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A typical definition of intelligence reads as: an ability to quickly use thought to solve problems. However, it is difficult to even get researchers to agree on the term, while some are not even sure if intelligence can be properly defined (or if a definition is even useful). Intelligence is even more loosely and vaguely defined in popular use, along with a lot of misguided information leading to a pervasive misunderstanding of the evidentiary basis and utility of the concept of intelligence. A fair amount of pseudoscientific beliefs are tied into incorrect interpretations of research into intelligence.

General intelligence[edit]

In his pioneering researcher on the subject, twentieth century British psychologist Charles Spearman administered a large variety of different tests to his subjects; however, all measured mental performance in some way. He found significant internal correlation, an effect that is now termed positive manifold: the tendency of those who score highly on any specific test to score above average or higher on most others as well. From this, Spearman posited the existence of some common mental factor which all his tests were able to address. This factor now carries the weighty term general intelligence. Notably, this idea was proposed even earlier by Francis Galton, but began to receive widespread support after Spearman's work on the subject. In more recent years, however, psychological science has distanced itself from the view that intelligence can be treated as a monolithic entity.[1]

Forms of intelligence[edit]

Psychologists have proposed many models of intelligence. Several of the most common are expanded upon below.

Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence[edit]

Raymond Catell observed in 1971 that performance on mental tests tends to rely on broad two factors: reasoning ability and prior knowledge. Based on these, his model partitions intelligence into the following two categories:

  • Fluid Intelligence: Refers to proficiency in novel reasoning tasks in which one has had no prior experience or instruction. It emerges from a biological rather than environmental basis, and can be measured with tests of memory span, spatial reasoning, and processing speed.
  • Crystallized Intelligence: Drawn directly from experience, and can be measured with tests of accumulated knowledge.

Catell's is the most widely accepted model of intelligence in psychological science. One of the most compelling points of evidence in its favor is the observed divergence between forms of intelligence over the average human lifetime: research has shown that crystallized intelligence tends to increase until late-middle age (~60 years in the current state of western medicine), while fluid intelligence peaks in the early- to mid-twenties.[2]

Theory of Multiple Intelligence[edit]

This model of categorizing intelligence was first introduced in Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence published in 1983. Gardner was the first to argue that intelligence was not determined by a single ability, but a whole variety of skills. These skills include:

  • Logical Mathematical: This area has to do with logic, reasoning, and critical thinking. This is the type of intelligence IQ tests focus on.
  • Spatial: This area deals with spatial judgment and the ability to visualize with the mind's eye. People having this ability tend to be architects and designers.
  • Linguistic: This area focuses on a person's ability to display a facility with language. People with high linguistic intelligence tend to be writers and story-tellers.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic: This intelligence deals with a person's control over his/her body. They tend to have a good sense of timing and a clear sense of a goal of a physical action and learn more effectively through muscular movement. They tend to be actors, dancers, and athletes.
  • Musical: This area focuses on sensitivity to rhythms, tones, and musical notes. People with high musical intelligence are usually (not surprisingly) musicians, including singers, songwriters, and composers.
  • Interpersonal: People with high interpersonal intelligence tend to learn best through interaction and communication. They are usually salespeople, social workers, politicians, and teachers.
  • Intrapersonal: People with high intrapersonal intelligence are more introspective and reflective. They are usually novelists and philosophers.

Triarchic Theory of Intelligence[edit]

This model, proposed by Robert Sternberg, was based on his definition of intelligence which was "mental activity directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection and shaping of, real-world environments relevant to one’s life".[3] Sternberg identified three parts to this definition of intelligence to include:

