Intelligence 2257
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Intelligence is an abstract concept whose definition continually evolves and often depends upon current social values as much as scientific ideas. Modern definitions refer to a variety of mental capabilities, including the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience, as well as the potential to do these things.


Several theories about intelligence emerged in the twentieth century and with them debate about the nature of intelligence and whether it determined by hereditary factors, the environment, or both. As methods developed to assess intelligence, experts theorized about the measurability of intelligence, its accuracy, and the field known as psychometrics, a branch of psychology dealing with the measurement of mental traits, capacities, and processes. Publication in 1994 of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray stirred the controversy. Their findings pointed to links between social class, race, and intelligence quotient (IQ) scores, despite questions by many about the validity of IQ tests as a measurement of intelligence or a predictor of achievement and success.

Part of the problem regarding intelligence stems from the fact that nobody has adequately defined what intelligence really means. In everyday life, people have a general understanding that some people are "smart," but when they try to define "smart" precisely, they often have difficulty because a person can be gifted in one area and average or below in another. To explain this phenomenon, some psychologists have developed theories to include multiple components of intelligence.

Since about 1970, psychologists have expanded the notion of what constitutes intelligence. Newer definitions of intelligence encompass more diverse aspects of thought and reasoning. For example, American psychologist Robert Sternberg developed a three-part theory of intelligence which states that behaviors must be viewed within the context of a particular culture; that a person's experiences impact the expression of intelligence; and that certain cognitive processes control all intelligent behavior. When all these aspects of intelligence are viewed together, the importance of how people use their intelligence becomes more important than the question of "how much" intelligence a person has. Sternberg has suggested that some intelligence tests focus too much on what a person has already learned rather than on how well a person acquires new skills or knowledge.

Another multifaceted approach to intelligence is Howard Gardner's proposal that people have eight intelligences:

  • Musical: Children with musical intelligence are always singing or tapping out a beat. They are aware of sounds others miss. Musical children are discriminating listeners.
  • Linguistic: Children with linguistic intelligence excel at reading, writing, telling stories, and doing crossword or other word puzzles.
  • Logical-Mathematical: Children with this type of intelligence are interested in patterns, categories, and relationships. They are good at mathematic problems, science, strategy games, and experiments.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic: These children process knowledge through their senses. They usually excel at athletics and sports , dance, and crafts.
  • Spatial: These children think in images and pictures. They are generally good at mazes and jigsaw puzzles. They often spend lots of time drawing, building (with blocks, Legos, or erector sets), and daydreaming.
  • Interpersonal: This type of intelligence fosters children who are leaders among their peers, are good communicators, and understand the feelings and motives of others.
  • Intrapersonal: These children are shy, very aware of their own feelings, and are self-motivated.
  • Naturalist: This type of intelligence allows children to distinguish among, classify, and use features of the environment. These children are likely to make good farmers, gardeners, botanists, geologists, florists, and archaeologists. Naturalist adolescents can often name and describe the features of every make of car around them.

Intelligence tests

There are many different types of intelligence tests, and they all do not measure the same abilities. Although the tests often have aspects that are related with each other, one should not expect that scores from one intelligence test that measures a single factor will be similar to scores on another intelligence test that measures a variety of factors. Many people are under the false assumption that intelligence tests measure a person's inborn or biological intelligence. Intelligence tests are based on an individual's interaction with the environment and never exclusively measure inborn intelligence. Intelligence tests have been associated with categorizing and stereotyping people. Additionally, knowledge of one's performance on an intelligence test may affect a person's aspirations and motivation to obtain goals. Intelligence tests can be culturally biased against certain groups.

STANFORD-BINET INTELLIGENCE SCALES Consisting of questions and short tasks arranged from easy to difficult, the Stanford-Binet measures a wide variety of verbal and nonverbal skills. Its fifteen tests are divided into the following four cognitive areas: verbal reasoning (vocabulary, comprehension, absurdities, verbal relations); quantitative reasoning (math, number series, equation building); abstract/visual reasoning (pattern analysis, matrices, paper folding and cutting, copying); and short-term memory (memory for sentences, digits, and objects, and bead memory). A formula is used to arrive at the intelligence quotient, or IQ. An IQ of 100 means that the child's chronological and mental ages match. Traditionally, IQ scores of 90–109 are considered average; scores below 70 indicate mental retardation . Gifted children achieve scores of 140 or above. Revised in 1986, the Stanford-Binet intelligence test can be used with children starting at age two. The test is widely used to assess cognitive development and often to determine placement in special education classes.

WECHSLER INTELLIGENCE SCALES The Wechsler intelligence scales are divided into two sections: verbal and nonverbal, with separate scores for each. Verbal intelligence, the component most often associated with academic success, implies the ability to think in abstract terms using either words or mathematical symbols. Performance intelligence suggests the ability to perceive relationships and fit separate parts together logically into a whole. The inclusion of the performance section in the Wechsler scales is especially helpful in assessing the cognitive ability of children with speech and language disorders or whose first language is not English. The test can be of particular value to school psychologists screening for specific learning disabilities because of the number of specific subtests that make up each section.

