What Is Intelligence? | Theories of intelligence


Levels of intelligence have been debated among many economists and scholars for thousands of years. This essay will explore the question of whether it is IQ or EQ (emotional quotient) that causes success. The evidence argues that IQ is essential for some people, not a majority, but if you have high emotional intelligence then success is much more likely.

Intelligence is not equal to success

Having high intelligence is not the same as being good at getting things done. Smart people can be very frustrating to deal with, and sometimes they find it frustrating to deal with themselves. People with high IQs are often bad at everyday tasks like paying bills and returning phone calls. They seem to have spent their entire lives in the presence of other people who did those things for them. When they start working on their own, they’re unprepared for all the practical details.

I’ve met a lot of smart people who were bad at getting things done, so I assume this is just a common problem for them. But I’m still surprised by the number who don’t understand why it happens because the problem seems to me so obvious. One symptom is that these people tend to overestimate their own capabilities relative to others. If you ask them how well they can do something, they’ll give you an accurate answer. But if you ask them how commonly the ability occurs, they’ll guess that it’s much more common than it really is.

Intelligence is a mental capacity

Intelligence is the mental capacity of beings that helps them to learn from past experiences and adapt to new situations. The term also describes the ability to solve problems, especially in innovative ways. Intelligence is often described as one’s ability to perceive information and retain it as knowledge to be applied toward adaptive behaviours within an environment or context. It is most widely studied in humans but has been observed in both non-human animals and in plants.

Intelligence in machines is called artificial intelligence, which is commonly implemented in computer systems using program software. Within the discipline of psychology, various approaches to human intelligence have been adopted. The psychometric approach is especially familiar to the general public, as well as being the most researched and by far the most widely used in practical settings. Psychologists interested in individual differences study intelligence by testing individual subjects on a variety of tasks and comparing their performance against a sample of peers of similar age or other relevant demographic. These tests typically produce a score (often referred to as an intelligence quotient or IQ) intended to measure an individual’s cognitive abilities relative to the norm group average.

People have different types of intelligence

One problem with trying to define intelligence is that it might not be a single thing. There are many kinds of smarts, and what we measure with IQ tests may not be the most important kind. Emotional intelligence, for example, is often crucial to success in life. A child who is emotionally intelligent will understand his own feelings and those of others and know how to use this knowledge to get along with people.

This kind of intelligence is not measured by IQ tests. And in fact, there seems to be little correlation between the two. People vary in both IQ and emotional intelligence independently of each other. If you have both kinds of smarts you may do very well in life. But if you are high in one and low in the other, you’ll probably do better than someone. Who is high in one and average or below average in the other. Someone with a low IQ but high emotional intelligence may not be able to solve problems that call for analytical thinking, but may still manage to succeed at school or work because he knows how to cooperate with others who can help him. It’s possible that some kinds of intelligence are more important than others for particular kinds of success. 

How can you measure It?

Measuring intelligence is hard. We know that because we try to measure it all the time, and don’t succeed. How can you tell if one person is smarter than another? One common approach is to ask people questions and see how many they get right. This is what I was doing in my first job after college, administering IQ tests for a school district in Philadelphia. But there are plenty of problems with this approach.

People who don’t know the answers to some questions might still be smart in ways the test doesn’t capture. Alternatively, people might just get lucky on one kind of question or get unlucky on another and end up with higher or lower scores than their abilities warrant. And finally, different kinds of intelligence are affected by different genes, so if you’re looking at just one test score you might be measuring genetic variation that has nothing to do with intellectual ability.

All these problems apply more generally to try to measure any complex trait like intelligence. If you want to know how much someone’s heredity contributes to that trait, you need a measure of two things: how much of the trait they have, and how much of their heredity they got from their parents.

The difference between intelligence and education

The difference between intelligence and education, for instance. Intelligence is hard to measure. But if you pick any two people you can tell who’s smarter. And you can probably give a rough estimate of the difference in their IQs. Education, on the other hand, is easy to measure. You just count how many years they’ve spent in school, or how many books they’ve read. But it’s much harder to tell who’s more educated than whom.

The reason is that education isn’t like intelligence; it’s a side effect. If you want to make yourself more intelligent, there are only so many things you can do directly: study more, think more, talk to better people, and so on. But if you want to be more educated, there is an obvious solution: go get yourself some more education. The reason we so often confuse education with intelligence is that we’re used to thinking of education as a virtue in and of itself. This has some dangers we might as well mention now. One is that your school may have an incentive not to teach you too well. Otherwise, you might graduate and stop giving them money. 

It is not a single trait but a set of skills

Intelligence is not a single trait but a whole set of skills. One of the weird aspects of intelligence is that, despite intense study, we still don’t really know what it is. We understand how to measure some of the things you need to be intelligent, and we’ve learned a lot about how to train those things, but it’s not clear what exactly they have in common.

For example, consider chess players. Chess takes a lot of intelligence to play well; you have to remember the rules, recognize patterns, predict consequences and so on. And chess players are unusually good at pattern recognition and prediction. Yet if you give them unfamiliar pieces with unfamiliar moves all they can do is scratch their heads and lose.

Why? Because they need explicit rules before they can do pattern recognition or prediction. The world doesn’t come with rules attached; you have to pay attention in order to discover them. If you’re looking at pieces that obey familiar rules, your expertise may let you see patterns that novices overlook, but if you look at pieces that obey unfamiliar rules you’ll be as clueless as anyone else.

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