  • Componentical: This part of intelligence is often focused on by intelligence tests. It basically deals with analytical abilities. The skill of solving problems and thinking critically. People with high componentical intelligence are seen as "smart" by the general public; however, according to Sternburg, people with only this type of intelligence are unable to produce new ideas of their own.
  • Experimental: This part of intelligence deals with how well a task is performed in regards to how familiar it is. There are two parts of Experimental intelligence:
  • Novelity: The ability to adapt to a new situation and find new ways of solving problems not seen by others.
  • Automation: The ability to perform a task multiple times without much thought.
People with high experimental intelligence tend to be intuitive and creative. Unfortunately, according to Sternburg, experimental intelligence is not focused on by IQ and other intelligence tests. Therefore, a person with high experimental intelligence may score low on an IQ test, despite his/her robust intellect.
  • Practical: This type of intelligence is usually described as "street smarts". It's basically the ability to adapt to one's surroundings and survive. This type of intelligence can apply to students who do not have strong analytical or creative skills, but can survive in academia by knowing how to play the game. Practical intelligence can also apply to people who, although relatively uneducated, were able to expand their business by knowing how the business world works.[4]

Myths about intelligence[edit]

  1. "Smart Food" Improves Intelligence
    You've heard these claims. There are always these magazine articles recommending one to consume fish oil or blueberries to improve his/her ability to solve the crossword puzzle on the next page (i.e., "superfoods"). Unfortunately, there are no such things as "smart food" that can magically increase your IQ. Beyond "prevent developmental problems due to malnutrition", such as those suffering from iodine deficiency (resulting in a medical condition known as "cretinism"),[5] there is no "smart food". However, healthy food still is incredibly important for being "smart", as healthy people tend to have more energy and are thus more capable of doing this "learning" thing.
  2. Crossword Puzzles Make You Smarter.
    Chances are, you probably know a person in their late 40s, 50s, 60s, or older who is into Sudoku and crossword puzzles. They are under the impression that these puzzles will improve, or at least, maintain their cognitive abilities as they age. However, puzzlers aren't more intelligent than the rest of the population. They're just more skilled at solving puzzles. Solving puzzles is great, but this particular skill doesn't necessary improve the skill to remember names or addresses, which is what most elderly people intend to do.
    On the other hand, "mindless" video games actually have an ability to improve cognitive skills. People who play video games tend to have better navigation skills, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination. In addition, gamers are found to be good laparoscopic surgeons (provided they paid attention in medical school). So, put down the puzzle and grab a controller and prepare for a 6-hour COD marathon![5]
  3. Listening to Classical Music Raises IQ.
    It's known as the Mozart effect. Apparently, not only did Mozart have an IQ of 189 (This precise number came from PR PIDOOMA), but he also had the ability to raise the IQ levels of his listeners! However, scientists in Vienna, proud of their national hero, were disappointed to find out that wasn't necessarily the case. They determined that there is no evidence that listening to Mozart had a significant effect on one's IQ. However, it is likely that listening to music, any music (from Mozart to Lady Gaga) can stimulate one's neurological abilities, which can be beneficial right before taking an exam. However, the idea that it could improve one's IQ by 10 points is a bit far-fetched.[5]
  4. We're Headed for Idiocracy
    Despite the perennial griping that kids these days don't think good, there's a long-term, international trend for each new generation to have a higher mean IQ score than the last. This trend, known as Flynn Effect, is dramatic: one cognitive psychologist estimated that an average American from 1932 would score an 80 on an IQ test normalized for the 1997 US population — one point away from borderline intellectual disability.[6] Critics, perhaps trying to reconcile this data with the continued popularity of Fox News and faith healing, have suggested the higher IQ scores are mostly the result of increased crystallized intelligence. (Crystallized intelligence is one component of general intelligence, specifically the ability to remember and apply knowledge gained from learning and experience. Many IQ tests provide subscores for crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence, the ability to think logically and solve novel problems.) In other words, young people haven't gotten smarter, they've just memorized more information and gotten better at taking standardized tests. Surprisingly, however, the opposite is true: younger generations consistently show big increases in fluid reasoning ability, with smaller or nonexistent improvements in crystallized intelligence.