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in psychology, the general mental ability involved in calculating, reasoning, perceiving relationships and analogies, learning quickly, storing and retrieving information, using language fluently, classifying, generalizing, and adjusting to new situations. Alfred BinetBinet, Alfred
, 1857–1911, French psychologist. From 1894 he was director of the psychology laboratory at the Sorbonne. He is known for his research and innovation in testing human intelligence.
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, the French psychologist, defined intelligence as the totality of mental processes involved in adapting to the environment. Although there remains a strong tendency to view intelligence as a purely intellectual or cognitive function, considerable evidence suggests that intelligence has many facets.

Early investigations into intelligence assumed that there was one underlying general factor at its base (the g-factor), but later psychologists maintained that intelligence could not be determined by such a simplistic method. Raymond CattellCattell, Raymond B.
, 1905–, American psychologist, b. Staffordshire, England. He came to the United States in 1937 and served as research professor at the Univ. of Illinois (1944–73).
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 argued that intelligence can be separated into two fundamental parts: fluid ability and crystallized ability. Fluid ability is considered innate, basic reasoning skill, while crystallized intelligence is the information and skills that are acquired through experience in a cultural environment. Other psychologists have further divided intelligence into subcategories. Howard Gardner maintained (1985) that intelligence is comprised of seven components: musical, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. J. P. Guilford tried (1982) to show that there are 150 different mental abilities that constitute intelligence.

It is generally accepted that intelligence is related to both heredity and environment. Studies done on families, particularly among identical twins and adopted children, have shown that heredity is an important factor in determining intelligence; but they have also suggested that environment is a critical factor in determining the extent of its expression. For instance, children reared in orphanages or other environments that are comparatively unstimulating tend to show retarded intellectual development. In recent years, controversy regarding intelligence has centered primarily around how much of each factor, heredity and environment, is responsible for an individual's level of intelligence.

Intelligence Tests

Although a strict definition of intelligence has proved elusive, a number of psychologists have argued that it can be quantified, primarily through testing. In 1905, Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon devised a system for testing intelligence, with scoring based on standardized, average mental levels for various age groups. In 1916 the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale was expanded and reworked by Lewis Terman at Stanford Univ., and later revisions called the Revised Stanford-Binet Intelligence Tests were published in 1937, 1960, and 1985. A highly successful series of tests, designed by psychologist David Wechsler, have been in wide use for years as diagnostic and evaluative instruments. Known in 1939 as the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Scale, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is a standard tool for intelligence testing today. All of these tests are administered to one individual at a time by a psychometrician. While no consensus of opinion prevails about what such tests actually measure, their use in education has had great practical value in assigning children to suitable class groups and in predicting academic performance.

The Army Alpha Test, which was first administered to nearly 2 million new recruits in World War I, and the Otis Group Intelligence Scale, were forerunners of many other group tests that are administered economically and quickly to large numbers, and were thus effective for use in schools and industry. National, standardized group tests are administered for college and graduate school entrance, and for a number of civil service positions.

The work of Binet, Terman, and Wilhelm Stern paved the way for a method of classifying intelligence in terms of a standardized measure, with standardization ensured by the large number of individuals of various ages taking the test. German psychologist L. Wilhelm Stern was the first to coin the term intelligence quotient (IQ), a figure derived from the ratio of mental age to chronological age. Although Stern's method for determining IQ is no longer in common use, the term IQ is still used today to describe the results in several different tests. Today, an average IQ score is considered to be 100, with deviations based on this figure. Mentally retarded individuals usually score below 70 in IQ tests, and are classified according to functional ability through reference to a scale of low IQ scores.

One criticism of intelligence testing is that it is difficult to insure that test items are equally meaningful or difficult for members of different sociocultural groups. Testing is often considered validated in part, however, by the finding that the quantity measured by the tests can be closely correlated in American society with career and academic achievement. There has been a decline in interest in pure intelligence tests since the 1920s, with a corresponding increase in the number of mental tests that measure special aptitudes and personality factors (see psychological testspsychological test,
any of a variety of testing procedures for measuring psychological traits and behavior, or for studying some specialized aspect of ability. Several forms of testing have arisen from the need to understand personality and its relationship to psychological
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See R. J. Sternberg and R. K. Wagner, ed., Practical Intelligence (1986); R. Fancher, The Intelligence Men: Makers of the I.Q. Controversy (1987); P. Chapman, Lewis M. Terman, Applied Psychology, and the Intelligence Testing Movement, 1880–1930 (1988); J. R. Flynn, What Is Intelligence? (2007).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


General mental ability due to the integrative and adaptive functions of the brain that permit complex, unstereotyped, purposive responses to novel or changing situations, involving discrimination, generalization, learning, concept formation, inference, mental manipulation of memories, images, words and abstract symbols, eduction of relations and correlates, reasoning, and problem solving.

