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Psychology 101 - What Is Intelligence?


In this Psychology 101 article, we will ask the question what is intelligence? The article will look at how our society measures intelligence, the controversies that surrounds this and the father of its birth – Alfred Binet. Before we continue, please refresh yourself on the following definition.

Psychology Definition

As this is a psychology 101 based article, as always, we will start by providing a ‘working definition’ of psychology as a term:

‘Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour of humans and animals.’ Psychologists concentrate on what is observable and measurable in a person’s behaviour. This includes the biological processes in the body, although, the mind is central to the subject.

What Is Intelligence? Simply Put...

Based on the definitions, it is:

  • Rational thought and reasoning
  • The ability to act purposefully in an environment.
  • The ability to deal with situations, in an effective manner, within an environment.
  • Cognitive – Examples of cognitive ability: memory, perception, concept formation, problem solving, mental imagery, action, association, language and attention.
  • The ability to learning from experience
  • The ability to live and cope with the demands of daily life.

What is Intelligence?

We all genius’s. We all suffer learning difficulties. That is what makes our society diverse. Everyone has their talents and no one is better or worse than anyone else. Our brains are wired differently and it is this that makes us unique and individual. We are all affected by experience and we all respond differently when exposed to those experiences. But what if intelligence was measurable? What if there was a standardised approach to this that will give an indication – a baseline assessment?

If we had an easy way of measuring intelligence, this may give us ideas and measures, not only on a human scale, but that of animals around us. But wouldn’t that suggest that we the most intelligent animals on the planet? This is an assumption and is not formulated on controlled hypothesis and research. Surely to ‘assume’ would make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’? This is a thought and worth considering when asking the question ‘what is intelligence?’

Let me, therefore, give you a working definition for us to work toward by Sternberg: Intelligence is the cognitive ability of an individual to learn from experience, to reason well, to remember important information, and to cope with the demands of daily living’.

This definition seems to be the one that those in the field of psychology seem to prefer. However, it is worth keeping in mind Wechler’s definition as he has been highly influential in the field of intelligence research: the global capacity of a person to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his/her environment.’

I.Q. Means Intelligence Quotient

The Term I.Q. means Intelligence Quotient. William Stern revised the Stanford-Binet test by calculating intelligence quotient (I.Q.) in relation to a ratio - mental age to chronological age. The results then indicate a measure of general intelligence.

Alfred Binet: Stanford-Binet IQ Tests


I.Q. Example: What comes next:

3 8 12 15 17 ?

Intelligence is Whatever Intelligence Tests Measure - E G Boring

As we know from our psychology definition, Psychologists concentrate on what ‘is observable and measurable in a person’s behaviour’. So how can we observe and measure intelligence? We can certainly look at the life of the individual, but how can we standardise and test intelligence in a practical way?

A psychologist in the 1920’s - E. G. Boring – defined intelligence as ‘whatever intelligence tests measure’. If we focus on this, how do we create an appropriate test?

Alfred Binet (1905) created some of the first tests that later developed at Stanford University (USA) from 1916. He used his initial tests for French schools as a way to identify and help less able school children. It was later that the ‘Stanford-Binet’ were developed and used by Governments for armed forces recruitment.

In these tests a quotient (a simple number) was developed as a way to summerize the children’s abilities. As a baseline number 100 was used to signify an average. If you look below, you will see a diagram ‘Distribution of IQ’, the Normal Curve.

Wischler's adapted curve from Binet.

Wischler's adapted curve from Binet.

IQ Range Classification - By Terman

  • 140 and over Genius or near genius
  • 120-140 Very superior intelligence
  • 110-120 Superior intelligence
  • 90-110 Normal or average intelligence
  • 80-90 Dullness
  • 70-80 Borderline deficiency
  • Below 70 Definite feeble-mindedness

Answer To What Comes Next...

Answer to IQ Question: 18

Answer to IQ Question: 18

IQ Applications Used Today

Today, various IQ tests and applications are used in schools, job recruitment, personal development and even console games on the Nintendo DS. Games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy can all help increase intelligence with practice. The consoles are often carried around in handbags and pulled out for use, killing time - my mum is 71 and she uses hers when waiting at the Doctors or at the bus stop!

