What is intelligence?
What is intelligence? Having academic nous, being good at maths, being creative, good people skills or having street smarts? And is it something you are born with or can it improve over time?
Looking at intelligence is interesting as it can give us a clue to people’s characters and in psychology terms it is something that “ remains consistent over time and tends to be good predictor of outcomes such as school achievement – career success and even longevity” (Jarrett 2010).
g or general intelligence
Of course IQ or Intelligence quotient is probably one of the first things that comes to mind when discussing intelligence. This is based on a score derived on tests designed to test g or general Intelligence; that is the speed of mental processing and reaction time. This is related to the actual fitness of the brain and nervous system = neural fitness.
Joining the dots
Studies show that people with higher general intelligence also literaly think faster (Jarrett 2010). And not in way Kahneman describes in his Thinking Fast and Slow but rather that these people make connections quicker in their brains; they have more efficient neural pathways, the impulses are going faster. They join the dots quicker.
But of course intelligence is much more multi-faceted and complex than just the ability to process cognitive processes quicker; it is also about how we engage with life and others around us, it is about creativity and dealing with complexity. And it is about learning.
Howard Gardner and his work on Multiple Intelligences was one of the first to open up the debate on intelligence; questioning that it could be measured simply on g intelligence via IQ tests. He highlighted the importance of such things as knowing how to engage with others as highly important to success in life and spoke of the importance of of interpersonal skills (knowing yourself) and intrapersonal skills (knowing others).
Daniel Goleman and his theory of Emotional Intelligence EI expanded on this idea, describing EI as “Emotional intelligence, at the most general level, refers to the abilities to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and in others” (Goleman). I think it is right to consider how emotions fit into this concept as they are a central part of our make-up as humans and colour all our experiences with life and others.
In a recent article in Psychology today Cognitive Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman refers to intelligence as being split into two major types– controlled and spontaneous intelligence. He describes controlled intelligence as being closely aligned to what we know as general intelligence and those factors measured in IQ tests. However, he argues just as important to success in life, is ‘spontaneous intelligence’ which supports mental dexterity and cognitive flexibility. These allows us to step away from focusing too narrowly on a problem and come up with creative insights.
Dealing with complexity
In the same article in Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Barry Lubetkin considers intelligence by looking at how quickly a person can take in information and grasp the complexity of the situation. It is about how a person deals with a dilemma and how clearly that person can define and state the problem.
Learning and working memory.
Tracey Packiam Alloway argues in a recent article in the Guardian that working memory is a better test of ability than IQ. Especially when measuring the potential to learn and predict classroom achievement. She argues “It’s so much more important than IQ. The very definition of working memory is your ability to learn, your potential; it doesn’t measure what you have learned”
This is important as working memory as opposed to general intelligence may not be as dependent on a child’s parents education level or postcode or even their genetic inheritance. And the good news is that working memory can be improved with training.
To me intelligence is all of the above and more, and in particular having the curiosity and appetite to explore ourselves, others and the world we live in.
The Rough Guide to Psychology – Dr Christian Jarrett, 2010