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What Are the Different Types of Intelligence?

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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Not all psychologists agree on what intelligence is, so various theories try to define it in different ways. Get an overview of the different types of intelligence and explore some of the most common theories, including Gardner's multiple intelligences and Sternberg's triarchic theories. Updated: 10/06/2021

What Is Intelligence?

Think about the smartest person you know. What makes them smarter than the other people you know? What do they have or have they done to become intelligent? And how do you know that they are smart?

Intelligence, or the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, is a somewhat tricky concept. Psychologists have been trying for years to figure out what exactly it is and how to measure it.

It all started in the late 19th century, when a Frenchman named Alfred Binet was asked by the government to identify which Parisian children would experience trouble with school. They wanted to identify which students would need extra help as early as possible.

Binet put together a test that focused on things that weren't explicitly taught in school, things like attention, memory, and problem-solving skills. Thus, the first intelligence quotient, or IQ, test was born. Its goal was to measure the underlying intelligence of people.

In particular, Binet wanted to measure how easily a child would learn in school. But is that all there is to intelligence? Or is there more? Let's look at two other theories of intelligence and what they say intelligence is made up of.

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  • 0:07 What Is Intelligence?
  • 1:26 Multiple Intelligences
  • 3:05 Triarchic Theory of…
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Multiple Intelligences

Think about a person who is really good at something that doesn't have to do with school. Maybe you know someone who really understands people and how to relate to them or someone who can take apart a car or computer and put it back together again, even without having been trained in that. Perhaps you know someone who is very good at sports.

Are these talents or intelligences?

Howard Gardner doesn't like Binet's idea of intelligence. He believes that it is too narrowly defined and that it leaves out many students who aren't traditionally book smart. So, he came up with a theory of multiple intelligences, which says that there are many different types of intelligence that people can have.

Among his intelligences, Gardner has listed interpersonal intelligence, which involves understanding and relating to other people; intrapersonal intelligence, which involves understanding yourself; kinesthetic intelligence, which involves being able to control your body movements to a degree; and many others.

People who are in support of Gardner's multiple intelligences theory argue that people vary in different skills. Just because someone is better at reading people than at reading books doesn't mean that they aren't as intelligent.

But not everyone agrees with Gardner. Those who argue against his theory point out that intelligence is just scholastic aptitude. That is, it is the skill or talent of being able to succeed in school. What Gardner's theory describes, they say, are skills or talents in other areas, but not intelligence.

Triarchic Theory of Intelligence

Gardner isn't the only one who feels like Binet's definition of intelligence is too narrow. Robert J. Sternberg is a psychologist who also wants to expand the definition of intelligence. But Sternberg doesn't agree with Gardner's definitions of intelligence. He believes that Gardner is just listing talents and skills, not intelligence.

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