Human Intelligence: Meaning and Definition

In our day-to-day conversations, we analyze individuals as very intelligent or possess more or less intelligence. Our comments are based on observing the performance or behavior of the individual concerned, preferably compared with others in his or her group. According to common understanding, intelligence refers to mental capacities that facilitate one to reason critically, acquire new information quickly, behave purposefully, and interact with one's surroundings.

Meaning of Human Intelligence

Human intelligence is the intellectual capability of an individual, which is manifested by complex cognitive achievements and varying levels of motivation as per the given situation and self-awareness. Usually. the degree of intelligence decides the work efficiency of a person.

Definition of Human Intelligence

Many Psychologists tried to define human intelligence in different ways; so, here we will discuss some of the important definitions:

Stern (1914) defines:

"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."

Wechsler (1944) defines:

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

Woodworth and Marquis (1948) define:

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

Through different scholars defined in different ways, but common points among them are:

  • Intelligence must be understood as the mental capacity or energy of an individual at a particular time and in a particular situation.

  • This mental ability facilitates a person to manipulate things, objects, or events present in one's surroundings and also to adapt or successfully deal with new difficulties and issues of come into life.

  • Judgment about one's capacity or fund of mental energy available to him can only be considered in terms of the quality of his behavior or performance.

  • It is the capacity of abstraction management.

  • It is the ability to adjust or adapt in a new situation.

  • It is the ability or power to respond appropriately to certain stimuli in a given situation.

All of these can be used to form a comprehensive definition of intelligence. Intelligence may be viewed as a kind of mental energy (in the form of mental or cognitive talents) accessible to a person and facilitates him to manage his environment in terms of adaptability and address unexpected situations as successfully as possible.

Nature of Intelligence

Researches have shown the following characteristics of human intelligence:

  • The effect of heredity and environment on intelligence: Intelligence is the product of heredity and environment. Both are essential elements for an individual's intellectual growth, and one cannot be considered as more important than the other.

  • Distribution of Intelligence: Intelligence is not identical rather varies person to person. Given that the distribution is normal, the vast majority of the population is average, with a small number of exceptionally brilliant and poor individuals.

  • Individual difference in intelligence: Different people have different intelligence. The level of intellect fluctuates from person to person, age to age, and circumstance to circumstance.

  • Intelligence and Changes in Age: Intelligence grows with age, but up to a certain point. The age of cessation of mental growth also varies from individual to individual. Normally, intelligence reaches its maximum, somewhat at the age of 16 to 20 in the individual, when vertical growth ceases. However, the horizontal growth-accumulation of knowledge and acquisition of skills continues throughout an individual's lifespan.

  • Intelligence and Sex Differences: Various researches have shown that difference in sex does not contribute to the difference in intelligence.

  • Intelligence and Racial or Cultural Differences: Various researches have also proved no significant difference among races or groups. The 'bright' and 'dull' can be found in any race, caste, or cultural group, and the differences found can be explained in terms of environmental influence.

Approaches to Intelligence Theories

There are two approaches to study the intelligence theories:

Psychometric Approach: This approach considers intelligence as an aggregate of abilities. The theories are based on a model that portrays intelligence as a composite of abilities measured by mental tests. The theories are based on or tested by scores on conventional intelligence tests. These theories are often based on factor analysis; they specify a set of factors alleged to underlie human intelligence.

Information Processing Approach This approach describes people's intellectual reasoning and problem-solving process. The concept is based on the presumption that people process the information they are presented with rather than just reacting to stimuli.

Theories of Intelligence

Intelligence can be explained from various theoretical point of views. Significant of them are explained here:

  • Uni-factor Theory: This theory was given by Alfred Binet, who believed that intelligence consists of one factor, which is universal for all individual activities. He developed the concept of IQ based on this theory.

  • Two-factor Theory: Proposed by Charles Spearman, this theory divides intellectual abilities into two factors: one general ability or common ability known as the 'G' factor and the other group of specific abilities known as the 'S' factor. General intelligence is mental energy measured through different tasks, and specific abilities enable an individual to deal with a particular kind of problem.

  • Theory of Primary Mental Abilities: This theory postulates that certain mental operations have a 'primary' factor in common that gives them psychological and functional unity and differentiates them from other mental operations. These mental operations then constitute a group.

  • Hierarchical Model of Intelligence: Aurther Jensen, after testing the learning abilities of school students, concluded that there are two levels of abilities, level I and level II. Retention of input and rote memorization of basic skills and knowledge are examples of Level I, or associative, learning. Level II, or conceptual learning, is akin to the capacity to change and manipulate inputs, or the capacity to resolve issues.

  • Structure of Intellect Model: JP Guilford presented this theory. The theory postulates that every intellectual activity revolves around three dimensions: operations, content, and products, comprising 180 different intellectual abilities (latest research) in total.

  • Theory of Multiple Intelligence: This theory was given by Howard Gardner in 1983. He proposed that the presence of various abilities defines intelligence that works in combination, as opposed to just one general ability. Initially, he described seven different types of intelligence, defined in terms of abilities, but later added two more in the list.

  • Triarchic Theory of Intelligence: Given by Robert Sternberg, the theory presents three (i.e., triarchic) types of intelligences: Componential, experiential, and contextual. This theory was based on information processing.

  • PASS Model of Intelligence: This model was first proposed in 1975 by JP Das, J. R. Kirby, and R. F. Jarman and later developed by Das, Naglieri, and Kirby in 1994. Its full form is the Planning, Attention-Arousal, Simultaneous and Successive (PASS) theory of intelligence.


There are multiple definitions of intelligence and it is largely understood as a complex cognitive ability that allows humans to learn and solve problems. There are many different theories of intelligence, but most agree that it is a combination of cognitive abilities, including problem-solving, learning, reasoning, and memory.



Simply Easy Learning

Updated on: 13-Oct-2022

1K+ Views

Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started