Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Acknowledgment/Intelligence

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What are the different concepts of intelligence?

You are intelligent. Doesn’t that make you feel good about yourself? Intelligence is a highly valued quality that most people desire. But what exactly is it? Where does it come from? How is it measured? And most importantly for us, how does intelligence apply in the world of education? This article will address all of these questions.

What is Intelligence?[edit]


Encarta Encyclopedia defines intelligence as a “term usually referring to a general mental capability to reason, solve problems, think abstractly, learn and understand new material, and profit from past experience(1).” Britannica Encyclopedia defines it as the “ability to adapt effectively to the environment, either by making a change in oneself or by changing the environment or finding a new one(2).” Even these definitions, found in widely accepted encyclopedias, are different from each other. Even if we suggest that the general American public would agree on the definition of intelligence, many scholars and researchers have differing opinions. As of yet, experts have not fully agreed on one particular definition of intelligence. Many questions remain as to the qualities, origins, and measurements of intelligence so a consensus is difficult and unlikely.

Cultural Considerations[edit]

At a fundamental level, many disagree as to whether intelligence is a general mental ability or if it varies between cultures. We know that different cultures value different things as representing intelligence (1). North American society values mathematical and verbal skills as intelligence markers while some seafaring cultures in the South Pacific value spatial and navigational skills(1). This article will not focus on cultural issues in intelligence, but it is worth noting that differences between cultures do exist and should be considered when assessing intelligence and intelligence tests.

How is Intelligence Measured?[edit]


Interest and research on intelligence began in the late 1800’s with the work of Sir Francis Galton who began to test people on qualities such as fame, awards, reaction time, and body proportions (1). James Cattell soon followed Galton’s ideas and developed over 50 tests that were intended to measure basic mental ability (1).

Stanford-Binet Test[edit]

The first intelligence measurement to predict school success was spurred on by the French government, looking for an objective way to determine which students were capable of formal schooling and which classified as mentally retarded and would need remedial help. As a result, French psychologists, Binet and Simon, developed a test measuring practical knowledge, memory, reasoning, vocabulary, and problem solving (1). Binet’s test was revised by Stanford psychologist, Lewis Terman and published in the United States as the Stanford-Binet test(1).


Terman first coined the term Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as one score which was a function of mental age divided by chronological age. While the term IQ is still used, it does not refer to the same equation. Modern IQ tests determine a person’s score based on the standard deviation (difference from the average person of that age) (1,2,6).

Currently used IQ tests include the Stanford-Binet, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (Kaufman-ABC) (1). Individual IQ tests are expensive and time-consuming, and they can only be administered by specially trained psychologists. Group IQ tests, such as the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test and the Cognitive Abilities Test are more cost-effective and consequently are often used in schools (6).

Different Theories on Intelligence[edit]

The “g factor”[edit]

Charles Spearman developed an early intelligence theory that involved a general factor, often referred to as the “g factor”. The g factor was considered to be the underlying mental ability that would influence performance on any intelligence test (1).

Primary Mental Abilities[edit]

As the g factor was questioned, the next idea was a theory of primary mental abilities, specific to different areas of ability, including verbal comprehension, verbal fluency, number, spatial visualization, inductive reasoning, memory, and perceptual speed (2).

Fluid Intelligence and Crystallized Intelligence[edit]

Fluid intelligence is the biological basis of intelligence, involving reasoning ability, memory capacity, and speed of information processing (1,6). Crystallized intelligence involves the knowledge and skills gained through learning (1,6). Since crystallized and fluid intelligence are both measured on most intelligence tests, they are correlated with each other. Consequently, some see this theory as supportive of Spearman’s g factor.

Multiple Intelligences[edit]

It’s not how smart you are, it’s how you’re smart!


Recently, there has been an increased focus on the idea of different areas of intelligence(6). In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed a concept of intelligence that includes eight separate intelligences: logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. This theory of Multiple Intelligences was not focused on IQ tests but rather on explaining the wide range of abilities that people display(6).

