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Essay on the topic

by Ezeakabekwe Francisca
The aim of this essay is to study the concept of intelligence, factors affecting intelligence, and the
possibility of giving a quantitative measure of intelligence.

I start by asking the question, which has troubled psychologists and

philosophers alike, all through the ages: what is intelligence? It is a universally held
notion, that man is an intelligent being, the most intelligent creature on the planet. He
is capable of controlling other living beings, adapting himself to his environment no
matter how harsh, and making use of nature to his own advantage and comfort.
However, the concept of intelligence, and the idea of what constitutes intelligence are
not easy to explain. The word intelligence was derived from the Latin verb
intellegere, which means to understand. Etymologically, intelligence means the
capacity to understand. However, such definition is not all-encompassing and may
include factors, which clearly do not fall under the attributes of being intelligent. It
is widely agreed on, that intelligence is a complex concept, the definition or
explanation of which cannot be done from one particular angle only. Owing to its
multifaceted dimensions, there is no widely accepted common definition of
intelligence. Psychologists and philosophers approach the concept of intelligence
from different points of view behavioural analysis, problem solving ability,
quantitative analysis, and so on. Thus, there exist as many definitions as there are
psychologists and philosophers. Let us examine some of the definitions of intelligence
in psychology. The psychologist, Alfred Binet defines intelligence as something
which sensory acuity tests or reaction time experiments measure. Binets definition
springs from a quantitative theory of intelligence, and he demonstrated this by
designing tests to measure intelligence, and working out a system for measuring
individual intelligence relative to his peers. However, such quantitative definitions
have come under heavy criticism (I shall examine this later on in this essay). A lot of
scientists explain intelligence as the capacity for adjustment to changing
environmental medium. Thus, Spencer (1855) defines it as the capacity of the
organism to adjust itself to an increasingly complex environment; in the same vein,
according to Munn, intelligence is the capacity for flexible adjustment. Such
definitions can be easily shown not to hold under certain circumstances, for instance,
a generally dull person, by this theory, can be considered intelligent if he can take
care of himself. What about the ability to adapt to changing social mood, the ability to
read the atmosphere? These definitions propose, that a smart person, who does not

possess such ability may be considered unintelligent. Intelligence, from the point of
view of Terman (1916), borders on the ability to carry out abstract thinking. Termans
definition is too one-sided, and does not consider the fact, that intelligence is a
multifaceted concept, and though one might not be good in thinking abstractly, they
may possess other qualities or abilities that are generally regarded as intelligent.
Another psychologist sees intelligence as the degree of availability of ones
experiences for the solution of immediate problems and the anticipation of the future
ones1. Better still, Spearman gives his own definition: intelligence is the capacity
for constructive thinking, which involves a discovery of appropriate qualities and
relations of the ideas, that are before us and bringing in of other relevant ideas2.
These definitions, it seems, preclude inherent intelligence, inborn intelligence that do
not come as a result of ones experiences. Such inherent intelligence is known to
exist, for instance, a child who has never learnt chess, but is good at it. The African
encyclopedia tries not to define, but to give a general idea of what intelligence entails:
intelligence generally means how someone uses his mind, how he thinks, how he
uses words, how he understands ideas, how he adjusts his mind to new experiences,
and how he performs his tasks3. In my view, I consider such an approach better than
giving an outright definition of intelligence, as it gives a general idea of what
intelligence is, without any strict limitations. However, the use of such approach in a
science such as psychology is obviously limited. All these definitions are incomplete,
because they do not explain all aspects of intelligence; in other words, they are too
narrow. In view of this problem, I personally like the definition of David Wechsler
(1944), which I see as the most comprehensive definition. This view is shared by a lot
of many modern psychologists as Wechslers definition is one of the most widely
accepted definitions of intelligence in modern psychology. Wechsler defines
intelligence as the aggregate or global capacity of an individual to think rationally, to
act purposefully and to deal effectively with his environment4. He approaches the
concept of intelligence as the multifaceted concept it is; thus, he includes three
important processes in his definition, namely, to act purposefully, that is to act in a
determined way without any ambiguity; to think appropriately in a rational way
without any prejudices; and to deal effectively with the environment or to adjust in a
proper way with the environment. A lot of ideas from other definitions are brought
together into one, making it, in my view, a much more complete definition, though

