The Concept of Intelligence in Psychology

Intelligence has been defined as the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with the environment.

Humans are distinguished from other animals by their great capacity for symbolic thought, abstract thinking, problem solving, and ability to learn new concepts.  Most scientists and many psychologists collectively refer to these abilities as intelligence. Until this century, individuals have used the word “intelligence” in an effort to describe their own mental powers as well as those of other persons.  

Consistent with ordinary language usage, “intelligence” has been deployed in anything but a precise manner. Individuals living in the West were called “intelligent” if they were quick or eloquent or scientifically astute or wise. In other cultures, the individual who was obedient, or well behaved, or quiet, or equipped with magical powers, may well have been referred to by terms which have been translated as “intelligent”. 

Why Individuals Differ In Intelligence?

Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles.  Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent, a given person’s intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria.  

Intelligence has been a controversial issue that no subject in psychology has provoked more intense public controversy than it.  From its beginning, research on how and why people differ in overall mental ability has fallen prey to political and social agendas that obscure or distort even the most well-established scientific findings.

There is therefore a consensus among scholars that to be considered intelligent “individuals must be able to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, and overcome obstacles by taking thought”.

Types Of Intelligence

Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

This is ability to know book, solve mathematics, memorize things, and recall subjects’ matters. It is defined in Revised Standard dictionary, as individual’s ability to learn and reason. It is this meaning which underlies its common psychometric notions such as intelligence testing, and intelligence quotient.

Psychometrically, tests of intelligence come in many different forms. In conventional forms intelligence test scores are converted to a scale in which the mean is 100 and the standard deviation is 15.  The term “IQ” has historically been used to describe scores on tests of intelligence. IQ has been referred interchangeably with other conceptually similar concepts such as general intelligence factor (g), and cognitive mental ability.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

According to Time Magazine (1995) “IQ gets you hired, but EQ gets you promoted”. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify your emotion, the ability to manage your feeling, persistence, and optimism despite setbacks, empathy, and social skills, understanding one’s own feeling, empathy for the feeling of others, and managing emotion in a way to enhance qualities for both personal and work life.  This sense of self-awareness and of being smart about what we feel has probably the cornerstone and importance of EQ. According to Time Magazine (1995) “IQ gets you hired, but EQ gets you promoted”.

Practical Intelligence (PQ)  

Some psychologists argue that mental ability has several important aspects and is not based on one form of intelligence test alone.   Sternberg, for example, suggests the need to balance between academic intelligence (book smarts, or what is previously referred to as “g” or cognitive mental ability above) on one hand, and creativity and especially practical intelligence (street smarts or common sense) on the other. 

They argued that tasks for academic intelligence tests usually are (1) formulated by others, (2) have little or no intrinsic interest, (3) have all needed information available from the beginning, (4) are disembodied from an individual’s ordinary experience, (5) are well-defined, have but one correct answer, and (6) have just one method of obtaining the correct solution. 

In direct contrast, the tasks for practical, real life work problems often (1) are unformulated or in need of reformation, (2) are of personal interest, (3) are lacking in information necessary for solution, (4) are related to everyday experience, (5) are poorly defined, (6) have multiple “correct” solutions, and (7) have multiple methods for picking a problem solution.

Social Intelligence (SQ) 

Social intelligence is divided into three facets, pertaining to the ability to understand and manage ideas (abstract intelligence), concrete objects (mechanical intelligence), and people (social intelligence).  In his classic formulation: “By social intelligence it meant the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls to act wisely in human relations.” 

Similarly, Moss and Hunt (1976) defined social intelligence as the “ability to get along with others.  Vernon (1987) defined social intelligence as the person’s “ability to get along with people in general, social technique or ease in society, knowledge of social matters, susceptibility to stimuli from other members of a group, as well as insight into the temporary moods or underlying personality traits of strangers.”

Differences In Gender Intelligence

There appear to be no substantial differences between men and women in average IQ. But the distribution of IQ scores is slightly different for men than for women. Men tend to be more heavily represented at the extremes of the IQ distribution.  Men are affected by mental retardation more frequently than are women, and they also outnumber women at very high levels of measured intelligence. 

Women’s scores are more closely clustered around the mean. Although there are no differences in overall IQ test performance between men and women, there do seem to be differences in some more specialized abilities.  Men, or average, perform better on tests of spatial ability than do women. Spatial ability is the ability to visualize spatial relationships and to mentally manipulate objects. The reason for this difference is unknown. 

Some psychologists speculate that spatial ability evolved more in men because men were historically hunters and required spatial ability to track prey and find their way back from hunting forays.  Others believe that the differences result from parents’ different expectations of boys’/girls’ abilities.

Many studied have examined whether gender differences exist in mathematical ability, but the results have been inconsistent. In 1990 American researchers statistically combined the results of more than 100 studies on gender differences in mathematics using a technique known as metaanalysis. They found no significant differences in the average scores of males and females on mathematics tests. 

Research also indicates that the average girl’s grades in mathematics course equal or exceed those of the average boy.  Other studies have found that boys and girls perform equally well on mathematics achievement tests during elementary school, but that girls begin to fall behind boys in later years. For example, male high school seniors average about 45 points higher on the mathematics portion of the SAT than do females.

In a study which examine the performance of more than 100,000 American adolescents on various mental test, it was found out that on average, females performed slightly better than males on tests of reading comprehension, wiring, perceptual speed, and certain memory tasks.  Males tended to perform slightly better than girls on tests of mathematics, science, and social studies. In almost all cases, the average sex differences were small.

Are differences in abilities between men and women biologically based or are they due to cultural influences?  There is some evidence on both sides. On the biological side, researchers have studied androgenized females, individuals grow up, they are culturally identified as female, but they tend to play with “boys” “toys”, like blocks and trucks, and have higher levels of spatial ability than females who were not exposed to high levels of spatial ability than females who were not exposed to high levels of testosterone. 

Further evidence for a biological basis for spatial gender differences comes from comparisons of the brains of men and women. Some scientists speculate that this extra brain volume in males maybe devoted to spatial ability.

On the cultural side, many social scientists argue that differences in abilities between men and woman arise from society’s different expectations of them and from their different experiences. Girls do not participate as extensively as boys do in cultural activities thought to increase spatial and mathematical abilities. As children, girls are expected to play with dolls and other toys that develop verbal and social skills while boys play with blocks, video games, and other toys that encourage spatial visualization. 

Later, during adolescence, girls take fewer mathematics and science courses than boys, perhaps because of stereotypes of mathematics and science as masculine subjects and because of less encouragement from teachers, peers, and parents. Many social scientists believe cultural influences account for the relatively how representation of women in the fields of mathematics, engineering, and the physical sciences. It is important to remember that sex differences, where they exist, represent average differences between men and women as a group, not individuals female or male reveals little about that person’s intellectual abilities.