KAUFMAN ASSESSMENT BATTERY FOR CHILDREN The Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (KABC) is an intelligence and achievement test for children ages 2.5–12.5 years. It consists of 16 subtests, not all of which are used for every age group. A distinctive feature of the KABC is that it defines intelligence as problem-solving ability rather than knowledge of facts, which it considers achievement. This distinction is evident in the test's division into two parts—intelligence and achievement—which are scored separately and together. The test's strong emphasis on memory and lesser attention to verbal expression are intended to offset cultural disparities between black and white children. In addition, the test may be given to non-native speakers in their first language and to hearing impaired children using American Sign Language.


Babies were once thought to enter the world with minds that were blank slates that developed through a lifetime of experiences. It is as of the early 2000s known that newborns have brains as sophisticated as the most powerful supercomputers, pre-wired with a large capacity for learning and knowledge. In the first few months of life, a baby's brain develops at an amazing rate. At birth, infants have the senses of sight, sound, and touch. At about three or four months, infants begin to develop memory, and it expands quickly. Modern brain imaging techniques have confirmed that children's intelligence is not just hereditary but is also affected greatly by environment. Babies' brains develop faster during their first year than at any other time. By three months, babies can follow moving objects with their eyes, are extremely interested in their surroundings, and can recognize familiar sounds, especially their parents' voices. At six months, infants begin to remember familiar objects, react to unfamiliar people or situations, and realize that objects are permanent. At seven months, babies can recognize their own name. Parents can help their infants develop their intelligence by talking and reading to them, playing with them, and encouraging them to play with a variety of age-appropriate toys .


Toddlers' lives generally revolve around experimenting with and exploring the environment around them. The primary source of learning for toddlers is their families. During their third year, toddlers should be able to sort and group similar objects by their appearance, shape, and function. They also start to understand how some things work, and their memory continues to improve rapidly. They are able to remember and seek out objects that are hidden or moved to a different location. Toddlers should be able to follow two-step instructions and understand contrasting ideas, such as large and small, inside and outside, opened and closed, and more and less. Toddlers also develop a basic understanding of time in relation to their regular activities, such as meals and bedtime.


At age three, preschoolers can say short sentences, have a vocabulary of about 900 words, show great growth in communication, tell simple stories, use words as tools of thought, want to understand their environment, and answer questions. At age four, children can use complete sentences, have a 1,500-word vocabulary, frequently ask questions, and learn to generalize. They are highly imaginative, dramatic, and can draw recognizable simple objects. Preschoolers also should be able to understand basics concepts such as size, numbers, days of the week, and time. They should have an attention span of at least 20 minutes. Children this age are still learning the difference between reality and fantasy. Their curiosity about themselves and the world around them continues to increase.

School age

At age five, children should have a vocabulary of more than 2,000 words. They should be able to tell long

Gifted 11-year-old jazz pianist Matt Savage. Many gifted musicians have above-average intelligence. ( Rick Friedman/Corbis.)
Gifted 11-year-old jazz pianist Matt Savage. Many gifted musicians have above-average intelligence.
(© Rick Friedman/Corbis.)
stories, carry out directions well, read their own name, count to ten, ask the meaning of words, know colors, begin to know the difference between fact and fiction, and become interested in their surrounding environment, neighborhood, and community. Between the ages of seven and 12, children begin to reason logically and organize their thoughts coherently. However, generally, they can only think about actual physical objects; they cannot handle abstract reasoning. They also begin to lose their self-centered way of thinking. During this age range, children can master most types of conservation experiments and begin to understand that some things can be changed or undone. Early school-age children can coordinate two dimensions of an object simultaneously, arrange structures in sequence, change places or reverse the normal order of items in a series, and take something such as a story, incident, or play out of its usual setting or time and relocate it in another.

Starting at about age 12, adolescents can formulate hypotheses and systematically test them to arrive at an answer to a problem. For example, they can formulate hypotheses based on the phrase "what if." They can think abstractly and understand the form or structure of a mathematical problem. Another characteristic of the later school-age years is the ability to reason contrary to fact. That is, if they are given a statement and asked to use it as the basis of an argument, they are capable of accomplishing the task. Until they reach the age of 15 or 16, adolescents are generally not capable of reasoning as an adult. High school-age adolescents continue to gain cognitive and study skills. They can adapt language to different contexts, master abstract thinking, explore and prepare for future careers and roles, set goals based on feelings of personal needs and priorities, and are likely to reject goals set by others.

