What makes someone intelligent? How do we know if we are intelligent? These are some questions you've likely asked yourself. It seems we have all been in a situation where someone underestimated our intelligence. It leaves us frustrated and riled. Have you ever felt like someone didn't understand the whole of your intelligence? Is intelligence something that comes in halves and wholes, in sections and fragments? Are there different kinds of intelligence? Psychologists have used questions like these as a jumping-off point to explore and investigate intelligence more deeply. 

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Table of contents
    • What is intelligence?
    • What are the theories of intelligence?
    • What is emotional intelligence?

    Definition of Intelligence in Psychology

    Everyone knows what intelligence is, but it turns out that a hard and fast definition of it is a more difficult thing to pin down. Perhaps you excel at interpreting literature but are not that good at math. Maybe you shine in biology class but can barely eke out a page for your comparative art essay. You might have a seemingly natural understanding of managing and employing space but get lost entirely working out the essence of a poem. And what about creativity? Didn't Einstein say the following words?

    Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

    Does more creativity equal more intelligence? As you can see, it's hard to say exactly what makes up the substance of intelligence.

    Intelligence, photo of Einstein, StudySmarterFg.1 Einstein said that knowledge is limited,

    In psychology, intelligence is defined as the capacity to think rationally, understand the world, and adapt and learn from experience.

    Early psychological research on intelligence approached the subject as a single factor. Psychologists observed that those who scored higher than average on standardized tests in one academic subject often obtained similar scores in other academic subjects. This led them to conclude that there was a generalized intelligence factor, referred to as the g-factor. The g-factor was ultimately what psychologists were measuring when conducting intelligence tests.

    G-factor can be observed in other areas of the human experience, like athleticism. Many different skills and elements are involved in athleticism, and few athletes are good at all athletic skills. However, those athletes who perform highly in one area generally score highly in some other areas as well.

    The notion of intelligence as a single expression, the g-factor, was controversial during its time and continues to be so. Over the years, psychologists have come to a deeper understanding of the dynamic quality of intelligence. This has led to several different theories on the nature of intelligence.

    Examples of Intelligence

    As we have seen, many different factors reflect the whole concept of intelligence. Let's look at a few examples that attempt to deepen our working definition of intelligence.

    Theories of Intelligence

    While some early research suggested that intelligence is a single ability presented through the g-factor, other researchers have proposed that it encompasses a range of skills and aptitudes.

    Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory

    This is a common theory studied when learning about intelligence. If you think that the single g-factor theory of intelligence is a little limited, you're in good company. Psychologist Howard Gardner proposed that intelligence was made up of more than one simple academic factor. Intelligence is expressed in multiple areas of our lives. This led him to create the multiple intelligences theory. Gardner proposed a basic set of eight different bits of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, and naturalist. According to him, the eight types of intelligence are distinct and ruled by specific brain areas. Therefore, if someone experienced damage to one area of the brain, it would only affect intelligence governed by that particular area.

    The multiple intelligence theory lends support to conditions like savant syndrome. Those with this condition are often exceptionally brilliant in certain areas but attain significantly lower scores on basic intelligence tests and often can't perform basic tasks.

    Sternberg's Three Types of Intelligence

    Like Gardner, psychologist Robert Sternberg believed there was more than one type of intelligence. However, instead of eight, Sternberg proposed a theory of three types. These three components are analytical, creative, and practical.

    Critics of this theory cite the reliability of the g-factor in predicting success. A combination of g-factor and grit is credited with the highest achievement.

    While there are multiple intelligence examples to consider in the broader picture of human intelligence, Robert Sternberg's theory has been influential in the evolution of the classroom and standardized testing.

    Analytical Intelligence

    This is academic intelligence and can be evaluated using standardized tests.

    Creative Intelligence

    Creative intelligence encompasses innovation and adaptability. This not only includes artistic creation and producing new things within a medium but also the ability to use basic knowledge to achieve different and better results.

    Practical Intelligence

    Practical intelligence is the knowledge earned through experience and applied to our daily lives. This can be as simple as finding the best and cheapest deal on a new phone plan.

    Emotional Intelligence

    This type of intelligence measures strength in our ability to relate to others. It includes our ability to recognize and react to our emotions and those of others.

    Intelligence, frowning emoticon, StudySmarterFg. 2 Emotional intelligence helps us relate with others,

    Emotional Intelligence

    You know that friend or colleague who always knows the right thing to say? They have a seemingly natural ease in reading and responding to social situations. They are self-composed and self-aware. They manage their dark moods, take challenges in stride, and have deep, rewarding relationships. These are people who would score high on emotional Intelligence.

    Emotional Intelligence in Psychology

    Emotional intelligence deals with our ability to understand other people's feelings and respond appropriately. It takes into account four different abilities.


    This is the ability to accurately recognize emotions in ourselves and others. Having this ability means being able to accurately identify the scope of emotion in a piece of music, a literary work, or a film.


    Understanding means predicting emotions based on the knowledge of a situation or relationship dynamic. This includes the ability to understand and predict someone's emotional reaction based on their personal history or personality.


    This is the ability to appropriately express emotions in a given situation and manage the emotions of others.


    Finally, this ability means finding a creative or adaptive end to our emotions. It includes emotional recovery and our ability to ride life's highs and lows.

    Characteristics of Intelligence

    As we have seen, human intelligence is a concept far greater than a simple IQ score. IQ is just a small factor in creating a well-rounded intelligence.

    The concept of human intelligence has come a long way from simple g-factor and intelligence quotient. From social savvy and emotional intelligence to practical and analytical intelligence, a seemingly exhaustive list of factors contribute to our understanding of measured intelligence. Although we understand that intelligence refers to the quality of our knowledge and our ability to learn and adapt, the broader concept remains an evolving research subject.

    Intelligence - Key takeaways

    • Intelligence in psychology is the capacity to think rationally, understand the world, and adapt and learn from experience.
    • G-factor is a generalized intelligence factor associated with academic intelligence.
    • Emotional intelligence considers perceiving, understanding, managing, and using emotions.
    • Gardner's multiple intelligences is an eight-factor intelligence that includes linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, and naturalist intelligence.
    • Sternberg's three types of intelligence are practical, creative, and analytical intelligence.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Intelligence

    What is intelligence in psychology?

    In psychology, intelligence is defined as the capacity to think rationally, understand the world, and adapt and learn from experience. 

    What is an example of intelligence?

    Emotional intelligence, the g-factor, Gardner's multiple intelligence theory, and Sternberg's three types of Intelligence are all examples of intelligence.

    What is emotional intelligence?

    Emotional intelligence measures strength in our ability to relate to others. It includes our ability to recognize and react to our emotions and those of others. 

    What are the 3 types of intelligence?

    According to Sternberg, three types of intelligence are analytical, creative, and practical intelligence. 

    What are the characteristics of intelligence?

    Although we understand that intelligence refers to the quality of our knowledge and our ability to learn and adapt, the broader concept remains an evolving research subject. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Generalized intelligence factor that can be measured through standardized tests is called _______?

    True or False: G-factor can be observed in other areas of the human experience in addition to intelligence.

    Which is not one of Sternberg's three types of intelligence?


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    Team Psychology Teachers

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    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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