The many critics of Gardner’s theory point to his lack of formal measurements for the separate intelligences, little supporting scientific data, and a negligence of the previous, well-established research suggesting the presence of a g factor(1,5,6,7). Despite all the criticism, the theory of Multiple Intelligences was widely accepted among educators because it gave a new perspective on the way school should be done(5). Perhaps the “slow”, low-achieving students simply weren’t given the right opportunities to display their intelligence in areas other than the subjects traditionally emphasized in school. This expanded the concept of intelligence and suggested the possibility that the traditional curriculum was much too limited. Some schools have attempted to design and implement curricula that assess and develop all eight of Gardner’s multiple intelligences (1).

Some teachers have assessed the effectiveness of their own classroom activities by analyzing how many of the multiple intelligences are addressed in each activity (3). If an activity involves linguistic, spatial, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences, then it would be considered more effective than an activity that only measures logical-mathematical intelligence.

Triarchic Theory[edit]

The triarchic theory is a demonstration of the cognitive perspective of intelligence, focusing on how people use their intelligence (6). Developed by Robert Sternberg, the triarchic theory of human intelligence suggests three types of intelligence: analytical, practical, and creative (6).

Emotional Intelligence[edit]

Emotional intelligence “consists of the ability to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion, and regulate emotion (6).” The concept of emotional intelligence was developed in 1990 by Salovey and Mayer, and popularized in 1995 when Daniel Goleman wrote a best-seller entitled Emotional Intelligence. Goreman credited EQ for being 80% responsible for the amount of success an individual will have in their lifetime, with the remaining 20% being dependent upon IQ. Professor Chan Chieh has defined the five major qualities of EQ as being “self awareness, mood management, self-motivation, impulse control and interpersonal skills”. The Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS) is the most empirically supported of many emotional intelligence tests (6).

EQ and IQ are not dependent upon one another. They also differ in the fact that an individual’s EQ can be “nurtured and significantly strengthen and it is never too late for students to improve.” (Chieh) The challenge as a teacher is to foster that development in a traditional classroom. One option is to have allotted periods or courses that concentrate on self-study or personal awareness. Another option, that is far easier to implement within existing curriculum, is group work. Group is especially effective in EQ development when it is designed to promote creative thinking and intuition.

Origins of Intelligence: Nature vs. Nurture[edit]

The debate as to whether genetic factors or environmental factors are responsible for intelligence has gone on for many years(1,2). Many studies, particularly twin studies, point to the influence of genetics while many other studies, including adoption studies, environmental deprivation and enrichment studies, and home environment studies point to the influence of environment on intelligence (6). Both nature and nurture have been scientifically established to have a significant impact on intelligence. The exact percentages of influence can be estimated, but it is clearly a complex formula involving both genetic influences and environmental influences.

Why is Intelligence Important to the Field of Education?[edit]

While the debate goes on in specialized and scholarly publications, there is little doubt that the idea of Multiple Intelligences has become part of the way educators and ordinary folks see the world.


As educators, we must be aware of the different theories on intelligence because they influence the way we see, teach, and test our students. That’s not to mention the fact that intelligence theories can influence the entire school system, as we have seen with Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. As teachers and administrators, we must acknowledge the influence of both nature and nurture so that we can be sensitive to children’s biological capability and also determined to teach them well and push them to their highest potential. It is not necessary that we all agree on which theory of intelligence to adopt, but we must remain open to different concepts of how children’s minds work. We all desire to teach well and to positively influence our students. Being aware of intelligence theories can help us do that effectively so that we know how we might reach our students and tap into their potential.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Mrs. Smith often assigns activities that involve many different mediums of learning. For example, students are assigned the task of portraying a math formula using a poem, a picture, or a song. Which intelligence theory does she most likely adhere to?
A. The g factor
B. Fluid Intelligence
C. Multiple Intelligences
D. Primary Mental Abilities

C. Multiple Intelligences (Multiple Intelligence proponents would try to address several of the different areas.)

Seventh-grade student, Robbie, performs well academically, but he struggles socially. He has difficulty realizing when other students are frustrated with him. He also struggles to communicate with his teacher when she asks what’s wrong. What type of intelligence might Robbie be lacking?
A. Crystallized Intelligence
B. Emotional Intelligence
C. Multiple Intelligences
D. The g factor

B. Emotional Intelligence (Emotional intelligence involves perceiving and expressing emotion.)

If a school is administering IQ tests for the students, which test would most likely be used due to ease of administering?
A. Stanford-Binet Test
B. Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC)
C. Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (Kaufman-ABC)
D. Cognitive Abilities Test

D. Cognitive Abilities Test (Group tests are easier to administer and Cognitive Abilities Test is the only group test option.)