Goddard Henry H. What is intelligence? // The Journal of Social Psychology - Volume 24, Issue 1, 1946. pp. 51-69
Spearman Charles. "General intelligence, objectively determined and measured. 1904.
The African encyclopedia. Intelligence. 1974. p. 110.
David Wechsler. The measurement of adult intelligence. 1944. p.100.

not by any means totally complete. The task of providing a totally complete definition
of intelligence is a taunting task, so for now, we shall stick with Wechslers
definition, until a more complete definition comes along, maybe in the light of future
Having examined the meaning of intelligence, I turn my attention to the
components of intelligence. From most of the definitions aforementioned, it can be
seen that psychologists long believed that general intelligence is defined by skills used
for problem solving and abstract reasoning. However, in the light of new discoveries
and studies, it is now generally agreed upon, that intelligence cannot be measured by a
single factor; in other ways, intelligence is multifaceted. Thus, in this section, I will
try to explain the components of intelligence. Though psychologists agree that
intelligence has multiple parts, they disagree on the components. Robert Sternberg
(1985) argues that there are three kinds of intelligence: analytical, creative and
practical. Analytical intelligence is the kind, which is measured by currently existing
intelligence tests. Further still, Howard Gardner (1983) proposes that people have
multiple intelligence, which includes linguistic intelligence, musical intelligence,
logical intelligence, spatial intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, intrapersonal
intelligence. Linguistic intelligence is the ability to use and understand language;
logical or mathematical intelligence is the ability to see relations between objects
while spatial intelligence is the ability to visualize and manipulate objects in the
minds eye. Bodily or kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to combine perceptual and
motor skills to accomplish something like hitting a baseball while intrapersonal
intelligence is the ability to understand ones own emotions. It can be seen that each
person possesses each of these components to a certain degree. People, who possess
exceptional amount of any of these components, are considered geniuses in that
particular field. Thus, musical wizards possess extraordinary amount of musical
Having examined the meaning and the contents of intelligence, I now attempt
to answer the question, which has troubled psychologists for ages: can intelligence be
measured? This question continues to fuel an ongoing debate. One of the most
definitive things ever said regarding the nature of intelligence was that intelligence is
whatever intelligence tests measure (see Binets definition above). Most psychologists
and scientists agree that it is possible to measure intelligence, though the nature of
such measures is a continuing debate. On the basis of the notion, that intelligence can
be measured, a lot of tests, that give a measure of intelligence, have been devised over
the years. These tests are called intelligence tests or IQ tests (IQ means intelligence

quotient). The IQ test consists of a series of questions, regarding certain skills, such as
vocabulary, mathematics, spatial relations; it measures a number of different abilities.
The scores that a person gets on these tests depend on the amount of questions that a
person answers correctly. The standardized test scores (IQ) reflect a persons standing
in relation to his or her generational peers; in other words, the actual score that a
person gets is dependent on how others in the same age group do on those particular
questions. IQ test scores serve as a measure of a persons intelligence, and are used by
institutions such as schools and the army. Decisions are made based on these scores.
While the IQ test is generally used and widely accepted, they have been criticized for
several different reasons. One is that the test by its nature measures how well a person
does answering questions on paper. However, it is well-known that not all forms of
intelligence involve memorizing words or solving equations. The different kinds of
intelligence are not measured by such tests; in fact, it is impossible for a single test to
simultaneously measure all components of intelligence. In view of these limitations,
in my view, I personally think that it is misleading to label these tests as intelligence
quotient test, as this gives the impression that such tests give an overall assessment
of individual intelligence, which in reality is not the case. It would be much more
appropriate to call the current IQ tests analytical intelligence quotient tests (AIQ
test), as they measure only analytical intelligence. Standardized tests should be
devised for assessing other kinds of intelligence, each having its own intelligence
quotient scores. Such suggestions have already been taken up by some modern
psychologists. Recently, there has been a movement in psychology regarding
something called emotional quotient (EQ). Proponents of this movement argue that
there should also be a rating for people that are particularly able to deal with other
people and social situations. While someone that is very good at dealing with people
and real world situations is generally not regarded as being intelligent in a
stereotypical manner, there hasnt been any definition of intelligence proposed which
have ruled out this particular form of intelligence. The existing IQ tests however do
not measure this kind of intelligence and this is one of the criticisms against IQ tests.
Furthermore, even though a persons IQ score is predictive of a persons academic
performance it is also worth noting that success in the academic field is not indicative
of any sort of intelligence. According to the American Psychology Association
taskforce reports, IQ test scores partially predict individual differences in school
achievement, such as grade point average and number of years of education that
individuals complete. In this context, the skills measured are important. Nevertheless

