intelligence, 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 Binet, 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 Cattell 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 proven 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 tests).


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 Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

IQ and Human Intelligence
N. J. Mackintosh.
Oxford University Press, 1998
The IQ Mythology: Class, Race, Gender, and Inequality
Harry Mensh; Elaine Mensh.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1991
Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction
Ian J. Deary.
Oxford University Press, 2001
The Mismeasure of Man
Stephen Jay Gould.
W. W. Norton, 1996 (Revised edition)
The IQ Debate: A Selective Guide to the Literature
Stephen H. Aby; Martha J. McNamara.
Greenwood Press, 1990
Sense and Nonsense about IQ: The Case for Uniqueness
Charles Locurto.
Praeger, 1991
Litigating Intelligence: IQ Tests, Special Education, and Social Science in the Courtroom
Rogers Elliott.
Auburn House, 1987
Race, Social Class, and Individual Differences in I.Q
Sandra Scarr.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1981
Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century
Howard Gardner.
Basic Books, 1999
The Myth of Intelligence
Schlinger, Henry D.
The Psychological Record, Vol. 53, No. 1, Winter 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Decline of Intelligence in America: A Strategy for National Renewal
Seymour W. Itzkoff.
Praeger, 1994
The Intelligence Men: Makers of the IQ Controversy
Raymond E. Fancher.
W. W. Norton, 1987
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