Theories of Intelligence

First, copy and paste the Intelligence Study Guide into your own Word Document or Google Doc. Complete the study guide as you engage in the activities below. You will also be asked several questions throughout this activity. These are for you to consider and respond to on your own. Please do so as it will enhance your learning and application of the content. You will also be asked to formally respond to a few questions in the Intelligences Response Assignment which will be submitted.

Begin by reading pages 137-140 (purple) OR 143-146 (orange) in your textbook.

The traditional view of intelligence in America is a measurable "something" - either you have it or you don't. This is known as a person's Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Read a bit about IQ and its history.

Also read pages 144-146 (purple) OR 150-152 (orange) in your textbook for additional information about the interpretation of and trends in IQ scores.

Take this IQ Test. You do not need to submit the results of this test, but will be reflecting on it later. It will take approximately 15 minutes to complete the test.


Spearman’s theory of intelligence incorporates two aspects - general and specialized intelligence. Spearman’s g represents the idea of a single, overall “intelligence” that can be measured via IQ tests. This intelligence is an overall ability to learn and adapt and is the traditional view of intelligence in American society. Visit this website to read a more technical explanation of g. You can also find a succinct review of the theory on page 140 (purple) or 146 (orange) of our textbook.

If you would like to read more about this theory, here are a couple of helpful resources:

Spearman, C. (1904). “”General intelligence,” objectively determined and measured”. American Journal of Psychology 15: 201-293.

Spearman, C. (1927). The abilities of man: Their nature and measurement. Oxford, England: Macmillan.


Cattell’s theory of Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence extends Spearman’s theory and emphasizes two facets of intelligence: the knowledge that we retain and our ability to integrate new information. Think about it this way: Fluid intelligence is like flowing water that changes and adapts to new circumstances, while Crystallized intelligence is like a glacier that holds millions of years of geologic history.

You can learn more about this theory on page 140 (purple) or 146 (orange) in our textbook.

If you would like to read more about this theory, here’s a good resource:

Cattell, R. B. (1943). “The measurement of adult intelligence”. Psychological Bulletin 40: 153-193.

But there are other, more varied and optimistic ideas of what intelligence is. Recent theories have more strongly emphasized the varied and individual nature of intelligence.


Perhaps the most optimistic theory of Intelligence that we discuss is Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner demonstrates that different people are skilled or “intelligent” in different ways; that is, they approach problems and information in different ways. The basic idea is that there are eight (or more) intelligences that people possess to some degree. 

Visit Wikipedia and review pages 140-143 (purple) OR 146-149 (orange) in your textbook to learn more.

Next, take this Multiple Intelligences test. When you are finished, print your results page and bring it with you to class next time.

If you would like to read more about this theory, here is a great resource:

Gardner, Howard (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.


Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Successful Intelligence breaks the idea of Intelligence into three pieces. He was the first to say that intelligence cannot be measured, but that it is a series of complex cognitive processes. The components of his theory are Analytical (problem solving), Creative (learning to automaticity and/or novel creation/problem solving), and Practical (adaptability). The graphic below may help you understand this theory a bit better. Click on it to visit the Wikipedia page for the theory. You can also read more about the theory on pages 143-144 (purple) OR 149-150 (orange) in your textbook.

If you would like to read more about this theory, here are a few good resources:

Sternberg RJ; Salter W (1982). Handbook of human intelligence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (1999). “The theory of successful intelligence”. Review of General Psychology 3: 292-316.

Sternberg, R. J. (2003). “A broad view of intelligence: The theory of successful intelligence”. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research 55: 139-154.

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