Theories of Intelligence

As you learned earlier, intelligence is one of the most talked about topics in psychology, but there are a wide variety of definitions of what exactly constitutes intelligence. Some researchers believe that intelligence is a single, general ability; others feel that there are actually many different kinds of intelligence. British psychologist Charles Spearman (1863–1945) suggested something he referred to as general intelligence, or the “g” factor, was responsible for a person's overall performance on a wide variety of tests and was the driving force behind a number of different mental abilities. On the other hand, psychologist Louis L. Thurstone (1887–1955) disagreed with Spearman's theory and instead suggested that intelligence was actually made up of seven different primary mental abilities that included reasoning, perceptual speed, numerical ability, and word fluency. He believed that each person has a different pattern of abilities.

In recent years, a man named Howard Gardner (1943– ) has expanded Thurstone's original concept of primary mental abilities to create a much broader interpretation of intelligence. Gardner suggests that numerical test scores cannot fully or accurately represent the full range of human intelligence, and instead proposes a theory of multiple intelligences. His theory focuses on eight distinctive intelligences, such as linguistic intelligence, musical intelligence, and mathematical intelligence, which are valued in different cultures. While Gardner's theory has become quite popular among educators, many critics have suggested that the “intelligences” he describes are simply specialized talents. Another prominent researcher named Robert Sternberg (1949– ) has proposed a triarchic theory of intelligence, which suggests that intelligence is made up of three different mental abilities. Analytic intelligence involves problem-solving abilities, practical intelligence involves the ability to adapt to changes in the environment, and creative intelligence involves the ability to use prior knowledge and existing skills to deal with new situations and experiences.

The exact nature of intelligence and how to best measure it are bound to be a hot topic in psychology for years to come. As you have learned, people draw on a wide range of cognitive abilities to solve problems, make decisions, and communicate with others.

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