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Intelligence has been defined in many ways: the capacity for abstraction, logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. More generally, it can be described as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context.


Intelligence is most often studied in humans but has also been observed in both non-human animals and in plants despite controversy as to whether some of these forms of life exhibit intelligence. [1] [2] Intelligence in computers or other machines is called artificial intelligence.


The word intelligence derives from the Latin nouns intelligentia or intellēctus , which in turn stem from the verb intelligere , to comprehend or perceive. In the Middle Ages, the word intellectus became the scholarly technical term for understanding, and a translation for the Greek philosophical term nous. This term, however, was strongly linked to the metaphysical and cosmological theories of teleological scholasticism, including theories of the immortality of the soul, and the concept of the active intellect (also known as the active intelligence). This approach to the study of nature was strongly rejected by the early modern philosophers such as Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and David Hume, all of whom preferred "understanding" (in place of "intellectus" or "intelligence") in their English philosophical works. [3] [4] Hobbes for example, in his Latin De Corpore , used "intellectus intelligit", translated in the English version as "the understanding understandeth", as a typical example of a logical absurdity. [5] "Intelligence" has therefore become less common in English language philosophy, but it has later been taken up (with the scholastic theories which it now implies) in more contemporary psychology. [6]


Unsolved problem in philosophy:

What exactly is intelligence? How could an external observer prove that an agent is intelligent?

The definition of intelligence is controversial, varying in what its abilities are and whether or not it is quantifiable. [7] Some groups of psychologists have suggested the following definitions:

From "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (1994), an op-ed statement in the Wall Street Journal signed by fifty-two researchers (out of 131 total invited to sign): [8]

A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—"catching on," "making sense" of things, or "figuring out" what to do. [9]

From Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns (1995), a report published by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association:

Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent: a given person's intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria. Concepts of "intelligence" are attempts to clarify and organize this complex set of phenomena. Although considerable clarity has been achieved in some areas, no such conceptualization has yet answered all the important questions, and none commands universal assent. Indeed, when two dozen prominent theorists were recently asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen, somewhat different, definitions. [10]

Besides those definitions, psychology and learning researchers also have suggested definitions of intelligence such as the following:

Alfred Binet Judgment, otherwise called "good sense", "practical sense", "initiative", the faculty of adapting one's self to circumstances ... auto-critique. [11]
David Wechsler The aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment. [12]
Lloyd Humphreys "...the resultant of the process of acquiring, storing in memory, retrieving, combining, comparing, and using in new contexts information and conceptual skills". [13]
Howard Gardner To my mind, a human intellectual competence must entail a set of skills of problem solving — enabling the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters and, when appropriate, to create an effective product — and must also entail the potential for finding or creating problems — and thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge. [14]
Linda Gottfredson The ability to deal with cognitive complexity. [15]
Robert Sternberg & William Salter Goal-directed adaptive behavior. [16]
Reuven Feuerstein The theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability describes intelligence as "the unique propensity of human beings to change or modify the structure of their cognitive functioning to adapt to the changing demands of a life situation". [17]
Shane Legg & Marcus Hutter A synthesis of 70+ definitions from psychology, philosophy, and AI researchers: "Intelligence measures an agent's ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments", [7] which has been mathematically formalized. [18]
Alexander Wissner-Gross F = T ∇ S [19]

"Intelligence is a force, F, that acts so as to maximize future freedom of action. It acts to maximize future freedom of action, or keep options open, with some strength T, with the diversity of possible accessible futures, S, up to some future time horizon, τ. In short, intelligence doesn't like to get trapped".


Human intelligence is the intellectual power of humans, which is marked by complex cognitive feats and high levels of motivation and self-awareness. [20] Intelligence enables humans to remember descriptions of things and use those descriptions in future behaviors. It is a cognitive process. It gives humans the cognitive abilities to learn, form concepts, understand, and reason, including the capacities to recognize patterns, innovate, plan, solve problems, and employ language to communicate. Intelligence enables humans to experience and think. [21]

Intelligence is different from learning. Learning refers to the act of retaining facts and information or abilities and being able to recall them for future use, while intelligence is the cognitive ability of someone to perform these and other processes. There have been various attempts to quantify intelligence via testing, such as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test. However, many people disagree with the validity of IQ tests, stating that they cannot accurately measure intelligence. [22]

There is debate about if human intelligence is based on hereditary factors or if it is based on environmental factors. Hereditary intelligence is the theory that intelligence is fixed upon birth and not able to grow. Environmental intelligence is the theory that intelligence is developed throughout life depending on the environment around the person. An environment that cultivates intelligence is one that challenges the person's cognitive abilities. [22]

