Citation: Huitt, W. (2002). Intelligence. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from

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I. Overview

E. G. Boring, a well-known Harvard psychologist in the 1920's defined intelligence as whatever intelligence tests measure. Wechsler, one of the most influential researchers in the area of intelligence defined it as the global capacity of a person to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his/her environment. Notice that there is a conative aspect to this definition. Many modern psychology textbooks would accept a working definition of intelligence as the general ability to perform cognitive tasks. Others might favor a more behaviorally-oriented definition such as the capacity to learn from experience or the capacity to adapt to one's environment. Sternberg has combined these two viewpoints into the following: Intelligence is the cognitive ability of an individual to learn from experience, to reason well, to remember important information, and to cope with the demands of daily living.

B. Approaches to study

1. Concept (broad vs. narrow)

2. Operational (verbal vs. non-verbal, ability to learn, etc.)

C. Developmental influences

1. Nature (biology) -- nervous system functioning, gender, genetics

2. Nurture (environmental) -- parents education and social class, rural vs urban/suburban, ethnic, education/schooling; the Flynn effect

II. Alternate perspectives

A. Overview

B. Psychometric (see Gardner, 1999 for overview)

1. Galton, Binet, Spearman (early 1900s), Wechsler, Guilford

2. Focus on structure

3. Based on an assumption of the normal distribution of the construct of intelligence (see graphic below)

C. Learning

a. Thorndike, Watson

b. focus on malleability (function)

D. Cognitive

1. Information Processing (interested in how people mentally represent and process information)

a. Spearman (1920s)

b. Modern

(1) Newell, Shaw & Simon (1958)

(2) Miller, Galanter & Pribam (1960)

(3) Feurerstein (1978) -- Instrumental Enrichment

2. Piaget (described as process of adaptation; focus on development)

E. Systems Theories

1. Sternberg's Triarchic Theory (Sternberg, 1994)

Sternberg believes that intelligence is comprised of three separate, though interrelated abilities: analytical, creative, and practical.

Abilities of Intelligence
Analytical try to solve familiar problems by using strategies that manipulate the elements of a problem or the relationship among the elements (e.g., comparing, analyzing)
Creative try to solve new kinds of problems that require us to think about the problem and its elements in a new way (e.g., inventing, designing)
Practical try to solve problems that apply what we know to everyday contexts (e.g., applying, using)

Sternberg hypothesizes that intelligence relates to, and is demonstrated in, three different aspects: (1) the internal world of information processing, (2) experience and past learning, and (3) the external world of adapting to, shaping and selecting real-world environments.

The components of intelligence describes the structure of cognitive processes that are used to adapt to, shape, or select real-world environments.

Components of Intelligence
(Internal World)
Metacomponents higher-order mental processes used in planning, monitoring, and evaluating performance of a task; these are "executive" functions guide the use of other components
Performance components mental processes used in the performance of a task; probably best measured by current intelligence tests
Knowledge-Acquisition components mental processes used in learning

Intelligence is demonstrated in two complimentary ways: a person's ability to deal with novelty or new aspects on one's environment and how quickly one make new information processing automatic.

Intelligence and Prior Knowledge
(Experience and Past Learning)
Dealing with Novelty intelligence is the ability to learn and think within new conceptual systems, which can then be brought to bear upon already existing knowledge
Automatizing Information Processing complex verbal, mathematical, and other tasks can feasibly be executed only because many of the operations involved in their performance have been automatized

Intelligence is not only one's ability to adapt to one's environment; it also includes changing that environment or selecting a new one.

Dealing With Real-world Contexts
(External World)
Adapting to Sometimes one displays one's intelligence by demonstrating an ability to adapt to the situation or context one finds oneself in. This is the primary aspect of intelligence that is considered by psychometricians, learning theorists, and other cognitivists such as Piaget
Shaping Sometimes it is necessary to demonstrate one's intelligence by shaping or changing the environment so that it better meets one's needs. Vygotsky and dynamical systems theorists focus on this aspect of intelligence.
Selecting There are times when it is necessary to demonstrate one's intelligence by selecting an alternate environment or context within which to live and work. Not all environments should be adapted to and some are not worth trying to change.

