One or Many

As learned earlier, intelligence is associated with the brain, includes abstract thinking, adapting to new situations, ability to benefit from instruction and experience (Gottfredson, 1997; Sternberg, 2003) and is largely determined by genetics. Psychologist Charles Spearman (1863–1945) hypothesized that there must be a single underlying construct that links these concepts, abilities and skills together. He called this construct the general intelligence factor (g) and there is strong empirical support for a single dimension to intelligence. Others psychologists believe that instead of a single factor, intelligence is a collection of distinct abilities. Raymond Cattell proposed a theory of intelligence that divided general intelligence into two components: crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence (Cattell, 1963).

Crystallized intelligence is characterized as acquired knowledge and the ability to retrieve it. When you learn, remember, and recall information, you are using crystallized intelligence. You use crystallized intelligence all the time in your coursework by demonstrating that you have mastered the information covered in the course.

Fluid intelligence encompasses the ability to see complex relationships and solve problems. Navigating your way home after being detoured onto an unfamiliar route because of road construction would draw upon your fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence helps you tackle complex, abstract challenges in your daily life, whereas crystallized intelligence helps you overcome concrete, straightforward problems (Cattell, 1963).

Robert Sternberg developed another theory of intelligence, which he titled the triarchic theory of intelligence because he proposed that intelligence is comprised of three parts (Sternberg, 1988): creative, analytical, and practical intelligence. (CAP).

  • Creative intelligence is marked by inventing or imagining a solution to a problem or situation. Creativity in this realm can include finding a novel solution to an unexpected problem or producing a beautiful work of art or a well-developed short story.
  • Analytical intelligence is closely aligned with academic problem solving and computations. Sternberg says that analytical intelligence is demonstrated by an ability to analyze, evaluate, judge, compare, and contrast. For example, in a science course such as anatomy, you must study the processes by which the body uses various minerals in different human systems. In developing an understanding of this topic, you are using analytical intelligence.
  • Practical intelligence is sometimes compared to “street smarts.” Being practical means you find solutions that work in your everyday life by applying knowledge based on your experiences.

Multiple Intelligences Theory was developed by Howard Gardner and asserts that everybody possesses at least eight distinct types of intelligence. Among these eight intelligences, a person typically excels in some and falters in others (Gardner, 1983). Gardner’s theory is relatively new and needs additional research to establish empirical support. At the same time, his ideas challenge the traditional idea of intelligence to include a wider variety of abilities but creating a test to measure all of Gardner’s intelligences has been extremely difficult (Furnham, 2009; Gardner & Moran, 2006; Klein, 1997).


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Culture and Psychology by L D Worthy; T Lavigne; and F Romero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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