Group of girls (8-10) in science lab working on experiment.
Nicholas Prior/Stone/Getty Images

Definition: Intelligence

Intelligence refers to one's cognitive abilities, which include memory, comprehension, understanding, reasoning, and abstract thought. Intelligence is not quite the same as IQ, although people use the terms interchangeably. IQ, which stands for "Intelligence Quotient," is a score determined by an IQ test. IQ tests are designed to measure a person's intelligence, a general ability.

Intelligence as a General Ability

According to Peter Taylor in The Birth of Project Intelligence, this general ability can be broken down into 6 separate abilities:

  1. Adaptability to a new environment or to changes in the current environment
  2. Capacity for knowledge and the ability to acquire it
  3. Capacity for reason and abstract thought
  4. Ability to comprehend relationships
  5. Ability to evaluate and judge
  6. Capacity for original and productive thought

Humans are by nature adaptable. When circumstances in their environment change, they can adapt. However, this adaptation doesn't just mean something like making and wearing heavy clothing such as coats in order to adapt to a cold weather environment. Although that is part of adapting, the environment in this case refers to more than the natural environment. It also refers to one's immediate surroundings, which includes home, school, and work, as well as any other physical environment - and the people in those surroundings.

Intelligence also includes the capacity for knowledge and the ability to acquire it. Without knowledge, there can be little else in terms of mental faculties. For example, if you are unable to acquire and maintain knowledge, you don't have much to think about, to evaluate and judge. Gathering information and storing it in memory allows you to attempt to understand it.

Understanding is also a part of intelligence since without understanding what it is you know - the information you have gathered - you have little basis for evaluating and judging that information.

Interestingly, these abilities coincide with the levels of intellectual skills in Bloom's Taxonomy. The higher level skills in that taxonomy include evaluation and synthesis, which is the ability to use reason to combine pieces of information. For example, synthesis would allow you to consider a modern Romeo and Juliet. To do that, you would first need to know about Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and understand their characteristics and their problems. You would also need to know something about the life and problems of modern teens. Combining that knowledge would allow you to create a modern day Romeo and Juliet.

Intelligence - Beyond the General Abilities

Intelligence is more than those general abilities, which is why intelligence and IQ aren't the same. Since our immediate environment can include other people, we need to be able to understand them.

In order to understand them, we must have what is called a "Theory of Mind." That means that we must be able to recognize that others have mental states of their own. They have their own feelings, ideas, and beliefs. Realizing that others have their own mental state allows us to learn about them, to infer what they are thinking, and even to predict their behavior.

Theory of Mind allows us to "mentalize," which refers to the automatic and spontaneous sense we have of another person. We can read other people's intentions and feelings through our interactions with them. We can use our other intellectual abilities in our interactions as well. For example, we might read that a friend of ours seems depressed based on what we notice in our interaction with her. We might search our memory for something the she had told us that might have led to a depressed state. Perhaps we remember some event that occurred long ago, so we can reason that it is not the cause of the present depression. We might then think of how we had dealt with a similar situation with another friend. Knowing the two friends are difference, we can apply the method we used with the other friend to something a little different we might do with this friend.

Closing Thoughts

Intelligence, then, is not quite the same as IQ. IQ is not a measure of anything but our general intellectual abilities. Intelligence includes our ability to learn from and interact with everything in our immediate environment, including other people.

Continue Reading