Performance 8 mins read

What Are The Different Theories Of Intelligence in Psychology?

by Mindvalley November 28, 2018


Scientists have been studying the brain for hundreds of years, and still, 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 for theories of intelligence over the years. These theories have proven to be useful in our understanding of the brain.

There are several unique approaches to the intelligence we will explore in this article. You’ll get a better idea of what intelligence is and what the scientists and psychologists have to say about the topic.

Discovering your individual cognitive strengths will propel you on a path towards better control over your own life. You can hone your skills, step into your true self, and live your life from a place of greater self-awareness.

After reading this article, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What is intelligence and its theories?
  2. What is Spearman’s theory?
  3. Triarchic theory on intelligence
  4. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence
  5. What is the best theory of intelligence?

Let’s begin!

What Is Intelligence And Its Theories?

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, Author of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Program

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.

We’re going to explore three 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
generalized intelligence

What is Spearman’s 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 a g-factor, which can lead to other specialized forms of intelligence, measured by s-factor.

G-factor is a sum of s-factor scores that measure a person’s abilities in one particular area. Generally excepted 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.

Triarchic theory of intelligence

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 intelligence.

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.

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence

In contrast to the two theories of intelligence we’ve just examined, Gardner’s theory proposes nine different types of intelligence.

Howard Gardner is an American psychologist who first proposed his theory in the 1980s. He counters the standard psychological view of generalized intelligence by suggesting nine unique forms of intelligence:

1. Naturalistic intelligence

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

2. 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.

types of intelligence

3. 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.

4. 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 concept and theory.

5. 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.

6. 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 the physical form and are effective physical communicators.

triarchic theory

7. 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.

8. 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 any other. This is the intelligence of introspection and self-knowing.

9. 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.

What is the best theory of intelligence?

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

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 standardized test of intelligence, this may not always be the case.

As our world changes and new theories of intelligence continue to emerge, we may find that our assumptions about human intelligence aren’t quite what we once thought.


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by Mindvalley
Mindvalley is creating a global school that delivers transformational education for all ages. Powered by community. Fueled by fun. We are dedicated to ensuring that humans live happier, healthier, and more fulfilled lives by plugging in the gaps that conventional education failed to teach us. We do this by organising real-world events around the world and producing world-class quality programmes in several areas of transformation, including mind, body, and performance.

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