The use of I.Q. Tests in the modern times have gone beyond the imagination of 1916 what with further developments from the founder – Binet – we find that Wechsler and Eysenck have helped to build upon these ideas.


Streaming The Armed Forces From IQ Evidence

Top IQ Scorers – Allocated To The Airforce

Medium IQ Scorers – Allocated To The Navy

All the rest…. Allocated To The Army!

A lack of opportunity, doesn't mean a lack of intelligence!

It takes a lot of 'intelligence' to survive in the harshest conditions of Africa.

It takes a lot of 'intelligence' to survive in the harshest conditions of Africa.

Are I.Q. Tests a True Measure of Intelligence?

Intelligence is certainly a controversial subject, as we have discovered, but are I.Q. tests a true measure of intelligence? Society does seem to be respectful of tests and have used them as ways of separating ‘the sheep from the goats’, so to speak. Take the example above; through the results of I.Q. tests, people have been streamed into different parts of the forces as a result of them.

People develop and mature at different rates and this can affect the result when standardising an age for children to take the test. I know that when I was just 11, I failed the test, for example, but when I was 12, passed with distinction. I.Q. tests, in this instance, are not a true measure when considering maturation and standardisation. The results can change over time and are dependant on performance of the day.

This has been acknowledged within the psychology community as a criticism. Intelligence Quotient results are unfair as a selection tool. Binet’s aim originally was to develop tests to assist children in their development so as they could improve. Its useage was not as a blanket clue to intelligence.

However, even today, I.Q. tests are used to stream children in schools, giving some a more unfair advantage over others. The level, therefore, of education or allocated establishment that children are screened into, the more of an effect on the career outcome. This can have dyer outcomes for those delayed in maturation.

IQ Test Just For Frolics!

Eynsenck: ‘The error is to exaggerate the importance of intelligence. The facts and arguments can easily be abused by racists… Each person has to be treated as individual’.

Intelligence Quotient: Controversial Issues

Even more controversial, IQ tests have been quoted for racial differences. Black people ‘test about 15 IQ points below the average of the white population’ (Jensen 1969). However these results are culturally unfair (Eysenck 1981).

Intelligence quotient, therefore, is culturally bound. It is no good measuring the IQ of someone who hasn’t been exposed to a mathematical teaching environment – this would be setting people up for failure!

Intelligence, therefore, is what is deemed as valuable in a society. Problem solving in the bush outback of Australia is different to problem solving in an office!

Research shows that improving the environment can significantly improve IQ (Skeels 1966). Therefore, practicing the tests can increase the score, therefore, not a valid assumption. This is because it tests an aspect of ability and doesn’t take into account of others like practical sense, problem solving to do with everyday challenges.

With available opportunity, 'measured' intelligence can thrive!

With available opportunity, 'measured' intelligence can thrive!

Psychology 101 Conclusion

We have looked at how psychology attempts to measure intelligence. However, the question: ‘What is intelligence?’ is such a subjective one, measuring it is not enough. Intelligence is subject to many factors and it seems that methods and tests that have been developed, are culturally biased. However, these tests are helpful as a relative perspective based on aspects of intelligence.

Other parts of being intellectual are about the ability to cope with all aspects of daily living, problem solving skills and learning from experience. Good reasoning abilities, rationalisation and cognitive skills seem to enhance the intelligence package. But what, ultimately, is intelligence? Perhaps it is just being human - the ability to override base instinctual desires, empathy, creativity and imagination - but I guess we shall have to leave that to another psychology 101 article!

© This work is covered under Creative Commons License


Use This Psychology 101 article at your own risk. This Psychology article does not give medical or psychological advice, neither does it give legal opinions and advice.  Any action or outcome that may result from this article is the sole responsibility of the reader.  This article is assumes no responsibility or legal claim against it.

© 2010 shazwellyn


Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on November 13, 2014:

Wow, I must be very stupid! These tests are too fast for me, strange as I got an average of 95% for all my university module results. Old age has definitely taken its toll!

marina on October 18, 2012:

send the references

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on July 27, 2012:

Anjo Bacarisas II - it means that intelligence tests are only applicable to the environment from where the subject comes from and only measurable as regards to individual components... i.e. logical ability (problem solving etc), common sense, artistic ability, physical ability.. etc etc.

