Society often confuses academic achievement with intelligence and believes that only good grades will help us become successful in life. But sometimes even the best-performing students are unable to become achievers in life. Academic or other achievements don’t necessarily reflect or define one’s intelligence. 

The concept of intelligence is quite complex and can’t be easily evaluated or measured. However, it can be understood in the context of psychology. Let’s find out how.

What Is Intelligence In Psychology?

Intelligence has been a topic of debate and contention throughout history, especially in the field of psychology. There isn’t any standard definition of intelligence to date. The concept of intelligence can be understood in multiple ways. While some theorists and researchers suggest that intelligence is a single and general ability, others believe that it encompasses a range of skills and aptitudes.

The debate around intelligence in psychology dates back to the early 18th century when French psychologists Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon developed what is considered to be the first intelligence test. They were helping out the French government differentiate quick learners from the slow ones in schools when they developed their intelligence test. It’s believed that their test prompted other psychologists to develop multiple theories of intelligence.

Different Theories Of Intelligence

Over time, researchers have developed several contrasting theories of intelligence in psychology. Although these theories of intelligence tried to explain the nature of intelligence, disagreements continue to persist among psychologists.

Here are some of the major theories of intelligence developed by some of the most well-known psychologists:

1. Two-Factor Theory of Intelligence

Charles Spearman, a British psychologist, came up with one of the earliest theories of intelligence. He studied the results of the test conducted by Binet and Simon. He noticed that students who performed well in one subject were likely to perform well in corresponding subjects. 

For example, he saw that a student who performed well in math also performed well in music. He hypothesized that there’s a single underlying factor that helps an individual utilize corresponding abilities. He called this ‘generalized’ form of intelligence the ‘g’ factor, which can lead to a ‘specialized’ form of intelligence called the ‘s’ factor. In other words, the ‘g’ factor is the sum of multiple s-factor scores. This came to be known as the Two-Factor Theory of intelligence in psychology.

IQ or intelligence quotient tests, which measures one’s general cognitive abilities, are derived from Spearman’s theory of general intelligence.

2. Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist, was best known for his multiple intelligences theory. He believed that the traditional test of intelligence didn’t accurately depict a person’s abilities. He outlined eight major types of intelligence:

  • Naturalistic Intelligence 

Having a strong connection with the outside world and the ability to categorize objects in nature.

  • Musical Intelligence 

Having the ability to recognize and produce sound, rhythm, pitch and timbre.

  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence 

The ability to think conceptually and use deductive reasoning to identify logical patterns or concepts.

  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence 

The ability to control the physical form, like your bodily movements, and be effective physical communicators.

  • Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence 

The ability to convey or communicate ideas, feelings or theories. There’s sensitivity to sound and meaning of words.

  • Visual-Spatial Intelligence 

The ability to relate well to the surrounding environment. It’s the capacity to visualize thoughts and draw mental maps.

  • Interpersonal Intelligence 

The ability to understand others by using emotional intelligence. It’s the capacity to detect the mood and motivation of others.

  • Intrapersonal Intelligence

The ability to be self-aware and self-knowing. It’s also called the intelligence of the self.

3. Triarchic Theory of Intelligence

American psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed the Triarchic Theory just two years after Gardener’s theory. It was a three-category approach that addressed the gaps in Gardner’s theory of intelligence in psychology. He found Gardner’s definition of intelligence as a much broader, single and general ability. According to Sternberg, the concept of intelligence involves three different factors:

  • Analytical Intelligence 

It refers to a person’s ability to assess information and how they use the information to analyze problems and arrive at solutions.

  • Creative Intelligence 

The ability to do something in a novel or innovative way in order to create new ideas or experiences. It involves imagination and problem-solving skills.

  • Practical Intelligence

The ability to solve problems in daily life and adapt to changing environments. People with practical intelligence are also called ‘street smart’.


Everybody’s intelligence is unique and everyone thinks and reasons differently. If you ever find someone comparing their achievements to yours, remember that you can do things that person can’t. What matters at the end of the day is how we use our intelligence. 

Harappa Education’s Thinking Critically course will help you put your intelligence to best use. The Ladder of Inference framework will help you understand how a four-step approach to learning can make your thought-process mature and measured. Start thinking strategically and start problem-solving effectively.

Explore topics such as the Meaning of HeuristicWhat is Logical Reasoning How our Mind Works from our Harappa Diaries blog section and hone strategically thinking skills in business.

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