the population levels of school achievement are not determined solely or even
primarily by intelligence or other individual-difference variable.
I now examine the factors that affect intelligence. In other words, I will attempt
to answer the important question: is there a correlation between intelligence and some
factors environmental, social, and hereditary, etc.? Much research has been done in
finding answers to this question. It has been established that differences in genetic
endowment contribute substantially to individual differences in intelligence. However
the pathway by which genes produce their effects is still unknown. Furthermore, the
impact of genetic differences appears to increase with age, but the reason is still
unexplained. Some correlation is known to exist between intelligence and
environmental factors. Which environmental factors and how they work remain a
mystery, for instance, attendance at school is certainly important, but it is not known
what aspects of schooling are critical. The role of nutrition in intelligence remains
obscure. Severe childhood malnutrition has clear negative effects, but the hypothesis
that certain micronutrients may affect intelligence in otherwise adequately-fed
populations has not been convincingly demonstrated. Thus, the answer to the posed
question is that there appears to be some correlation between intelligence and these
factors, but the nature of the relations still remain obscure; further research is needed.
Finally, I turn my attention to an important question, from the point of view of
teachers and educators: is there a correlation between IQ test scores and academic
success of pupils and students? Such questions have already caught the attention of
psychologists. Thus, according to the American Psychology Association taskforce
reports, intelligence test scores partially predict individual differences in school
achievement, such as grade point average and number of years of education that
individuals complete. In this context, the skills measured are important. Nevertheless
the population levels of school achievement are not determined solely or even
primarily by intelligence or other individual-difference variable. Test scores also
correlate to some extent with measures of accomplishment outside school, for
example, adult occupational status. This correlation is linked with school achievement
because, in most countries, high test scores and grades are prerequisites for entry into
many careers and professions. However, a significant correlation between test scores
and occupational status remains even when education and family background have
been statistically controlled. Thus, it can be argued, that a student with high IQ test
scores is likely to be more academically successful, than one with a low score. This is
the basis for the use of IQ test scores by schools to make decision on student
admissions etc. The correlation between IQ test scores and academic success can be

explained by the fact, that these tests measure the kinds of intelligence, which are
most needed for academic excellence.
In this essay, I have analyzed the concept of intelligence and examined some
aspects of intelligence. In conclusion, intelligence is a complex concept, the
measurement of which calls for a much more comprehensive method, than the
simplistic testing method currently employed. No one particular test can measure
intelligence in its entirety, hence the need for several tests, which give an integrated
assessment of the different components of intelligence.

Herbert Spencer. Principles of Psychology. - 1855.
The African Encyclopedia. - 1974.
Aggarwal J.C. Essentials of Educational Psychology. Citizenship, 2009.
Terman Lewis. The Measurement of Intelligence. 1916.
David Wechsler. The measurement of adult intelligence. 1944. 272 p.
Sternberg, R. J. Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. 1985.
Howard Gardner. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.