In my opinion, one of the most important parts of Sternberg's work on intelligence is his Adaptive Behavior Checklist. Because he considers intelligence as a set of skills, each of the behaviors on the checklist is considered modifiable. Which of these have we been working on in this class? Which of these have you worked on in other college-level courses? Which of these do you work on in classes you teach?

Adaptive Behavior Checklist
Practical Problem-Solving Ability
  • Reasons logically and well
  • Identifies connections among ideas
  • Sees all aspects of a problem
  • Keeps an open mind and responds thoughtfully to others' ideas
  • Sizes up situations well
  • Gets to the heart of problems
  • Interprets information accurately
  • Makes good decisions
  • Goes to original sources for basic information
  • Poses problems in an optimal way
  • Is a good source of ideas
  • Perceives implied assumptions and conclusions
  • Deals with problems resourcefully
Verbal Ability
  • Speaks clearly and articulately and is verbally fluent
  • Converses well
  • Is knowledgeable about a particular area of subject matter
  • Studies hard
  • Reads widely with high comprehension
  • Writes without difficulty
  • Sets aside time for reading
  • Displays good vocabulary
Social Competence
  • Accepts others for what they are
  • Admits mistakes
  • Displays interest in the world at large
  • Is on time for appointments
  • Has social conscience
  • Thinks before speaking and doing
  • Makes fair judgments
  • Assesses well the relevance of information to a problem at hand
  • Is sensitive to other people's needs and desires
  • Displays interest in the immediate environment

Sternberg recognizes that intelligence is only one explanation of why some people succeed and why others do not. These reasons have been arranged in terms of Huitt's Systems Model of Human Behavior? What are some benefits of this arrangement with respect to helping you learn and remember these reasons? Do you agree with the classification scheme? How would you modify it?

Sternberg's Beliefs About
Why Intelligent People Fail
  • Distractibility and lack of concentration
  • Spreading oneself too thin or too thick
  • Inability or unwillingness to see the forest for the trees
  • Lack of balance between critical, analytic thinking and creative, synthetic thinking
  • Using the wrong abilities
Oriented Reasons
  • Misattribution of blame
  • Fear of failure
  • Excessive self-pity
  • Excessive dependency
  • Wallowing in personal difficulties
  • Too little or too much self-confidence
Oriented Reasons
  • Failure to initiate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of perservance and perseveration
  • Inability to complete tasks and to follow through
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Inability to translate thought into action
  • Procrastination
  • Lack of product orientation
  • Inability to delay gratification

2.. Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory

Definition: A human intellectual competence must entail a set of skills of problem solving--enabling the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters and, when appropriate, to create an effective product--and must also entail the potential for finding or creating problems--thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge. (Gardner, 1983, p. 62, emphasis in the original)

Criteria for Establishing Distinct Intelligences:

  1. Isolation by brain damage
  2. The existence of individuals with exceptional talent
  3. A distinct developmental history
  4. An evolutionary history
  5. A set of core operations
  6. Experimental evidence
  7. Encoding in a symbol system
Gardner's Multiple Intelligences
(Seven Original Plus 1 1/2 Additional)



Linguistic  Core element: ability to make a rapid conversion from a physical representation of stimuli (i.e., letters and/or other verbal symbols) to higher- level codes; ability to manipulate information in activated memory 
Logical-mathematical  Core element: ability to generalize from specific experiences and form new, more abstract concepts and rules; ability to reason quickly and well; ability to reason quantitatively 

 (normally described)


Musical Core elements: translate written symbols into pitch, rhythm, timbre
Spatial Core element: ability to visualize and mentally rotate a stimulus or stimulus array 
Bodily-Kinesthetic Core element: control of one's bodily motions and capacity to handle objects skillfully 
Naturalist Core element: ability to discern differences in  the living environment


Interpersonal Core element: ability to notice and make distinctions among other individuals and, in particular, among their moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions
Intrapersonal Core element: ability to distinguish and identify various thoughts and feelings and to use them to understand one's own behavior 
Possible Additional Intelligence Existential/Transpersonal Core element: search for and connection with unknowns

Another way to group these intelligences is:


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