Essentially, we all suffer learning disability in one component and genius in another. Diversity of human beings are necessary for a successful society and, as a collective, we all add value to that society. Hope that makes sense?

Anjo Bacarisas II from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines on July 27, 2012:

I couldn't agree more. So, how are we then going to measure intelligence? Does this mean that intelligence tests are not as reliable as they seem?

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on July 25, 2012:

Anjo Bacarisas II - IQ is culturally biased, as stated in the article. However, intelligence is not just about IQ. In another one of my articles, I talk about multiple intelligences. This covers many other important areas that are just as important as logical skills. Check it out: https://hubpages.com/education/Psychology-101-What...

Anjo Bacarisas II from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines on July 25, 2012:

I believe that to measure intelligence, the diversity of a culture should be considered all the time. You can't measure how intelligent a farmer is when your questions are too technical he or she cannot relate it with that the person usually experience on a day to day basis. Just a thought.

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on July 21, 2012:

sherwin... you might be 'average' when it comes to IQ, but you might be a genius in another sphere. Have you read my article about multiple intelligence? https://hubpages.com/education/Psychology-101-What... you might find yourself a bit more here!

sherwin on July 20, 2012:

i think im in average also., what am i supposed to do to reach the highest level of intellegence????

anndavis25 from Clearwater, Fl. on April 03, 2012:

Wow, a lot of great information. I'm just an average person in intellect, but I have always, always wanted to be smarter than I am.

Wonderful hub.

ahmed on December 17, 2011:

good article, i like this article.

ahmed on December 17, 2011:

good article, i like this article.

chrisanto from Philippines on October 03, 2011:

Although we have the multiple intelligences now a days, still traditional method of obtaining IQ. is still very reliable with proper administration and scoring of the test. Very good writing, and useful... Thanks for posting

jtyler on June 25, 2011:

Nice hub. At one point, I took a few free IQ tests and got between 145-155. Since they were free tests, I don't know exactly how reliable they were.

Rachael Lefler from Illinois on April 22, 2011:

Yeah the cultural bias is a real big issue. In my psychology class we did an activity illustrating this,we all took a culturally biased IQ test that was all questions a 1950's black person in Harlem would have known. Nobody did very well.

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on January 14, 2011:

Oh yes Kelah. You should check out my article on multiple intelligences *wink*


kelah on January 13, 2011:

way to go geniuses!

Its a well debate. I mean opinions of different side.

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on January 07, 2011:

Good job itech!

Krishna from Dausa, India on January 07, 2011:

Interesting information... Solved successfully first 16 questions of iq test in embedded video and believe me my mind crossed the normal functionalism.

useful article*****

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on November 27, 2010:

Thanks Happyboomernurse - I have extended this subject to multiple intelligences in another psychology 101 article. Im glad you picked up the relevant contradictions, like everything, psychology is an evolving, changing thing and there is always more to come!

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on November 26, 2010:

Hi Shazwellyn,

This is a thought provoking and informative article. As you pointed out, Intelligence Tests are culturally dependent and can be biased toward certain segments of the population and can also vary from day to day and year to year. They can be useful up to a point, but I think they work best when combined with observations from a clinician.

The general definitions you cited seem to be more accurate assessments of what intelligence really is.

Thanks for sharing. I love psychology and am going to read your other hubs on this topic.

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on November 19, 2010:

Great stuff Dani - you will be sooooo interested in many of my psycholgy articles. I have one that is about to be published about research and study. Keep coming back - it is impossible to cover it all in one article, my friend! See you soon :)

Danie Van Gilder on November 19, 2010:

most did not before understand that ANY of psychology were a science, like this intellegence measuring, but to me, I have made psyc. a science TO STUDY, it is how the mind brain reacts and can be understood its own responses, such responses are legit and all similar as with others, we've studied even monkey & animals brain responses, to understand too, then a five year old boy as freud initially studied, that is: sex development and the edipus concepts, plus subcosious (unconscious?) and many "word games" to study past happenings to understand errors in therapy. to remember our cause for our illnes to then "lay it down" and to solve the "problem"=science

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on July 27, 2010:

HappyHer - 142 is a great result but as you will realise there is a payoff and it can come out in ignornant actions *wink* Well, who said there was logic in common sense? hehehe

Pleased you enjoyed the article and lovely to meet you.