[7] Most of this improvement comes from the bottom half of the IQ distribution, meaning the youngest generation has many fewer people with IQs in the low-average to mildly intellectually disabled range, but no more 'geniuses' than their great-grandparents.[6] The Flynn Effect seriously challenges the claim that IQ tests measure a fixed ability that's mostly or solely determined by genetics. Four generations is far less time than it takes for natural selection to produce such a large change, but plenty of time for drastic improvements in nutrition, medical care, and educational opportunities to take effect.
  5. Former President Bush had a below-average IQ
    According to a 2001 report released by the Lovenstein Institute of Scranton, Pa., President George W. Bush has the lowest IQ of any president in the past 50 years. His below-average score of 91 is half that of the smartest president, Bill Clinton, and only seven points below his father George H. W. Bush, who scored a 98.
    Obviously Bush was not the most brilliant man the United States had for president, but the information regarding his low IQ is a hoax by the Lovenstein Institute. The truth is, the IQs of most people are not public information and are often unknown to the individual. A proxy for intelligence, the SAT test, had Bush with a rather respectable score of about 1210,[8] indicating an IQ of around 115, at least before the booze and blow got to it.[5]
  6. Most people use 10 percent of their brains
    This may sound silly, but the truth is, humans use 100 percent of their brains! The brain is not just thinking and creating. It's also responsible for all of our motor functions, including movement, balance, and breathing. It controls our conscious and unconscious activities and is active 24/7. Without us even being aware, our brains are constantly absorbing, processing, storing, and recalling information thanks to the billions of neurons that communicate with each other non-stop.
    It is true that humans do not concurrently demonstrate activity in all of the regions of the brain. However, every region is used regularly throughout the course of a day.
    Now obviously, humans do have the ability to increase their cognitive abilities, but cognitive abilities is a small portion of a brain's functions.[5]
  7. Improve IQ Scores by Holding Your Breath Underwater
    This myth was first proposed by Win Wenger in his book The Einstein Factor -- A Proven New Method for Increasing Your Intelligence. Wenger proposed two methods to increase one's IQ. One is a complex technique based on Image Streaming and the other involves holding your breath underwater. In order to achieve success with the second technique, over a three-week period, participants must accumulate 20 hours of holding their breath underwater. The reward is a 10-point gain in IQ, improved awareness and attention span, and greater success at winning arguments.
    Sounds fishy, doesn't it? While Wenger's claims may not be entirely accurate, he may be leading on to something. Underwater swimming, not just putting your face in the water, increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. Because you are holding your breath, a warning signal is sent to your body announcing that your oxygen supply is being cut off. The carotid arteries carrying blood to your head dilate, delivering to your brain and other major organs rich, oxygenated blood. However, claiming a 10 point IQ adjustment is misleading.[5]
  8. Watching TV Is Bad for You
    Known as the idiot box and boob tube, the television has always been everyone's favorite target for corrupting the youth. However, while not physically stimulating, television may not have a negative effect on a person's IQ. In fact, television might, in certain cases, be intellectually stimulating. Compared to television of 30 years ago, many of today's dramas are more intellectually demanding, requiring viewers to focus on the plot and storyline, make inferences, fill in information, and track shifting social relationships. In addition, there are also many educational programs, especially on National Geographic and PBS. Yes, I know, there are also stupid reality shows like Honey Boo Boo and Jersey Shore, along with very poorly-scripted dramas like Secret Life of the American Teenager, but come on, you shouldn't scapegoat TV for dumbing down the youth.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. Gray, Peter, and David F. Bjorklund. (2014). Psychology. Worth Publishers.
  2. Timothy Salthouse. (2012). Consequences of Age-Related Cognitive Declines. Annual Review of Psychology.
  3. Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  4. Sternberg, R. J. (1997). A Triarchic View of Giftedness: Theory and Practice. In N. Coleangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of Gifted Education
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Meredith Bower. 10 Myths About Intelligence. Discovery Channel.
  6. 6.0 6.1
  8. Celebrity SAT scores