Imagine Health

What is intelligence?

Intelligence, and what it means to be ‘intelligent’, is a tricky concept to define. It may be the ability to solve math problems, understanding how to move in the space around us effectively or understanding how other people think and feel. Everyone seems to hold their own view of what intelligence is. Current understanding seems to suggest that being intelligent is comprised of a number of factors.


The IQ Score

Throughout history, psychologists have attempted to understand and measure intelligence by developing a vast variety of tools. Such tools include the well-known intelligence quotient (IQ) test, which is designed to assess different areas of intelligence. You may have come across an ‘IQ’ test online, which provides you with an apparent IQ or “brain age” at the end of the test. These tests are very rarely accurate since any form of IQ test needs to be given by a trained professional in order to be valid.

IQ scores can be helpful in identifying a specific area of difficulty. This is particularly useful in educational settings, where an adult (WAIS) or child (WISC) ability test can help identify where extra support is needed. However, many people tend to over-rely on these IQ scores. They view them as concrete evidence of how “intelligent” or “unintelligent” they are. These tests should only be used as a guide, with consideration given to the bigger picture.

Multiple forms of intelligence

Howard Gardner (1983), a developmental psychologist, opposed the traditional view of intelligence. This view was based on high-IQ scores and academic achievement. He proposed that intelligence was the overall ability to reach a solution in the face of a problem. From this definition, Gardner proposed that there were 7 forms of intelligence:


Linguistic – understanding and expressing language both vocally and through written form. This helps to achieve a goal or to express how the individual feels.

Logical-Mathematical – solving problems using mathematical procedures and scientific investigation.

Musical –  the ability to perform musical pieces, compose music and to understand the mechanisms behind musical performances.

Body-kinaesthetic intelligence – the use of the body and with the mind to solve problems.

Spatial – refers to the recognition of patterns and how to use the surrounding environment to solve problems.

Interpersonal – the ability to work with other people and understand things from their point of view.

Intrapersonal –  the ability to self-reflect and understand ourselves.


Although not perfect, Gardners’ theory is useful. It appreciates that each of us has different talents and skills which can show up in a variety of different ways. This can be important to remember when choosing a career path or throughout our education. Make sure to take the time to appreciate your own strengths and don’t be discouraged by your weaker areas!


Check out this helpful video for more information on what intelligence is all about:



Written by Shane MacSweeney