Much of the above definition applies also to the intelligence of non-human animals.[ citation needed ]


Emotional intelligence is thought to be the ability to convey emotion to others in an understandable way as well as to read the emotions of others accurately. [23] Some theories imply that a heightened emotional intelligence could also lead to faster generating and processing of emotions in addition to the accuracy. [24] In addition, higher emotional intelligence is thought to help us manage emotions, which is beneficial for our problem-solving skills. Emotional intelligence is important to our mental health and has ties into social intelligence. [23]


Social intelligence is the ability to understand the social cues and motivations of others and oneself in social situations. It is thought to be distinct to other types of intelligence, but has relations to emotional intelligence. Social intelligence has coincided with other studies that focus on how we make judgements of others, the accuracy with which we do so, and why people would be viewed as having positive or negative social character. There is debate as to whether or not these studies and social intelligence come from the same theories or if there is a distinction between them, and they are generally thought to be of two different schools of thought. [25]

Book smart and street smart

Concepts of "book smarts" and "street smart" are contrasting views based on the premise that some people have knowledge gained through academic study, but may lack the experience to sensibly apply that knowledge, while others have knowledge gained through practical experience, but may lack accurate information usually gained through study by which to effectively apply that knowledge. Artificial intelligence researcher Hector Levesque has noted that:

Given the importance of learning through text in our own personal lives and in our culture, it is perhaps surprising how utterly dismissive we tend to be of it. It is sometimes derided as being merely "book knowledge," and having it is being "book smart." In contrast, knowledge acquired through direct experience and apprenticeship is called "street knowledge," and having it is being "street smart". [26]

Nonhuman animal

The common chimpanzee can use tools. This chimpanzee is using a stick to get food. Chimpanzee and stick.jpg
The common chimpanzee can use tools. This chimpanzee is using a stick to get food.

Although humans have been the primary focus of intelligence researchers, scientists have also attempted to investigate animal intelligence, or more broadly, animal cognition. These researchers are interested in studying both mental ability in a particular species, and comparing abilities between species. They study various measures of problem solving, as well as numerical and verbal reasoning abilities. Some challenges in this area are defining intelligence so that it has the same meaning across species (e.g. comparing intelligence between literate humans and illiterate animals), and also operationalizing a measure that accurately compares mental ability across different species and contexts.[ citation needed ]

Wolfgang Köhler's research on the intelligence of apes is an example of research in this area. Stanley Coren's book, The Intelligence of Dogs is a notable book on the topic of dog intelligence. [27] (See also: Dog intelligence.) Non-human animals particularly noted and studied for their intelligence include chimpanzees, bonobos (notably the language-using Kanzi) and other great apes, dolphins, elephants and to some extent parrots, rats and ravens. [28]

Cephalopod intelligence also provides an important comparative study. Cephalopods appear to exhibit characteristics of significant intelligence, yet their nervous systems differ radically from those of backboned animals. Vertebrates such as mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have shown a fairly high degree of intellect that varies according to each species. The same is true with arthropods. [29]

g factor in non-humans

Evidence of a general factor of intelligence has been observed in non-human animals. The general factor of intelligence, or g factor, is a psychometric construct that summarizes the correlations observed between an individual's scores on a wide range of cognitive abilities. First described in humans, the g factor has since been identified in a number of non-human species. [30]

Cognitive ability and intelligence cannot be measured using the same, largely verbally dependent, scales developed for humans. Instead, intelligence is measured using a variety of interactive and observational tools focusing on innovation, habit reversal, social learning, and responses to novelty. Studies have shown that g is responsible for 47% of the individual variance in cognitive ability measures in primates [30] and between 55% and 60% of the variance in mice (Locurto, Locurto). These values are similar to the accepted variance in IQ explained by g in humans (40–50%). [31]


It has been argued that plants should also be classified as intelligent based on their ability to sense and model external and internal environments and adjust their morphology, physiology and phenotype accordingly to ensure self-preservation and reproduction. [32] [33]

A counter argument is that intelligence is commonly understood to involve the creation and use of persistent memories as opposed to computation that does not involve learning. If this is accepted as definitive of intelligence, then it includes the artificial intelligence of robots capable of "machine learning", but excludes those purely autonomic sense-reaction responses that can be observed in many plants. Plants are not limited to automated sensory-motor responses, however, they are capable of discriminating positive and negative experiences and of "learning" (registering memories) from their past experiences. They are also capable of communication, accurately computing their circumstances, using sophisticated cost–benefit analysis and taking tightly controlled actions to mitigate and control the diverse environmental stressors. [1] [2] [34]