Why might a teacher resist using an intelligence test to measure his students?
A. He has many international students and feels that intelligence tests do not account for cultural differences.
B. He would rather not know which students need extra help because that makes teaching more complicated.
C. Group intelligence tests are time-consuming so he doesn’t want to take time from teaching.
D. A trained psychologist would have to come administer the group intelligence test, so he doesn’t want to deal with the hassle.

A. He has many international students and feels that intelligence tests do not account for cultural differences.

A teacher who decides a student’s intelligence level based on the student’s culture and the academic achievement of his/her parents puts too much emphasis on what?
A. Environmental factors
B. Genetic factors
C. Socioeconomic factors
D. Emotional factors

B. Genetic factors (Genetic factors, represented by culture and parents, do not solely determine intelligence.)

Which of the following is not an example of an IQ test?
A. Stanford-Binet
B. Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale
C. Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children
D. Freud Intelligence Assessment Quotient

D. Freud Intelligence Assessment Quotient

Interest and research on intelligence began in the late 1800s with the work of __________.
A. Gardner
B. Galton
C. Simon and Benet
D. Terman

B. Galton

The concept of __________ was developed in 1990 by Salovey and Mayer.
A. Emotional intelligence
B. Triarchic theory
C. The “g” factor
D. Intelligence quotient

A. Emotional intelligence

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

How should teachers use their knowledge of intelligence theories in the classroom?

Teachers should use intelligence theories to improve their teaching and testing through trial and error. Since there is so much debate of the official definition of what intelligence is and how it should be measured, teachers should use the theories as platforms to try different methods. For example, a teacher exploring the use of Multiple Intelligences in his classroom might attempt to assign tasks that would tap into several of Gardner’s eight intelligences. The teacher might especially look to try out tasks that involve the intelligences that have not traditionally been tested in schools (all those other than logical-mathematical and linguistic). If, after trying that out for a good period of time, the teacher finds that it is not making a difference, perhaps he would try a different approach. In another instance, research might point to the value of group intelligence tests at the beginning of a school year. Administrators and teachers might try this out one year to help them better know the students’ abilities in order to teach more effectively. However, if it caused more problems or was of no benefit, they might not do it again the next year. The most important thing is that teachers and administrators are willing to use whatever information they have in order to effectively reach the students. Intelligence research can be a spring board for teachers to try various methods of teaching and testing.


  1. "Intelligence." Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007. © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation.
  2. “Intelligence.” (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 26, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
  3. Martin, Graham P., and Carter Burnette. "Maximizing Multiple Intelligences Through Multimedia: A Real Application of Gardner's Theories." Multimedia Schools 7.5 (Oct 2000): 28. InfoTrac OneFile. Thomson Gale. College of William & Mary. 30 June 2007. [1]
  4. McKenzie, Walter. (2002). “Multiple Intelligences: It’s not how smart you are, it’s how you’re smart!” Education World.
  5. Multiple Intelligences: After twenty years. (ChalkTalk). (March 2005) In Instructor (1990), 114, pS2 (1). Retrieved June 26, 2007, from InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale: [2]
  6. Psychology: Themes and Variations. Sixth Edition. Wayne Weiten. Thomson-Wadsworth. 2004.
  7. White, John. (2004). “Unpick woolly thinking.” (Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences)(Opinion). Times Educational Supplement 4609. From InfoTrac OneFile.
  8. Chieh, Hang Chang. “Nuturing Emotional Intelligence in University Students.” CDTL Brief. Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning. March 10, 1999.