas, attain goals, and so on. This impressive list of abilities represents some of the ideas of what intelligence actually is, these things are intelligence.
For a more concrete definition, intelligence is a collection of abilities that allows a person to experience, learn, think, and adapt successfully to the world. Such a broad definition allows for such concepts as street smarts, something many psychotherapy patients claim that therapists don’t have.
Oh, if only it were that simple. Ever since psychologists started studying intelligence, they’ve relied heavily on psychological tests for their concepts. The first and still most popular form of intelligence is called the two-factor theory. In it, there are (surprise) two factors:
- g-factor: Some psychologist comes up with a test of mental abilities and administers it to many people. When a score is calculated and averaged across abilities, a general intelligence factor is established. This is factor one of the two-factor theory, commonly referred to as the g-factor, or the general intelligence factor. It is meant to represent how generally intelligent you are based on your performance on this type of intelligence test. This is often called the psychometric theory of intelligence. Psycho means psychological, and metric means measured by a test.
- s-factor: The individual scores on each of the individual subtests represent the s-factor. It represents a person’s ability within one particular area. Put all the s-factors together, and you get the g-factor. Commonly measured s-factors of intelligence include memory, attention and concentration, verbal comprehension, vocabulary, spatial skills, and abstract reasoning.
So, intelligence in the psychometric theory is your score on an intelligence test. How can this be? Each test is made up of a group of little tests or subtests. Typically, people who score high on one test also will do well on the other tests. In other words, there is a relationship between each of the individual abilities measured by the subtests represented by the general intelligence concept that underlies that relationship.
Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence
Cognitive psychologist Robert Sternberg developed the triarchic theory of intelligence in part to address the street smarts controversy. An urban myth claims that Albert Einstein was extremely intelligent and gifted in mathematics and physics, but he couldn’t even tie his own shoes. Sternberg seems to agree that an important aspect of being intelligent is to possess a good level of common sense or practical intelligence.
The three intelligence components of his theory are as follows:
- Componential: Componential intelligence is basically the same factors measured by traditional intelligence tests (memory, verbal fluency, and so on). This is the “book smarts” aspect of intelligence. Sternberg emphasized that these abilities are often disconnected from ordinary life, issues, and problems. Einstein seemed to have possessed this component.
- Experiential: Experiential intelligence encompasses the ability to deal with two different types of problems: new problems and routine problems. It requires the ability to recognize new problems, as opposed to everyday problems; search for and generate solutions; and implement the solutions.
- Contextual: Sternberg’s last component is a type of practical intelligence that allows people to go about their daily lives without walking in front of cars, telling police officers to get lost, or letting the trash pile up to the ceiling. This is the “street smarts” aspect of intelligence that psychologists seem to lack, according to many people.
Have you ever wondered what made Michael Jordan such a good basketball player? What about Mozart? He wrote entire operas in one sitting without editing. That’s pretty impressive! According to psychologist and educator Howard Gardener, each of these men possessed a specific-type of intelligence that is not usually considered intelligence at all. They are usually considered talents.
Gardener generated a theory known as multiple intelligences from observing extremely talented and gifted people. He came up with seven types of intelligence that are typically left out of most people’s ideas of what intelligence actually is:
- Bodily-kinesthetic ability: Michael Jordan seems to possess a lot of this ability. People high in bodily-kinesthetic ability have superior hand-eye coordination, a great sense of balance, and a keen understanding of and control over their bodies while engaged in physical activities.
- Musical ability: If you can tap your foot and clap your hands in unison, then you have a little musical intelligence, just a little. People high in musical intelligence possess the natural ability to read, write, and play music exceptionally well.
- Spatial ability: Have you ever gotten lost in your own backyard? If so, you probably don’t have a very high level of spatial intelligence. This intelligence involves the ability to navigate and move around in space and to the ability to picture three-dimensional scenes in your mind.
- Linguistic ability: This is the traditional ability to read, write, and speak well. Articulate, well-spoken people, along with poets, writers, and gifted speakers, are high in this ability.
- Logical-mathematical ability: This intelligence includes basic and complex mathematical problem-solving ability.
- Interpersonal ability: The gift of gab and the used-car salesperson act are good examples of interpersonal intelligence. A “people person” who has good conversational skills and knows how to interact and relate well with others is high in interpersonal ability.
- Intrapersonal ability: How well do you know yourself? Intrapersonal intelligence involves the ability to understand your motives, emotions, and other aspects of your personality.
Anyone can have varying degrees of Gardener’s intelligences. You may be one heck of a baseball-playing, singing, math wiz, but you may get lost in your own backyard, be unable carry on a conversation, and may be unable to figure out why you just did that really silly thing.