HealthMental Health


Think You're Smart? See What The Experts Say

There isn't one definition of what makes someone intelligent. In fact, it's pretty fluid.
Posted at 9:16 PM, Feb 15, 2018

Education is about more than the three R's — reading, writing and arithmetic. It's about how people think and learn. And that brings up intelligence, which is especially controversial.

The American Psychological Association says "intelligence refers to intellectual functioning." Not very specific, and there's a reason for that. After hundreds of years, intelligence is still being defined, consistently snagging on the issue of nature vs. nurture. The developments have fallen into three broad, chronological categories.

First, the nature camp. In the 19th century, psychologist Francis Galton wrote a book called "Heredity Genius," promoting the innate intelligence theory, even calling for restricting birth among what he called the "feeble-minded."

In 1905, we see the second category emerge: the role of nurture. Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon developed the Binet-Simon test. Their goal was to sort children into three groups: educable, educable with special help, and uneducable. Binet believed intelligence could be improved — that's where "educable with special help" came in. 

Then, about a decade later, we moved solidly into the hybrid era, where we still function today: assuming that nature and nurture mix, playing off one another. Psychologist William Stern built on the Binet-Simon screening and developed a test everybody has heard of — the intelligence quotient test, better known as the IQ test. 

These assessments have always raised questions. If intelligence is malleable — morphing in certain environments — can a person's intelligence ever be locked in and permanently defined with a single test result? 

And now there are even more questions. The prevailing theory shifted to multiple intelligences, originally proposed by Harvard professor Howard Gardner, allowing a range of abilities to be expressed. 

Here's his list of eight:

— Verbal-linguistic intelligence refers to an individual's ability to analyze.

— Logical-mathematical intelligence describes the ability to make calculations and solve abstract problems.

— Visual-spatial is comprehending graphs and images.

— Musical intelligence enables individuals to produce and make meaning of different types of sound.

— Naturalistic? Understanding the natural world.

— Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is using the body to create products or solve problems.

— Interpersonal is basically emotional intelligence with others.

— Intrapersonal: peering inward and drawing meaning.

One final point: Aptitude tests are separate from IQ tests. Aptitude is someone's ability to learn a specific skill, such as playing the guitar (think talent). It's not their general capacity to handle abstract concepts — then you're back to talking about IQ.