Scholars studying artificial intelligence have proposed definitions of intelligence that include the intelligence demonstrated by machines. Some of these definitions are meant to be general enough to encompass human and other animal intelligence as well. An intelligent agent can be defined as a system that perceives its environment and takes actions which maximize its chances of success. [35] Kaplan and Haenlein define artificial intelligence as "a system's ability to correctly interpret external data, to learn from such data, and to use those learnings to achieve specific goals and tasks through flexible adaptation". [36] Progress in artificial intelligence can be demonstrated in benchmarks ranging from games to practical tasks such as protein folding. [37] Existing AI lags humans in terms of general intelligence, which is sometimes defined as the "capacity to learn how to carry out a huge range of tasks". [38]

Singularitarian Eliezer Yudkowsky provides a loose qualitative definition of intelligence as "that sort of smartish stuff coming out of brains, which can play chess, and price bonds, and persuade people to buy bonds, and invent guns, and figure out gravity by looking at wandering lights in the sky; and which, if a machine intelligence had it in large quantities, might let it invent molecular nanotechnology; and so on". Mathematician Olle Häggström defines intelligence in terms of "optimization power", an agent's capacity for efficient cross-domain optimization of the world according to the agent's preferences, or more simply the ability to "steer the future into regions of possibility ranked high in a preference ordering". In this optimization framework, Deep Blue has the power to "steer a chessboard's future into a subspace of possibility which it labels as 'winning', despite attempts by Garry Kasparov to steer the future elsewhere." [39] Hutter and Legg, after surveying the literature, define intelligence as "an agent's ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments". [40] [41] While cognitive ability is sometimes measured as a one-dimensional parameter, it could also be represented as a "hypersurface in a multidimensional space" to compare systems that are good at different intellectual tasks. [42] Some skeptics believe that there is no meaningful way to define intelligence, aside from "just pointing to ourselves". [43]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Intelligence quotient</span> Score from a test designed to assess intelligence

An intelligence quotient (IQ) is a total score derived from a set of standardized tests or subtests designed to assess human intelligence. The abbreviation "IQ" was coined by the psychologist William Stern for the German term Intelligenzquotient, his term for a scoring method for intelligence tests at University of Breslau he advocated in a 1912 book.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Psychometrics</span> Theory and technique of psychological measurement

Psychometrics is a field of study within psychology concerned with the theory and technique of measurement. Psychometrics generally refers to specialized fields within psychology and education devoted to testing, measurement, assessment, and related activities. Psychometrics is concerned with the objective measurement of latent constructs that cannot be directly observed. Examples of latent constructs include intelligence, introversion, mental disorders, and educational achievement. The levels of individuals on nonobservable latent variables are inferred through mathematical modeling based on what is observed from individuals' responses to items on tests and scales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theory of multiple intelligences</span> Theory of intelligence proposed by Howard Gardner

The theory of multiple intelligences proposes the differentiation of human intelligence into specific modalities of intelligence, rather than defining intelligence as a single, general ability. The theory has been criticized by mainstream psychology for its lack of empirical evidence, and its dependence on subjective judgement.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is most often defined as the ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions. People with high emotional intelligence can recognize their own emotions and those of others, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, and adjust emotions to adapt to environments. Although the term first appeared in 1964, it gained popularity in the 1995 best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, written by science journalist Daniel Goleman. Goleman defined EI as the array of skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Human intelligence</span> Intellectual capacity of humans

Human intelligence is the intellectual capability of humans, which is marked by complex cognitive feats and high levels of motivation and self-awareness. High intelligence is associated with better outcomes in life.

The Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scales is an individually administered intelligence test that was revised from the original Binet–Simon Scale by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon. The Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale is now in its fifth edition (SB5), which was released in 2003. It is a cognitive-ability and intelligence test that is used to diagnose developmental or intellectual deficiencies in young children. The test measures five weighted factors and consists of both verbal and nonverbal subtests. The five factors being tested are knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, working memory, and fluid reasoning.

The g factor is a construct developed in psychometric investigations of cognitive abilities and human intelligence. It is a variable that summarizes positive correlations among different cognitive tasks, reflecting the fact that an individual's performance on one type of cognitive task tends to be comparable to that person's performance on other kinds of cognitive tasks. The g factor typically accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the between-individual performance differences on a given cognitive test, and composite scores based on many tests are frequently regarded as estimates of individuals' standing on the g factor. The terms IQ, general intelligence, general cognitive ability, general mental ability, and simply intelligence are often used interchangeably to refer to this common core shared by cognitive tests. However, the g factor itself is merely a mathematical construct indicating the level of observed correlation between cognitive tasks. The measured value of this construct depends on the cognitive tasks that are used, and little is known about the underlying causes of the observed correlations.

