Intelligence is one of the many individual differences between people that help shape who we are and the way we behave. Each and every society has an image of the "ideal human being" (Gardner (1999), p.1) who exhibits the greatest achievable physical and mental characteristics that help them to adapt to their surrounding culture in the best possible way. In Western society, high intelligence is seen as one of the admirable traits of this "ideal human being". However, the exact classification of what this intelligence is has been numerously defined and measured, with no single definition generally accepted. Psychologists are interested in attempting to define the differences between individuals in order to identify what makes people different from one another. Testing intelligence may help us to know more about the mental ability of individuals. A number of psychologists have designed models of intelligence to help define and explain what intelligence is and what it may mean when someone is more or less intelligent that another. The two contemporary models of intelligence that will be discussed in this essay are Gardner's (1983) Multiple Intelligences and Sternberg's (1985) Triarchic Theory.
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The original interest in intelligence historically stems from Darwin's (1859) research "On the Origin of Species", which lead to understanding of the "survival of the fittest" and how humans have an ability to use reason unlike other animals that act upon their innate instincts. Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton originally believed that some races were more intelligent than others (Sternberg (2000), p.16). However, the tests designed to measure this difference in intelligence were so varied depending on how the designer of the test defined intelligence. Some saw it as a measure of sensory capacities, reaction times or memory ability. This was then updated to test cognitive processes related to academia. Results were biased due to the psychologists not wanting to find their own race inferior. For intelligence testing to work, there needed to be a universal definition so it could be tested and applied on a large scale.
Intelligence is not easy to define. This essay will be focusing mainly on the Western perspective of intelligence, which was originally based on academic achievement, such as the ability to excel in school-based subjects like mathematics and science. Traditional intelligence theories saw intelligence as a single entity that was inherited, and something that everybody could achieve if they were taught it correctly. However, there was never a clear, agreed definition as to what intelligence is and the correct way to measure it. The contemporary models of intelligence see the traditional definition as only one aspect of the intelligence an individual may contain. Intelligence is seen as a broader topic which involves multiple intelligent areas not just academic abilities. There are many types of intelligence which may vary in strength and individuals may naturally be stronger in some areas than others (Gardner, 1993). The IQ test seemed like the most suitable way to measure the traditional take on intelligence, but the contemporary models show that a single number resulting from an IQ test simply cannot represent the diverse range of intelligences a person possesses.
Gardner defined intelligence as "a bio-psychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture" (Gardner (1999), p.33). He believed that this range of potentials cannot be seen or counted and are culturally dependant. Gardner describes eight different potentials a person may possess, called multiple intelligences. The first two intelligences are similar to the traditional view of what intelligence was thought to be. Linguistic intelligence involves being accomplished at spoken and written language, and logical-mathematical intelligence applies to those that have the capacity to analyse problems logically and scientifically. Both of these intelligences are used a lot in school based studies, and someone who possesses strong linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences should be expected to do well academically.
The next three intelligences are art and performance based. Musical intelligence involves being skilled at performance and composition as well as being able to appreciate patterns found in music. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence applies to individuals that can use their body to "solve problems or create products" (Gardner, 1999) - including athletes and crafts-people. The fifth intelligence is spatial, which involves recognising and manipulating wide or confined areas.
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The following two intelligences are seen by Gardner as more combined that the others. The personal intelligences include interpersonal and intrapersonal. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand others intentions, motivations and desires. Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to understand oneself, related to human consciousness. This was originally the full list of multiple intelligences. It was only later that Gardner considered adding to the list (Gardner, 1999). Naturalist intelligence applies to those who possess the ability to recognise and classify species of their environment. Gardner also considered the possibilities of spiritual and existential intelligences, but found both quite different from the other eight multiple intelligences, as subjects included in spiritualism involve much more than just intelligence (Gardner, 1999).
The eight multiple intelligences that make up Gardner's theory are very different from the traditional idea of intelligence. This theory allows every person to possess some form of intelligence as it covers academic and practical fields (Sternberg, 2000). The major feature of Gardner's multiple intelligence theory is that it can be practically applied. Multiple intelligence teaching adds a new dimension to school-based learning and can be especially beneficial to those that don't learn well under traditional "direction instruction" teaching methods (Douglas et al, 2008). Based on the eight different intelligences, multiple intelligence teaching allows students to learn based on their ability and strengths of learning areas. Douglas et al (2008) compared multiple intelligence teaching to direct instructional teaching; and found that although both enhanced academic experience, multiple intelligence teaching significantly improved academic and behavioural performance in class.
Sternberg's (1985) Triarchic Theory was one of the first intelligence theories that took a cognitive approach. Sternberg defined intelligence as "mental activity directed toward purposive adaption to, selection and shaping of, real-world environments relevant to one's life" (Sternberg (1985), p.45). This definition has similarities with Gardner's as it also recognises that intelligence is culturally dependant. Sternberg's theory is based on three components of intelligence. Firstly, the individual's internal information processing skills, or natural ability; secondly, the individual's ability to match their internal processing skills with their external environment; and thirdly, the individual's ability to apply their past knowledge and experience to new stimuli in order to understand it. (Sternberg, 2000).
The first component (internal) is in turn divided into three subsections. Information processing skills include meta-components, which are parts that are common to the majority of tasks (for example identifying that there is a problem that needs solving or a decision that needs to be made), performance components, described as lower order mental processes needed to apply instruction from the meta-components (for example mentally generating possible solutions to a problem from the long-term memory), and knowledge acquisition components that are required for obtaining new information and problem solving (for example selecting the relevant information to provide the solution to a problem) (Sternberg, 2000).
The external component of the Triarchic Theory involves applying all these internal components to the environment surrounding the individual. More intelligent individuals are thought to be better adaptable to various environments, or more capable of adapting the environment to suit their needs (Gardner et al, 1996). The experiential component allows individuals to use past internal and external knowledge and experience to deal suitably with new experiences. This explains how a person's intelligence may change throughout their life as they learn from different environmental experiences. It contrasts with the traditional theories that intelligence was hereditary (Gardner, 1993). The theory also is comparable to Gardner's in that different intelligences may be needed for different tasks; where Gardner focuses on the types of intelligence required, Sternberg's theory explains the mental processes used (Sternberg, 2000).
Gardner's multiple intelligence theory has been backed up by many significant experiments and has now become part of the curriculum in some schools. Maitra and Gosain (2009) found that multiple intelligence methods of teaching allow every student the opportunity to achieve at their best ability, which means equality in education. Children who do well in subjects such as sports and performance are now recognised equally as talented as those who may score highly on a traditional IQ test. Gardner's theory presupposes that every child possesses some form of intelligence that can gain strength if nurtured in the right environment (e.g. a school curriculum).
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One of the easiest ways to compare these two theories of intelligence is to look at them both in practice.
"Sternberg's models of component function accounted successfully for performance differences on reasoning tasks."( International Handbook of Intelligence, R. J. Sternberg (ed) (2004) chapter 1 p.9, cambridge university press)