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What is 'intelligence'?

The dictionary speaks of 'quickness of understanding or wisdom'.... but to what does that relate?

Culturally we have been molded to think of intelligence as relating only to academic subjects - see IQ. You are thought of as intelligent only if you are 'clever at book-learning' but nowadays in the relam of education we put a wider interpretation on the term 'intelligence'.

E. G. Boring (what a wonderful name for a lecturer! - see the image of Edwin on the left), a well-known Harvard psychologist in the 1920's defined intelligence as 'whatever intelligence tests measure'.

Now that is something to ponder!

The invention of intelligence tests caused a lot of problems because they only were able to test one aspect of intelligence. 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'.

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 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'.

The Seven Intelligences

The idea that intelligence is not fixed, but instead is a set of abilities and skills was put forward in the early 1980s by Howard Gardener. His ideas explain why someone may excel in one situation, while having great difficulty with another.

Rather than being born with a certain level of intelligence that does not change as you go through life (the old idea of IQ) he put forward the idea that intelligence develops, and can be improved by learning to make the most of your natural abilities.

Consciously making use of your full range of intelligences leads to well-balanced learning and promotes creativity and new ways of thinking.

Howard Gardner is a Harvard University professor of education. He separated human ability into groups based on cognitive-contextual intelligence theory. That doesn't limit ''smarts" to the traditional realms of logical reasoning and the ability to manipulate words and numbers. It says we are all endowed with distinct forms of intelligence that are genetically determined but can be enhanced through practice and learning.

These abilities are often collectively referred to as the Seven Intelligences - try searching on the web there are lots of references to them and lots of self evaluation tests have been made.

In the table below I have listed the seven - they are not in any particular order.

Most people have all of these intelligences to some degree but some are specially genetically predisposed towards one or another. At our school the very selection process means that pupils have intelligences 2 and 3 to an enhanced level on entry in year 7.



sports, car maintenance, do-it-yourself projects, woodworking, crafts, cooking, gardening.
Bodily-Kinesthetic youngsters process knowledge through bodily sensations. They are often athletic, dancers or good at crafts such as sewing or woodworking.


verbal arguments, crossword puzzles, riddles, research, poetry, writing, giving instructions.
Linguistic youngsters enjoy writing, reading, telling stories or doing crossword puzzles.


calculations, estimating quantities, time management, maths, sciences, budgeting, planning,
Logical-Mathematical youngsters with lots of logical intelligence are interested in patterns, categories and relationships. They are drawn to arithmetic problems, strategy games and experiments.


map reading/navigation, using diagrams/plans, driving, art, dressmaking, model layouts.
Spatial youngsters think in images and pictures. They may be fascinated with mazes or jigsaw puzzles, or spend free time drawing, building with Leggo bricks or daydreaming.


playing music, repeating songs, rhythm, recognizing tunes, moving in time to music, remembering slogans&verses.
Musical youngsters are always singing or drumming to themselves. They are usually quite aware of sounds others may miss. These youngsters are often discriminating listeners.


the ability to understand others: listening, committee work, supervising others, parenting, teaching, consoling, training others.
Interpersonal youngsters are those who are leaders among their peers, who are good at communicating and who seem to understand others' feelings and motives possess interpersonal intelligence.


the ability to understand oneself: keeping a diary/journal, time management, planning and organization, understanding your emotions, goal setting.
Intrapersonal - these youngsters may be shy. They are very aware of their own feelings and are self-motivated.


Encouragment and caution!

The encouraging (and cautionary) idea behind the theory of multiple intelligences is the fact that genetic priming for a particular trait does not mean that you will automatically excel in it. It used to be thought with IQ values that you were blessed with a particular intelligence and that was it! You were born to success or failure! This new theory still encompasses the idea that some people have brains that make the development of traditional forms of intelligence easier for them. However, it is superior to IQ measurement in that it also recognises that without work to stimulate that natural ability, and practice to hone skills that are required to develop it, the person will not excel at all.... and we see this happen at WGHS. Some promising girls never achieve their potential because they will not work to develop their skills - they are happy to 'coast' along on their natural ability. They can then get overtaken by their 'less gifted' but more hard-working peers.

The Eighth Intelligence: Naturalist Intelligence (“Nature Smart”) 

In 1999 Gardner added this to his list. It has to do with nature, nurturing and relating information to one’s natural surroundings. Careers which suit those with this intelligence include naturalists, farmers, and gardeners. The human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations) was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as farmer, vet, botanist or chef. It is also speculated that much of our consumer society exploits the naturalist intelligences, which can be mobilized in the discrimination among cars, sneakers, kinds of makeup, and the like. 

Spiritual Intelligences

Gardner considered and rejected adding spiritual intelligences to his lists because of the difficulties in measuring them - and I suspect because of the minefield of cultural and religious dogma that he would have to wade through to make judgements on such a topic. It is however a part of the human makeup that is very important - we just tend to get very upset/violent if people criticise our views on the subject - and some are more strongly naturally disposed towards looking at that aspect of life than others!

Existential Intelligence (a concern with 'ultimate issues')

This relates to the sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here. It can be termed part of a 'spiritual intelligence'.

Moral intelligence

Tis is a concern with those rules, behaviours and attitudes that govern the sanctity of life - in particular, the sanctity of human life and, in many cases, the sanctity of any other living creatures and the world they inhabit' . This also can be termed part of a 'spiritual intelligence'.

What can you do to develop your intelligences?

First of all you must recognise the degree to which you have each one. Perhaps there is one that is 'really you'... perhaps you have all of them to a small/moderate degree. You must then realize that you need to work to improve each skill... and steadily continue to do that. Try using the inventory on this link - it may help you decide the relative strengths of your intelligences. This link may help you understand why you respond better to one teacher's lessons than to another's.

It is rather like the Biblical parable of the talents. In that story a master gave each of his servants some money (that aptly happened to be expressed in the currency of the 'talent' - which was about 30 kg of silver). He expected his servants to develop their 'talents' in a manner proportional to their value - the more they were given the more he expected. That should be the way in which you develop your talents. If you are indeed gifted and talented you will already be 'good' at a particular one. The Gifted and Talented program is to help those who have been lucky enough to have been given an exceptional natural ability in a certain sphere of life really develop it. It is not so that those who are gifted and talented can 'sit back on their laurels' and feel 'clever'.

For those who do not exceptionally excel compared with others at school it does not mean that you are not gifted - it just means you are in an environment where everyone is above average so the competition is stronger. You should not be discouraged but should press on to develop your 'talents' at your own rate. Who knows, with work and perseverence you may well overtake some of those that you consider at the moment to be more naturally gifted that you are!

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