Intellectual giftedness is an intellectual ability significantly higher than average. It is a characteristic of children, variously defined, that motivates differences in school programming. It is thought to persist as a trait into adult life, with various consequences studied in longitudinal studies of giftedness over the last century. There is no generally agreed definition of giftedness for either children or adults, but most school placement decisions and most longitudinal studies over the course of individual lives have followed people with IQs in the top 2.5 percent of the population—that is, IQs above 130. Definitions of giftedness also vary across cultures.

A theoretical definition defines a term in an academic discipline, functioning as a proposal to see a phenomenon in a certain way. A theoretical definition is a proposed way of thinking about potentially related events. Theoretical definitions contain built-in theories; they cannot be simply reduced to describing a set of observations. The definition may contain implicit inductions and deductive consequences that are part of the theory. A theoretical definition of a term can change, over time, based on the methods in the field that created it.

The concepts of fluid intelligence (gf) and crystallized intelligence (gc) were introduced in 1963 by the psychologist Raymond Cattell. According to Cattell's psychometrically-based theory, general intelligence (g) is subdivided into gf and gc. Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve novel reasoning problems and is correlated with a number of important skills such as comprehension, problem-solving, and learning. Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, involves the ability to deduce secondary relational abstractions by applying previously learned primary relational abstractions.

The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence or Three Forms of Intelligence, formulated by psychometrician Robert Sternberg, aims to go against the psychometric approach to intelligence and take a more cognitive approach, which leaves it to the category of the cognitive-contextual theories. The three meta components are also called triarchic components.

Dog intelligence or dog cognition is the process in dogs of acquiring information and conceptual skills, and storing them in memory, retrieving, combining and comparing them, and using them in new situations.

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) is an IQ test designed to measure intelligence and cognitive ability in adults and older adolescents. The original WAIS was published in February 1955 by David Wechsler, as a revision of the Wechsler–Bellevue Intelligence Scale, released in 1939. It is currently in its fourth edition (WAIS-IV) released in 2008 by Pearson, and is the most widely used IQ test, for both adults and older adolescents, in the world.

Cognitive tests are assessments of the cognitive capabilities of humans and other animals. Tests administered to humans include various forms of IQ tests; those administered to animals include the mirror test and the T maze test. Such study is important to research concerning the philosophy of mind and psychology, as well as determination of human and animal intelligence.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of thought</span> Overview of and topical guide to thought

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to thought (thinking):

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cattell–Horn–Carroll theory</span>

The Cattell–Horn–Carroll theory, is a psychological theory on the structure of human cognitive abilities. Based on the work of three psychologists, Raymond B. Cattell, John L. Horn and John B. Carroll, the Cattell–Horn–Carroll theory is regarded as an important theory in the study of human intelligence. Based on a large body of research, spanning over 70 years, Carroll's Three Stratum theory was developed using the psychometric approach, the objective measurement of individual differences in abilities, and the application of factor analysis, a statistical technique which uncovers relationships between variables and the underlying structure of concepts such as 'intelligence'. The psychometric approach has consistently facilitated the development of reliable and valid measurement tools and continues to dominate the field of intelligence research.

Domain-general learning theories of development suggest that humans are born with mechanisms in the brain that exist to support and guide learning on a broad level, regardless of the type of information being learned. Domain-general learning theories also recognize that although learning different types of new information may be processed in the same way and in the same areas of the brain, different domains also function interdependently. Because these generalized domains work together, skills developed from one learned activity may translate into benefits with skills not yet learned. Another facet of domain-general learning theories is that knowledge within domains is cumulative, and builds under these domains over time to contribute to our greater knowledge structure. Psychologists whose theories align with domain-general framework include developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, who theorized that people develop a global knowledge structure which contains cohesive, whole knowledge internalized from experience, and psychologist Charles Spearman, whose work led to a theory on the existence of a single factor accounting for all general cognitive ability.

Cognitive skills, also called cognitive functions, cognitive abilities or cognitive capacities, are brain-based skills which are needed in acquisition of knowledge, manipulation of information and reasoning. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how people learn, remember, solve problems and pay attention, rather than with actual knowledge. Cognitive skills or functions encompass the domains of perception, attention, memory, learning, decision making, and language abilities.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to human intelligence:

Sex differences in cognition are widely studied in the current scientific literature. Biological and genetic differences in combination with environment and culture have resulted in the cognitive differences among men and women. Among biological factors, hormones such as testosterone and estrogen may play some role mediating these differences. Among differences of diverse mental and cognitive abilities, the largest or most well known are those relating to spatial abilities, social cognition and verbal skills and abilities.


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