Intelligence tests are diverse collections of tasks (or items), graded in difficulty. The person's performance on each item can be objectively scored (for example, pass or fail); the total number of items passed is called the raw score. Raw scores are converted to some form of scaled scores which can be given a statistical interpretation.

The first practical intelligence test for children, devised in 1905 by the French psychologist Alfred Binet, converted raw scores to a scale of “mental age,” defined as the raw score obtained by the average of all children of a given age. Mental age (MA) divided by chronological age (CA) yields the well known intelligence quotient or IQ. When multipled by 100 (to get rid of the decimal), the average IQ at every age is therefore 100, with a standard deviation of approximately 15 or 16. Because raw scores on mental tests increase linearly with age only up to about 16 years, the conversion of raw scores to a mental-age scale beyond age 16 must resort to statistical artifices. Because of this problem and the difficulty of constructing mental-age scales which preserve exactly the same standard deviation of IQs at every age, all modern tests have abandoned the mental-age concept and the calculation of IQ from the ratio of MA to CA. Nowadays the IQ is simply a standardized score with a population mean of 100 and a standard deviation (σ) of 15 at every age from early childhood into adulthood. The middle 50%, considered “average,” fall between IQs of 90 and 110. IQs below 70 generally indicate “mental retardation,” and above 130, “giftedness.”

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a person's intellectual ability or potential for rational thought and behaviour. The nature and measurement of intelligence is one of the most controversial topics in the social sciences. The central debate concerns what we mean by the concept of intelligence. Early theories assumed a quite narrow range of cognitive abilities such as abstract reasoning, comprehension and memory, though they differed in the emphasis placed on the existence of a general factor of intelligence, common across all skills (e.g. Spearman), versus a number of distinct primary mental abilities (e.g. Thurstone). More recent views tend to broaden the concept to include such skills as practical problem-solving, social skills and creativity.

A second debate centres on the extent to which intelligence is inherited biologically or acquired as a result of environmental experience and socialization (see NATURE -NURTURE DEBATE). Many methods have been devised to research this issue, including the study of identical twins and adopted children, but the relative contributions of heredity and environment remain unclear.

Models of the nature of intelligence have important implications for educational processes. One influential model finds expression in cognitive developmental theories which emphasize the importance of the interaction between inherited potential and environmental experience; This approach is exemplified in the work of PIAGET (1932) and Bruner (1968), both of whom identified qualitatively different stages of mental development and learning. These theorists have exerted considerable influence on the structure of educational provision in recent decades.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


Data, information, or messages that are to be transmitted.
The intellect or astuteness of the mind.
Ability to recognize and understand qualities and attributes of the physical world and of humankind.
Ability to solve problems and engage in abstract thought processes.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


See also Wisdom.
Intemperance (See DRUNKENNESS.)
Intimidation (See BULLYING.)
Intoxication (See DRUNKENNESS.)
Alexander the Great
looses the Gordian knot by cutting it with his sword. [Gk. Legend: Brewer Dictionary, 409]
(intelligence quotient) controversial measurement of intelligence by formula which compares mental age with chronological age. [Western Education.: EB, V : 376]
Mensa International
organization whose members have IQs in the top two percent of the general population. [Am. Pop. Culture: EB, VI: 793]
Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale
test used to measure IQ; designed to be used primarily with children. [Am. Education: EB, IX: 521]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(1) From the computer perspective, intelligence is having processing capability. In this context, every electronic device with a microprocessor is "intelligent." See smart and AI.

(2) Information derived for some purpose. See DOD intelligence glossary.

(3) From the human perspective, the effectiveness with which a person can analyze a situation or solve a problem.
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