The Evolution of Brainpower: Key Theories of Intelligence Explained

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Alexandra Tudor
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Highlights: There are three different theories of intelligence. Discover what they are and how your cognitive strengths can help you have better control over your own life.

Scientists have been studying the brain for hundreds of years, and they’ve only scratched the surface. We’ve yet to figure out what this remarkable mass of advanced biological material is capable of.

Different psychologists have proposed competing theories of intelligence over the years. These theories have proven useful in our understanding of the brain.

You can discover your individual cognitive strengths, which can help propel you on a path toward better control over your own life. And as you do so, you can hone your skills, step into your true self, and live your life from a place of greater self-awareness.

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What Are the Theories of Intelligence?

Intelligence is a complex thing to define. But it can be broadly thought of as the measure of a person’s ability to master a specific cognitive function, such as problem-solving, logical reasoning, and self-awareness.

My work is about transcending. It’s about ending this mass hypnosis that we’re not enough, that we’re not smart enough, that we’re not good enough. I want to disrupt and shatter that limiting belief.

— Jim Kwik, trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest

These are the main competing theories of intelligence to help you understand the different cognitive strengths you may possess:

  • Spearman’s Two-Factor Theory of Intelligence
  • Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence
  • Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence

Let’s take a closer look at each:

1. Spearman’s two-factor theory of intelligence

Charles Spearman, an English psychologist, noticed that students who did well in one subject area tended to do well in corresponding subjects.

He concluded that human beings possess a generalized form of intelligence, known as the “g-factor,” which can lead to other specialized forms of intelligence, measured by the “s-factor.”

The g-factor is a sum of s-factor scores that measure a person’s abilities in one particular area. Generally accepted s-factors of intelligence include: 

  • Memory,
  • Attention,
  • Verbal comprehension,
  • Spatial skills, and
  • Abstract reasoning.

The g-factor and the s-factor are two parts of Spearman’s two-factor theory of intelligence.

IQ tests, which measure general cognitive ability, are derived from his theory of general intelligence.

2. Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence

The American psychologist Robert Sternberg made his name by proposing the triarchic theory of intelligence. This theory asserts that human intelligence can be divided into three types: analytical, creative, and practical.

  • Analytical intelligence refers to a person’s ability to assess information and use deductive reasoning to arrive at plausible solutions.
  • Creative intelligence draws on a person’s ability to create something from nothing or to do something in a unique and novel way.
  • Practical intelligence is the intelligence of common sense reasoning, commonly referred to as “street smarts.”

Sternberg believed that a balanced measure of all three forms of intelligence would result in the greatest life success.

3. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence

Howard Gardner is an American psychologist who first proposed his theory in the 1980s. In contrast to the two theories of intelligence we’ve just examined, Gardner’s theory proposes nine different types of intelligence.

He counters the standard psychological view of generalized intelligence by suggesting nine unique forms of intelligence:

Naturalistic intelligence

“Naturalistic intelligence” is the intelligence of the natural world. People who possess naturalistic intelligence have keen outdoor sensibilities, are born wayfinders, and have a strong connection with Mother Nature.

Musical intelligence

People who are musically intelligent have a natural draw to all things acoustic and musical. They have a talent for identifying sound, pitch, rhythm, and timbre.

Logical-mathematical intelligence

We’re all familiar with this form of intelligence. If you are logically intelligent, you’re able to use deductive analysis, logical reasoning, and executive planning to your advantage. Those with this form of intelligence work well with numbers and are skilled problem solvers.

Existential intelligence

Those with existential intelligence have a knack for tackling the big questions of life: 

  • What is life? 
  • Where does it come from? 
  • Who am I? 
  • What should I do with my life? 

If you possess existential intelligence, you have a philosophical mind and have no trouble grappling with abstract concepts and theories.

Interpersonal intelligence

If you possess great interpersonal abilities, you possess emotional intelligence. People with this intelligence have a natural ability to understand the thoughts, actions, and motives of others.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence

This type of intelligence is displayed by those with great control over their physical bodies. Many dancers, athletes, and physical therapists possess kinesthetic intelligence. These people have mastered control over their physical form and are effective physical communicators.

Linguistic intelligence

People with linguistic intelligence are skilled wordsmiths. They’re able to use words to convey different feelings, ideas, and theories with ease. They also have a predisposition for visual learning, so they can quickly master new languages.

Intrapersonal intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence is the intelligence of the self. True self-awareness is rare in today’s world, and those with intrapersonal intelligence know themselves more intimately than anyone else. This is the intelligence of introspection and self-knowledge.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence

Those with visual-spatial intelligence relate well to the world around them. They are natural-born navigators and possess a keen understanding of the visual world. They often pick up on fine details others are unaware of and can manipulate three-dimensional images in their mind’s eye.

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Why Are There So Many Theories of Intelligence?

As there are different aspects to intelligence theories, one cannot address them all. That happens because psychological theories tend to categorize one concept from multiple points of view.

Given the popularity of the subject of intelligence, scholars have studied it from different angles and found various ways of measuring it. 

Additionally, it’s important to have more accessible methods of testing intelligence because there’s no one size that fits all. People are different and show distinct ways of expressing their cognitive capacity; therefore, one standard, generalized test for everyone couldn’t be accurate.

We all have vast potential inside of us, untapped levels of strength, intelligence, and focus, and the key to activating these superpowers is unlimiting yourself.

— Jim Kwik, trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest

What Is the Best Theory of Intelligence?

We’ve given you the rundown on three different theories of intelligence. So, the question is: which theory is best?

The reality is, there’s really no one-size-fits-all when it comes to intelligence. 

Spearman’s theory of generalized intelligence remains one of the most recognized, but newer theories, like Gardner’s and Sternberg’s, offer new and promising insights.  

While IQ tests remain the standard test of intelligence, this may not always be the case. As our world changes and new theories of intelligence in psychology continue to emerge, we may find that our assumptions about human intelligence aren’t quite what we once thought.

Your intelligence is not only malleable but dependent on your ability to cultivate a growth mindset.

— Jim Kwik, trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest
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Unlock Your Unlimitness

Tuning into the great power of your intelligence enables you to unlock your unlimited potential. And the best part of it all is that the more you tap into it, the more you will have to discover.

Mindvalley can act as a guide along the way. You can start your journey of unleashing your brain’s extraordinary capacity with transformational quests like Superbrain by Jim Kwik.

  • Expand the potential of your memory and the amount of knowledge you can absorb.
  • Learn the best methods of learning for maximum results.
  • Become an expert at taking care of your brain.

By unlocking your free access today, you can try out classes from this program and many others. And if you get stuck along the way, you can dive into a library of guided meditations and podcasts to inspire you to go further.

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Alexandra Tudor

Alexandra Tudor

Alexandra Tudor is a former content writer for Mindvalley and a psychology enthusiast. From clinical experience working with both children and adults, she's now in the process of becoming a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in the IFS method and family constellation therapy.
Written by

Alexandra Tudor

Alexandra Tudor is a former content writer for Mindvalley and a psychology enthusiast. From clinical experience working with both children and adults, she's now in the process of becoming a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in the IFS method and family constellation therapy.

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