Common problems


Autism is a profound mental disorder marked by an inability to communicate and interact with others. The condition's characteristics include language abnormalities, restricted and repetitive interests, and the appearance of these characteristics in early childhood. As many as two-thirds of children with autistic symptoms are mentally deficient. However, individuals with autism can also be highly intelligent. Autistic individuals typically are limited in their ability to communicate nonverbally and verbally. About half of all autistic people never learn to speak. They are likely to fail in developing social relationships with peers, have limited ability to initiate conversation if they do learn how to talk, and show a need for routine and ritual. Various abnormalities in the autistic brain have been documented. These include variations in the frontal lobes of the brain that focus on control and planning and in the limbic system, a group of structures in the brain that are linked to emotion, behavior, smell, and other functions. Autistic individuals may suffer from a limited development of the limbic system. This would explain some of the difficulties faced by autistic individuals in processing information.

Mental retardation

Mental retardation usually refers to people with an IQ below 70. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a mentally retarded person is significantly limited in at least two of the following areas: self-care, communication, home living, social-interpersonal skills, self-direction, use of community resources, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety . Mental retardation affects roughly 1 percent of the U.S. population. According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 11 percent of school-aged children were enrolled in special education programs for students with mental retardation. There are four categories of mental retardation: mild, moderate, severe, and profound. There are many different causes of mental retardation, both biological and environmental. In about 5 percent of cases, retardation is transmitted genetically, usually through abnormalities in chromosomes, such as Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome . Children with Down syndrome have both mental and motor retardation. Most are severely retarded, with IQs between 20 and 49. Fragile X syndrome, in which a segment of the chromosome that determines gender is abnormal, primarily affects males.


Autism —A developmental disability that appears early in life, in which normal brain development is disrupted and social and communication skills are retarded, sometimes severely.

Down syndrome —A chromosomal disorder caused by an extra copy or a rearrangement of chromosome 21. Children with Down syndrome have varying degrees of mental retardation and may have heart defects.

Fragile X syndrome —A genetic condition related to the X chromosome that affects mental, physical, and sensory development. It is the most common form of inherited mental retardation.

Intelligence quotient (IQ) —A measure of somebody's intelligence, obtained through a series of aptitude tests concentrating on different aspects of intellectual functioning.

Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children —An intelligence and achievement test for children ages 2.5 to 12.5 years.

Psychometrics —The development, administration, and interpretation of tests to measure mental or psychological abilities. Psychometric tests convert an individual's psychological traits and attributes into a numerical estimation or evaluation.

Stanford-Binet intelligence scales —A device designed to measure somebody's intelligence, obtained through a series of aptitude tests concentrating on different aspects of intellectual functioning. An IQ score of 100 represents "average" intelligence.

Wechsler intelligence scales —A test that measures verbal and non-verbal intelligence.

Parental concerns

Autism symptoms begins in infancy, but typically the condition is diagnosed between the ages of two to five. The symptoms of mental retardation are usually evident by a child's first or second year. In the case of Down syndrome, which involves distinctive physical characteristics, a diagnosis can usually be made shortly after birth. Mentally retarded children lag behind their peers in developmental milestones such as sitting up, smiling, walking, and talking. They often demonstrate lower than normal levels of interest in their environment and less responsiveness to others, and they are slower than other children in reacting to visual or auditory stimulation. By the time a child reaches the age of two or three, retardation can be determined using physical and psychological tests . Testing is important at this age if a child shows signs of possible retardation because alternate causes, such as impaired hearing, may be found and treated. There is no cure for autism or mental retardation.

When to call the doctor

Parents should consult a healthcare professional if their child's intellectual development appears to be significantly slower than their peers. Children suspected of having intelligence development problems should undergo a comprehensive evaluation to identify their difficulties as well as their strengths. Since no specialist has all the necessary skills, many professionals might be involved. General medical tests as well as tests in areas such as neurology (the nervous system), psychology, psychiatry, special education, hearing, speech and vision, and physical therapy may be needed. A pediatrician or a child and adolescent psychiatrist often coordinates these tests.

Parents should pay close attention to possible symptoms in their children. Autism is diagnosed by observing the child's behavior, communication skills , and social interactions. Medical tests should rule out other possible causes of autistic symptoms. Criteria that mental health experts use to diagnose autism include problems developing friendships, problems with make-believe or social play, endless repetition of words or phrases, difficulty in carrying on a conversation, obsessions with rituals or restricted patterns, and preoccupation with parts of objects. A diagnosis of mental retardation is made if an individual has an intellectual functioning level well below average and significant limitations in two or more adaptive skill areas. If mental retardation is suspected, a comprehensive physical examination and medical history should be done immediately to discover any organic cause of symptoms. If a neurological cause such as brain injury is suspected, the child may be referred to a neurologist or neuropsychologist for testing.



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Child Development Institute. 3528 E Ridgeway Road Orange, CA 92867. Web site:

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Ken R. Wells

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