Tracy Morrow from Cleveland, OH on July 27, 2010:

I love this article, thank you! I've tested at 142, and sometimes amaze myself with either a brilliant thought - or by an extremely ignorant action :)

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on July 25, 2010:

Hi aforme... these are my ideas formulated from other psychological theorists such as Binet. I have just put a spin to it. Thank you for your recommendation, I shall have to take a look at Howard Gardner.

Thank you for reading :)

aforme on July 25, 2010:

this is interesting and refreshing.. is this your own understanding or are you sharing some ideas from else where? i was reading on the "Theory of multiple intelligence by Howard Gardner".. the theory was fascinating, however it wasn't scientifically proven.. it has some similar ideas with what you have here..

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on May 26, 2010:

Thanks Conscious ... I am glad it was useful:)

ConsciousObserver on May 26, 2010:

Hello, I enjoyed reading and share some ideas that we all likely have genius ability in the hub I wrote. Great job, thanks.

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 15, 2010:

Pretty... thanks... always like to welcome you to my hubs!:)

prettydarkhorse from US on April 15, 2010:

Thumbs up and I like the definition of Stenberg Shaz! I like this inetelligent hub as it focuses more on exprieential aspect as well. Thank you! Maita

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 15, 2010:

Pamela99... You are absolutely correct. Iq tests are culturally biased and only measures one part. There are other forms of intelligence, just as valid but different... creative intelligence and social intelligence, for example. Many high functioning individuals do seem to have a lack of social intelligence... see my hub on aspergers!! I thank you for your always helpful input:)

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 14, 2010:

Very interesting hub and you had a lot of good research and information. From a personal standpoint, I'm not so sure there is one definition for intelligence or if the IQ tests are really valid. I have known people who were in or close to the genius range and showed no common sense at all. There lives were a mess and they couldn't figure out seemingly little things but could understand quantum physics. I think more research will change the way we view intelligence some day, but who knows, I could be wrong.

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 14, 2010:

Thank you Ann... I hope it adds another perspective to the complexities of the mind. Great you called by! :)

Ann Nonymous from Virginia on April 13, 2010:

Wow! shaz what an incredibly thorough hub! And so very profound. Thanks so much for challenging all of us...especially me! I forget how much can effect the role of the brain! Brilliant job, Shaz! Brilliant!

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 13, 2010:

Yes dongately, it would be interesting to look at it from the point of view of civilizations.. have we evolved as more intelligent over time or are we at the same level of intelligence. What is the effect of diet on intelligence... wow... we could go on and on!:)

dongately from Sana Clarita, California on April 13, 2010:

Very scholarly, and thought provoking. On a much simpler level, I wrote a hub a week or two ago called Who's Smart? that discusses different aspects of intelligence. Also, the book Guns, Germs and Steel is an interesting discussion of intelligence as it applies, or applied, to different civilizations.

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 13, 2010:

Rafini.... you are such a joy! lol All your points are valid. I actually dont have an opinion as such. I always wait and ponder. I wrote this as an objective rather than subjective piece.

People fascinate me, you know... they are wonderful and diverse, full of other perceptions. I love this. It is like.... 'this is my truth, tell me yours' situation. We all have our ways of packaging our own realities and it always amazes me how you can have two groups who fight but they are talking the same language, in different ways.

You are always invited to come and share the debate with me - anytime! :)

Rafini from Somewhere I can't get away from on April 13, 2010:

Shaz - Maybe I should have said 'Learned Intelligence VS Natural Intelligence'? LOL The reason I call it artificial is because a college degree can give some people the illusion of having intelligence when in actuality they learned nothing of value - and society buys it!!

I agree with you on IQ tests only testing logic & problem solving skills, and there are other forms of intelligence. (I for one, lack the social intelligence while Michael Jackson had more than enough creative intelligence)

I half agree with your funding argument - it seems to me that science and sports get all the funding. Here in the US anyway, the arts are fighting for their lives and as far as I can tell are making a (small) comeback. As for written language, it seems to be the same as ever. Just enough to get by.

