Who Is Intelligent?

Reading a road map upside-down, excelling at chess, and generating synonyms for "brilliant" may seem like three different skills. But each is thought to be a measurable indicator of general intelligence, a construct that includes problem-solving ability, spatial manipulation, and language acquisition. Any person from any walk of life can be highly intelligent, and the trait, in the abstract, is typically considered desirable, but how, and how much, it impacts one’s chances of career or relationship success have yet to be fully determined.

Many psychologists continue to view intelligence as one overall measure comprising a wide variety of skills, typically calculated through IQ tests. In the early 1980s, however, Harvard researcher Howard Gardner proposed that there may be multiple kinds of intelligence that humans possess in varying quantities. These types, of which 9 are now generally recognized, include visual-spatial, logical-mathematical, and interpersonal intelligence, among others. Someone high in interpersonal intelligence would likely excel at cooperating within a group, while someone with high levels of logical-mathematical intelligence would have a heightened capacity to understand numbers, patterns, and logical reasoning. Though there is still debate over whether different intelligences actually exist—as well as criticism that Gardner’s criteria are too subjective to be scientifically valid—the concept has gained steam with the wider public and is often used in personality or employment tests.

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IQ—or intelligence quotient—is the score most widely used to assess intelligence, and typically measures a variety of skills from verbal to spatial. Since high IQ has long been equated with success in the public mind, many have investigated whether it is a fixed characteristic assigned at birth or if it can change over time. Psychological research has consistently supported the latter. Several large studies have shown that IQ can change dramatically over both the short- and long-term. The biggest fluctuations tend to appear during childhood and adolescence; the measure does become increasingly stable as a person ages. Still, since IQ primarily measures how an individual compares to other people of the same age, psychologists are less certain how real-world intelligence changes over the course of a person’s life.


Aging, Cognition, Wisdom

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