Three Great Controversies Three huge controversies have sparked recent debate in and beyond psychology. First is the “memory war”, over whether traumatic experiences are repressed and can later be recovered, with therapeutic benefit. The second great controversy is the “gender war” over the extent to which nature and nurture shape our behaviors as men and women. We are going to be discussing the third controversy, the “intelligence war”: Does each of ouse have an inborn general mental capacity (intelligence), and can we quantify this capacity as a meaningful number?
What is Intelligence? What is intelligence? How do we measure it? Cognitive speed? Is it one aptitude, or many? One thing psychologists do agree on is this: intelligence is a concept, and not a “thing”. The people of the Amazon rainforest may consider “intelligence” to be an understanding of the medicinal qualities of local plants. In the United States, it may be the mastery of difficult academic concepts. In both, and all, locations, intelligence is the mental quality consisting of the ability to learn from experience, solve problems, and use knowledge to adapt to new situations. An intelligence test assesses people’s mental abilities and compares them with others, using numerical scores.
Charles Spearman’s General Intelligence How do we determine what’s important for measuring importance? Is a person who is a whiz at math but struggles with literary discussion “intelligent”? How about the gifted artist who has problems with science? Charles Spearman (1863-1945) believed that we have one general intelligence (g), which underlies specific mental abilities and is therefore measured by every task on an intelligence test. Spearman did grant that people often have special abilities that stand out, and helped develop factor analysis, a statistical procedure that identifies clusters of related items used to determine a person’s intelligence score, like verbal intelligence and spatial reasoning.
Spearman’s g theory was divisive then and remains so today. One of his early opponents gave 56 different tests to people and determined seven different clusters of mental ability to prove a single “general intelligence” didn’t exist. However, his research showed that a person who scores well in one section was likely to do well in the others as well. Thus, researchers concluded that g has some merit. Today, a popular argument is that general intelligence helps solve “novel” problem solving (how to put out a fire, how to cross a river, etc), but that other “intelligences” might exist for tasks like mating, raising children, understanding the facial expressions of others, etc.
Howard Gardner & Savant Syndrome Howard Gardner (b. 1943) views intelligence as multiple abilities that come in different packages. Brain damage, for example, may destroy one ability but leave the rest intact. Also, consider people with savant syndrome, a condition in which a person otherwise limited in mental ability has an exceptional specific skill, such as in computation or drawing. About 4 out of 5 of those with savant syndrome are male, and many also have autism spectrum disorder. One famous example of a savant was Kim Peek, who had exceptional memory skills. He was the basis for the movie called Rain Man.
Gardner’s Eight Intelligences Gardner used such examples to argue that we do not have a single intelligence, but multiple intelligences, including those verbal and mathematical aptitudes commonly tested. Thus the computer programmer, the artist, the business-savvy executive and the professional basketball player all have different intelligences. However, this does not replace the theory of g, with supporters showing that it predicts performance on various complex tasks, which in turn leads to a higher likelihood of things like doctoral degrees and publications.
Sternberg’s Three Intelligences Robert Sternberg (b. 1949) agrees that there is more to success than traditional intelligence, and agrees with Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences. However, he proposes that there are three intelligences: Analytical (academic problem-solving) intelligence: Assessed by traditional intelligence tests which present well-defined problems having a single right answer. Creative Intelligence: Demonstrated in reacting adaptively to novel situations and generating novel ideas, like inventions. Practical intelligence: Required for everyday tasks, which may be ill defined and have multiple solutions. This can include the manager who must motivate and write effective memos.
Social and Emotional Intelligence Also distinct from academic intelligence is social intelligence: the know-how involved in successfully comprehending social situations. An aspect of this social intelligence that was studied further in the 2000’s is called emotional intelligence, which is the ability to perceive, understand, manage, and use emotions, both your own and those around you. Research has shown those who are “emotionally intelligent” are much more likely to have rewarding friendships, work socialization, and romantic relationships.