LOL You crack me up shazwellyn, - Maslows hierarchy was deep in my subconsious, but didn't change my opinions - I realized this when I wrote my hub on happiness. I have always felt happiness is a state of mind and the only time I'm unhappy is when someone tells me I can't possibly be happy because all of my needs haven't been met yet.

So...is this an invitation to read and respond to the next Psychology hub? lol I just may do that. :)

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 13, 2010:

Opinion Duck.. thank you that is a very valid comment. I agree with you... it is all relative and to apply what is learned is the key. However, a null hypothesis has to start from somewhere. Definitions are a reasonable start and a great way to start debate. It is through debate that opens the minds (i guess mindmapping is a sort of debate process with oneself) and to bounce off of each other is a great way of finding a route to realising all variables.

Thanks for reading and please come back anytime! :)

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 13, 2010:

LOL Rafini... Yes, the next one Ive got will really be a bone of contention! hehehe

However... you said: I disagree with intelligence being valued by society - a college degree (in other words, artificial intelligence) is more valued than the high IQ of a high school dropout (natural intelligence).

Artificial intelligence is a whole new board game - it refers more to computers and technology, but I could go on about the connectionist theory (well... I will save that for another hub!)lol

Society seems to value the IQ TESTING rather than other forms. IQ is not only culturally biased but only measures one aspect of intelligence - logic and problem solving. Other forms of intelligence, from other realms of psychology, are creative intelligence, social intelligence (you know those that have the x factor, carisma, to get on in the world by winning friends)and empathetic intelligence (like a sixth sense, knowing how others feel is very powerful).

What I want to highlight here... is that it appears in western civilization, if you like, that society tends to value IQ intelligence over other forms. For example, who gets better funded... the Arts or the Science Department? Academic subjects are, therefore, better funded because society (our governments, the people and the media etc etc)prioritise academia over creativity. I hope that explains myself a bit better.

I really enjoy your input Rafini - I am sure some of this has gone deep into your subconscious until a time comes when it might help to draw upon the information. Just keep happy and know you are a genius:)

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 13, 2010:

Billyaustin... It is genius to be able to imaginatively apply a principle or theory to a practical situation. You are a genius Billy:)

shazwellyn (author) from Great Britain on April 13, 2010:

Thanks for visiting Green... Yes we are ALL genius, yet we all have learning difficulties - it is all relative really. Green is a Genius too:)

OpinionDuck on April 13, 2010:

The first sign of intelligence would be to question the definition of what is intelligence.

When you accept a definition, then you have already lost your objectivity of determing what is the real answer.

The definition of the term intelligence is not meaningful in and of itself. To be meaningful, the term has to be applied to something.

We live in a world of labels, and everyone thinks that they understand the meaning of these labels. The problem is that many words are interpreted differently and subjectively by the people that hear these words.

For example, even simple words have no objective meaning, like those of "hot" or "cold". Actual temparature reading help somewhat, but humidity and wind change the feeling of hot or cold even for the same temparture.

Rafini from Somewhere I can't get away from on April 13, 2010:

I really should stop reading anything to do with Psychology, as I don't agree with most of it! LOL

The intelligence definitions given basically say the same thing - intelligence is the ability to think. But how intelligence is used or how much intelligence an individual has is a different story.

I am assuming (yes, I know what it means! lol) the statement of 'our brains are wired differently' is referring to our personalities, because it is personality first and foremost that makes us unique and it's also our personality that determines how we use whatever level of intelligence we have.

I find the 'lack of opportunity doesn't mean lack of intelligence' to be accurate, although difficult to prove. Without opportunity how can intelligence be proven?

I disagree with intelligence being valued by society - a college degree (in other words, artificial intelligence) is more valued than the high IQ of a high school dropout (natural intelligence).

The culturally biased tests is an unfortunate assumption - I feel discrepancies tell us where society needs to focus more attention in the field of teaching in order to provide better opportunities for all.

Thanks for another interesting hub on Psychology - I think I'll skip the next ones...the subject really drives me crazy! lol

billyaustindillon on April 13, 2010:

A great hub and I agree excellent resource for children and parenting.

Hillary from Atlanta, GA on April 13, 2010:

Wow this is terrific information. It should be required reading for every parent. Love the video and the layout too! You are a genius :)!