How Psychologists Define Intelligence
Intelligence has been an important and controversial topic throughout psychology’s history. Despite the substantial interest in the subject, there is still considerable disagreement about what components make up intelligence. In addition to questions of exactly how to define intelligence, the debate continues today about whether accurate measurements are even possible.
At various points throughout recent history, researchers have proposed some different definitions of intelligence. While these definitions can vary considerably from one theorist to the next, current conceptualizations tend to suggest that intelligence involves the level of ability to do the following:
- Learn: The acquisition, retention, and use of knowledge is an important component of intelligence.
- Recognize problems: To put knowledge to use, people must be able to identify possible problems in the environment that need to be addressed.
- Solve problems: People must then be able to take what they have learned to come up with a useful solution to a problem they have noticed in the world around them.1
Intelligence involves some different mental abilities including logic, reasoning, problem-solving, and planning. While the subject of intelligence is one of the largest and most heavily researched, it is also one of the topics that generate the greatest controversy.
While psychologists often disagree about the definition and causes of intelligence, research on intelligence plays a significant role in many areas. These areas include decisions regarding how much funding should be given to educational programs, the use of testing to screen job applicants, and the use of testing to identify children who need additional academic help.
How the Concept of Intelligence Developed
The term “intelligence quotient,” or IQ, was first coined in the early 20th century by a German psychologist named William Stern. Psychologist Alfred Binet developed the very first intelligence tests to help the French government identify schoolchildren who needed extra academic assistance. Binet was the first to introduce the concept of mental age or a set of abilities that children of a certain age possess.2
Since that time, intelligence testing has emerged as a widely used tool that has led to developing many other tests of skill and aptitude. However, it continues to spur debate and controversy over the use of such testing, cultural biases that may be involved, influences on intelligence, and even the very way we define intelligence.