Intelligence - Definitions


The definition of intelligence is controversial. Groups of scientists have stated the following:

  1. from "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (1994), an editorial statement by fifty-two researchers: A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—"catching on," "making sense" of things, or "figuring out" what to do.
  2. from "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns" (1995), a report published by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association: Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent: a given person's intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria. Concepts of "intelligence" are attempts to clarify and organize this complex set of phenomena. Although considerable clarity has been achieved in some areas, no such conceptualization has yet answered all the important questions, and none commands universal assent. Indeed, when two dozen prominent theorists were recently asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen, somewhat different, definitions.

Besides the foregoing definitions, these psychology and learning researchers also have defined intelligence as:

Researcher Quotation
Alfred Binet Judgment, otherwise called "good sense," "practical sense," "initiative," the faculty of adapting one's self to circumstances ... auto-critique.
David Wechsler The aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment.
Lloyd Humphreys "...the resultant of the process of acquiring, storing in memory, retrieving, combining, comparing, and using in new contexts information and conceptual skills."
Cyril Burt Innate general cognitive ability
Howard Gardner To my mind, a human intellectual competence must entail a set of skills of problem solving — enabling the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters and, when appropriate, to create an effective product — and must also entail the potential for finding or creating problems — and thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge.
Linda Gottfredson The ability to deal with cognitive complexity.
Sternberg & Salter Goal-directed adaptive behavior.
Reuven Feuerstein The theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability describes intelligence as "the unique propensity of human beings to change or modify the structure of their cognitive functioning to adapt to the changing demands of a life situation."

What is considered intelligent varies with culture. For example, when asked to sort, the Kpelle people take a functional approach. A Kpelle participant stated "the knife goes with the orange because it cuts it." When asked how a fool would sort, they sorted linguistically, putting the knife with other implements and the orange with other foods, which is the style considered intelligent in other cultures.

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