When 17th century French philosopher René Descartes coined the phrase ‘I think therefore I am’, he managed to neatly sum up the fact that the ability to reason has always been fundamental to our notion of human nature. It follows then that how well we can reason is likely to be an indicator of our intelligence as it encompasses both processes – extracting information from previous knowledge and using it to resolve new problems as they arise.
But why do some genuinely ‘intelligent’ people struggle when it comes to certain tasks?
Different Types of Reasoning Skills
Psychologists generally agree there are four basic reasoning skills that are important to everyday living: spatial reasoning, logical reasoning, numerical reasoning and verbal reasoning. These skills develop when you are a child and continue to grow in varying degrees as you get older depending on your genetic disposition and learning environment.
People with good spatial reasoning skills, such as artists and engineers for example, can easily visualize and mentally manipulate objects, while others, like computer analysts and scientists, are strong in logical and numerical reasoning. Verbal reasoning, the ability to understand and analyze written or spoken information, is an important skill for most jobs; even abstract ones like mathematics and physics.
Most people are competent in all reasoning skills to some extent but life is more difficult if you have a deficiency in a certain skill. For example, innumeracy and illiteracy are two common deficiencies that people struggle with, and these can impact lives in a number of negative ways. Being truly illiterate is a rarity these days which is why innumeracy, or a lack of ability to reason with numbers, is said to be the bigger problem. People who are unable to do math beyond basic arithmetic may not be able to manage their everyday finances, face poor employment prospects and not understand social issues through a lack of comprehension of basic statistics.
But does this mean that people who are deficient in a certain area are less intelligent? On the contrary, what were once thought to be ‘learning disabilities’ psychologists now believe to be different types of intelligence.
What Kind of Intelligence Do You Have?
The construction of intelligence and its measurement is a subject that has been hotly debated for over a century and still continues today.
Up until 25 years ago psychologists believed that intelligence was an inherited ability that remained static throughout a person’s life. Although everyone accepts there are genetic influences on differences in intelligence, the theory of there being multiple intelligences is now the most accepted one. This theory is based on the work of Harvard professor, Howard Gardner who identified a number of different intelligences that are independent of each other. Each of these intelligence types comes with its own strengths and constraints and explains why people have more aptitude in one area than another.
A classic example is the absent-minded professor type who is always forgetting appointments and losing his keys but is a mathematical genius. Someone like this has ‘logical intelligence’ as they are very good with figuring out problems and usually focus on how things work rather than the details of everyday life.
Some people on the other hand have ‘musical intelligence’ and are good with reading and playing music, have a natural rhythm and can even play an instrument by ear. A good example of this is Mozart who was a musical genius but failed to successfully manage other areas of his life.
Other intelligence types Gardner identified include: linguistic and verbal intelligence, spatial intelligence, body/movement intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, and naturalist intelligence. Gardner says people are not limited to just one type, you can be strong in several abilities and even develop the areas in which you are lacking.
Not surprisingly this idea of multiple intelligences, and of intelligence being changeable, has had a large impact on the way we view ourselves and the way children are being taught. And it is also why IQ tests have been criticized.
Are IQ Tests An Effective Measure of Intelligence?
The average score for most intelligence tests is 100 but someone with extraordinary intelligence like a savant, who has an astonishing memory or musical talent, may score very low on an IQ test. IQ tests also fail to accurately measure all the different types of intelligences. Which begs the question, why are these tests still used today as an indicator of intelligence?
Critics say the education system relies on IQ tests to reward ‘gifted’ people with the limited resources of our society and that it is a way of dividing up the spoils to the deserving. Those who fail to meet the standard are therefore deemed not worthy of the ‘rewards’ that someone who scores higher is. Unfortunately as these tests are used for admission to college, special classes and employment, people’s self-worth and opportunities for success can be affected by their test score.
As research continues around this area it is clear all kinds of intelligence are equally important in everyday life so we shouldn’t rely on an IQ test to tell us how intelligent we are.
How Intelligence Can Be Developed
If we go by Gardner’s theory, any deficiency in intelligence can be improved if we work at it. For example, if you’re the absent-minded professor type, keeping track of your thoughts can be helped by memory training. A good diet, stress-free life and exercise can also help the brain function at optimum levels. Studies have also shown environmental factors, including how parents, teachers and other authority figures treat children can impact intelligence levels. Most importantly it has been suggested that intelligence is something that isn’t static but that continues to grow and develop throughout your adult life.
Finally, although our intelligence and ability to reason is what makes us human, we must also remember there are other important defining characteristics of a person in addition to their ‘intelligence’ and these characteristics are what make each of us truly unique.