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Biology 202
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

What is Intelligence?

Asra Husain

Intelligence can be defined in many different ways since there are a variety of individual differences. Intelligence to me is the ability to reason and respond quickly yet accurately in all aspects of life, such as physically, emotionally, and mentally. Anyone can define intelligence because it is an open-ended word that has much room for interpretation. Thus my paper is an attempt to find the meaning of human intelligence. There are a couple of scientists who have tried to come up with theories of what makes a human being intelligent.

Jean Piaget, a Swiss child psychologist, is well known for his four stages of mental growth theory (1). In the sensorimotor stage, from birth to age 2, the child is concerned with gaining motor control and getting familiar with physical objects. Then from age 2 to 7, the child develops verbal skills, which is called the preoperational stage. In the concrete operational stage the child deals with abstract thinking from age 7 to 12. The final stage called the formal operational stage ends at age 15 and this is when the child learns to reason logically and systematically. (1)

Piaget's theory provides a basis for human intelligence by categorizing the major stages in child development and how they contribute to intelligence. Each of these invariant stages has major cognitive skills that must be learned. Knowledge is not merely transmitted verbally but must be constructed and reconstructed by the learner (3).

Thus this development involves a few basic steps. The first fundamental process of intellectual growth is the ability to assimilate the new events learned into the preexisting cognitive structures. The second fundamental process is the capability to change those structures to accommodate the new information and the last process is to find equilibrium between the first two processes. (3)

Even though Jean Piaget's theory was interesting, I found Howard Gardener's, a psychologist at Harvard University, theory even more intriguing. He arranged human intelligence into seven sections and they are body-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, and spatial intelligence. Gardner believes that everyone has a mixture of all the categories varying at different levels. We can see a couple of intelligences that stand out in people we know and including ourselves. (2)

For example, as a math major, I would consider the logical-mathematical intelligence to be more predominant than my linguistic intelligence based on the name of the categories. In fact, Gardner characterizes the logistical-mathematical intelligence as people who think logically and are able to transfer abstract concepts to reality. These people enjoy solving puzzles and can be good inventors because they can visualize an invention even before making a prototype (2). They normally do better in school, which is for the most part due to the fact that schools are designed for logical-mathematical type of thinkers.

The linguistic type, as you may have guessed, are the natural born writers and poets. They usually have excellent storytelling skills, spelling skills, and love to play with words. They tend to be bookworms and can easily learn more than one language. Best form of learning is through hearing, speaking, or seeing words. This type of intelligence seems to be located in the Broca's Area, since damage to one portion of the brain will cause a person to lose the ability to express themselves in clear grammatical sentences, though that person's understanding of vocabulary and syntax remains intact (4).

Even musical intelligence has been scientifically traced in certain areas of the brain. Impaired or autistic children who are unable to talk or interact with others have exemplified exceptional musical talent (4). People of this type of intelligence show great aptitude for music, have excellent pitch, and good sense of rhythm. They concentrate better with music playing in the background and a particular concerto by Mozart has scientifically shown changes in the brains of listeners (2). Thus, musical intelligence can be a form or a means of learning.

Another form of intelligence is the interpersonal intelligence. This category is for people who are very well aware of their environment. They tend to be sensitive to people around them, have an excellent idea of how people behave, and are especially sociable. Politicians, leaders, counselors, mediators, and clergy are excellent examples of people with this type of intelligence. Damage to the frontal lobe has shown damage to person's personality and the ability to interact with others.

Intrapersonal intelligence is almost the opposite of interpersonal intelligence. This kind of intelligence deals with how well you know yourself. People who possess a higher degree of this type of intelligence have a high self-esteem, self-enhancement, and a strong sense of character. They are usually deep thinkers, quite, self-teachers, skilled in music or art, and have an inner discipline (2). This sort of intelligence is hard to measure since it is often difficult to recognize externally.

Spatial intelligence is the ability to perceive and interpret images or pictures in three-dimensional space. The right hemisphere of the brain has been proven to control this form of intelligence and scientists are certain that spatial intelligence is clearly an independent portion of this intellect (4). A person of this intellect enjoys making maps and charts.

Lastly, Gardner classifies people who are athletically inclined into the body-kinesthetic intelligence. They perform the best in atmospheres of action, touching, physical contact, working with their hands. Dancers and athletics are good examples of this form of intellect. I am a little skeptical that Gardner considers this a form of intellect since it is only a physical component of intelligence, but nonetheless, the brain does use both hemispheres to control movement.

All of the seven components of intelligence are independent from one another and I believe that it serves as an excellent understanding of the various forms of human intelligence. Whereas, Piaget's theory shares his idea of when intelligence is formed and how childhood development affects our adulthood intelligence. Thus, what is intelligence?

Well, I agree with both of the scientists approach in defining human intelligence. I believe that intelligence is the ability to utilize our entire brain, which will most definitely include Gardner's theory but more. Since we only use a small percentage of our brain, I imagine our brains have a lot more forms of intelligence than the ones Gardner proposes as well as more stages of child development than the ones Piaget proposes. As I mentioned before, intelligence is an open-ended word that may never have an agreed upon definition, but we all have our own definition.


1)Jean Piaget, Swiss Child Psychologist

2)The Seven Human Intelligences

3)Jean Piaget: Intellectual Development

4)Seven Intelligences

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