In contrast to animals, man is considered to be endowed with certain cognitive abilities that make him a rational being.  He can reason, discriminate, understand, adjust and face new situations.  He is definitely superior to animals in all such aspects of behaviour.  But human beings themselves are not alike.  There are wide individual differences.  A teacher easily discovers these differences among his pupils.  Some learn with a good speed while others remain lingering for long.  There are some who need only one demonstration for handling the tools properly while for others even the repeated individual guidance brings no fruitful result.

What is it that causes one individual to be more effective in his response to a particular situation than another.  No doubt, interest, attitude, desired knowledge and skill etc., count towards this achievement.  But still there is something that contributes significantly towards these varying differences.  In psychology, it is termed as ‘Intelligence’. In ancient India, our great rishis named it ‘Viveka’


Since time immemorial, attempts have been made to understand the meaning and concept of intelligence. Let us be acquainted with the concept and meaning of intelligence by throwing light on the following aspects:

  1. Meaning and definition of intelligence.
  2. Some established facts about intelligence.
  3. Misconception about intelligence.
  4. Meaning and Definitions of Intelligence

As discussed earlier, in our day-to-day conversation and individual is said to be intelligent in proportion to his success in general life situations.  What is this intelligence that contributes towards such success, is a question that has been attempted by psychologists in different ways resulting in so many varied definitions.  Below we give some of these important definitions.

Woodworth and Marquis

Intelligence means intellect put to use.  It is the use of intellectual abilities for handling a situation or accomplishing any task.


Intelligence is a general capacity of an individual consciously to adjust his thinking to new requirements.  It is general mental adaptability to new problems and conditions of life.


An individual is intelligent in proportion as he is able to carry on abstract thinking.


Intelligence is the capacity to learn and adjust to relatively new and changing conditions.

David Wechsler

Intelligence is the aggregate or global capacity of an individual to act purposeful to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment.

Alfred Binet

Intelligence is a capacity to think well, to judge well and to be self critical

Charles Spearman

Intelligence is rational thinking


Intelligence is the ability to undertake activities that are difficult, complex and abstract and which are adaptive to a goal, and are done quickly and which have social value and which lead to the creation of something new and different.


Above we have given some definitions, more of such definitions can further be cited.  All these definitions when taken separately, give an incomplete picture because they partly emphasize that intelligence is the ability-to learn, to deal with abstraction and  to make adjustment or to adapt to new situations.

Some Established Facts about Intelligence

  1. The relation of intelligence with nature and nurture : There have been a number of attempts on the part of psychologists to weigh the relative importance of nature and nurture. The conclusion of their studies reveals that intelligence is the product of heredity and environment. Both are necessary for the intellectual growth of an individual and neither can be considered more important than the other.
  2. Distribution of intelligence : There are individual differences with regard to the distribution of intelligence in nature like wealth, health etc. This distribution is governed by a definite principle that states “The majority of the people are average, a few very bright and a few very dull”.
  3. Growth of intelligence: As a child grows in age, so does his intelligence as shown by intelligence tests. Now the questions arises as to at what age does this growth cease? The age of cessation of mental growth varies from individual to individual.  However, in majority of cases, intelligence reaches its maximum somewhat at the age of 16 or 20 in an individual.  After that the vertical growth of intelligence ceases.  But the horizontal growth-accumulation of knowledge and acquisition of skills-continues throughout the life span of an individual.
  4. Intelligence and Sex differences:

Various studies have been concluded to find out if women are less intelligent than men and vice versa.  The result of these researches have been either ways.  In some of the cases, no significant difference has been found.  Therefore, it is proper to think that difference in sex does not contribute towards the difference in intelligence.

  1. Intelligence and racial or cultural differences:

Whether a particular race, caste, or cultural group is superior to other in intelligence-the hypothesis has been examined by many research workers.  In U.S.A., it has been a burning problem for centuries.  The results of earlier studies, which considers the whites to be a superior race in comparison to the Negroes, have been questioned.  Now it has been established that intelligence is not the birth right of a particular race or group.  The ‘bright’ and the ‘dull’ can be found in any race, caste or cultural group and the differences that are found can be explained in terms of environment influences.

Misconception about Intelligence

There are a number of misconceptions prevalent about the nature and concept of intelligence. For the clarification let us be clear about what is not meant by intelligence.

(1) Intelligence is not knowledge though acquisition of knowledge depends, to a great extent , on intelligence and vice versa.

(2) Intelligence is not memory.  A very intelligent person may have a dull memory and     vice versa.

(3) Intelligence is not guarantee against abnormal behavior, backwardness and     delinquency in spite of the fact that it is one of the major factors contributing towards  achievement, adjustment and character formation.


Some Psychologists, notably Thorndike believe that several kinds of intelligence should be distinguished from each other.  According to him intelligence is of three kinds:

  1. Social Intelligence :

It refers to the knack of getting  along with people.  Socially intelligent person makes friends easily and understands human relations.

  1. Mechanical Intelligence :

It is the ability to deal effectively with machines or mechanical contrivances.

  1. Abstract Intelligence :

It is the ability to deal with symbols (both verbal and numerical), diagrams, formulae etc.

Prof. Howard Gardener of Harward University of U.S.A. in his book “Frames of Mind : The Theory of Multiple Intelligence”  has posted a provisional list of intelligences which include linguistic and logical skills (which I.Q. tests measure), Musical skills, Kinesthetic skills (exhibited by Surgeons, dancers etc.,) Spatial skills (displayed by Sculptors etc.), Interpersonal skills (important for politicians, salesmen etc.) and Intrapersonal skills (exhibited by planners and strategists)


With the help of definitions, we can be able to understand how intelligence operates or what type of behaviour makes an individual intelligent or unintelligent.  But it does not explain the structure of intelligence or in other words, the different components or elements of intelligence.  The theories of intelligence propagated by psychologists from time to time have tried to answer this question.  These theories can be grouped under two heads, namely, factor theories and cognitive theories.  However, in this text we will limit our discussion to factor theories.

Factor Theories of Intelligence

Let us try to discuss some of these theories below:


This theory holds that intelligence consists of one factor-a found of intellectual competency-which is universal for all the activities of an individual.

A man who has vigour can move so much to east as to the west.  Similarly if one has the fund of intelligence, he can utilize it in any area of his life and can be as successful in one area as in the other depending upon his fund.  However, in actual life situations, the ideas propagated by this theory do not fit well.  We find that the children who are bright in mathematics may, despite serious interest and hard work, be not so good in civics.  A student very good in conducting science experiments does not find himself equally competent in learning languages.  This makes us conclude that there is nothing like one single unitary factor in intelligence.  Therefore, the unitary theory stands rejected.


The main propagator of this theory was E.L. THORNDIKE.  As the name suggests, this theory considers intelligence a combination of numerous separate elements or factors, each one being a minute element of one ability.  So, there is no such thing as general intelligence (a single factor) and there are only many highly independent specific abilities which go into different tasks.

Monarchic and Anarchic theories thus hold the two extremes.  Just as we cannot assume good intelligence to be a guarantee of success in all the fields of human life, we cannot also say with certain specific type of abilities, one will be successful in a particular area and completely unsuccessful in the other.  As Gardner Murphy puts it, “There is a certain positive relationship between brightness in one field and brightness in another and so on.” This brings us to the conclusion that there should be a common factor running through all tasks.  The failure to explain such phenomena gave birth to another theory names Spearman’s two factor theory.