Intelligence is the ability that allows adaptation to new situations, learning from one’s own experience, manipulation of abstract concepts, development in the environment using the knowledge acquired for it or the resolution of different types of problems. In this article we are describing the Characteristics of an intelligent person.
The study of intelligence is one of the largest and most important fields within psychology. Due to the complexity of the phenomenon, there are many theories about it, which vary both in its nature, the way in which it can develop or the areas it affects.
Throughout the history of psychology, different authors have focused on different areas to try to determine what exactly intelligence is. For example, the classical Greeks believed that the ability to reason logically was the most important thing when considering whether a person was more or less intelligent. For others, the key was mathematical thinking or verbal skills.
However, today most theories agree that the main characteristic of a highly intelligent person is their ability to adapt to their environment. This ability is expressed in very different ways depending on the environment. In addition, it is no longer thought of as a single trait, but rather as a mixture of several that need to work together when solving problems.
What is intelligence? Definition
From the point of view of psychology, intelligence has been defined in many ways throughout history. Among others, it has been described as the ability to think logically, understand the world, develop self-awareness, reason, plan, think critically, solve problems and apply creativity.
In a more general way, intelligence can also be understood as the ability to perceive or deduce information, memorize it, and find a way to apply it to generate behaviors that allow the person to function adequately within the environment in which they find themselves.
However, there is no single clear definition of the concept of intelligence. Each current within the field of psychology values some traits more than others when defining this ability; and there are many theories and beliefs about its origin, how it manifests itself and the way in which an intelligent person can be recognized.
Furthermore, the study of intelligence in animals and artificial systems has raised even more questions about this concept.
Definitions throughout history
When research on intelligence first began, the most accepted theory was that there was a single trait, known as the “g factor”, that would determine a person’s ability in this area. Psychologist Charles Spearman spent much of his life trying to find the g factor, although he never managed to find it.
Later, other researchers such as Raymond Cattell developed the theory that this cognitive ability could be divided into two related abilities: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.
While the first would have to do with the ability to relate apparently unrelated information, the second would be related to the ability to acquire and use new knowledge.
Later, with the appearance of new branches in the field of psychology, each of them established a new definition of exactly what it believed to be this mental capacity. Thus, it is not possible to speak of a single definition of intelligence, but one or the other will be used in each context and depending on each professional.
Characteristics of an intelligent person
When we think of a highly intelligent person, the first thing that comes to mind is someone who would score high on an IQ test or who is good at math. However, these are not the only typical traits of an individual with high intelligence. In fact, they are not even the most important.
Although there is no general consensus on what are all the characteristics that indicate that a person is very intelligent, today some of them have been identified. Next we will see which are the most important.
Adapts better to new situations
We have already seen that one of the most accepted definitions of the concept of intelligence is that it is the ability to solve problems and adapt to the needs of each moment and environment. Therefore, highly intelligent people stand out for their ability to adjust to all situations they find themselves in, no matter how complex they are.
Thus, while an unintelligent individual would have trouble coping properly in a new environment, someone with a very high IQ would be able to devise an appropriate strategy and behave in the most helpful manner at any given time.
shows increased curiosity
According to most research in the field of learning, most people stop acquiring new knowledge once they have entered adulthood. However, highly intelligent individuals seem to continue learning throughout their lives, mainly because they have much higher than average curiosity.
Some experts believe that this curiosity appears because intelligent people are able to realize everything they do not know. Thus, it is much more likely that they will consider things, doubt their own ideas, investigate, and listen to other opinions that initially seem opposed to theirs.
She is open minded
A characteristic closely related to the previous one is open-mindedness. Different studies carried out in the field of psychology indicate that people who are capable of listening to new ideas and weighing them rationally tend to obtain higher scores on traditional intelligence tests.
However, this greater open-mindedness does not mean that smart people believe everything they hear without questioning it. On the contrary, before adopting a new point of view or accepting an idea as valid, they need to find solid evidence to support them. Therefore, they are generally more skeptical than the average and need proof before changing their mind.
He is able to be alone
Perhaps one of the less obvious traits shared by most people with high intelligence is their ability to get along without needing to be with other individuals. Of course, this does not mean that they do not like the company or that they have to live like hermits; but often, those who are very intelligent can be well when they are alone.
Normally, too, people with above-average intelligence tend to be less influenced by the opinions of others. This leads them to be quite individualistic, and to have their own beliefs, points of view and ways of seeing things.
Finally, although intelligent people can enjoy the company of others, various studies indicate that they generally obtain less satisfaction than normal when they are with more people.
Has greater self-control
When scientific studies have been done on intelligence, one of the most outstanding traits among people with higher IQs is the ability to postpone pleasure in order to achieve a valued goal. In other words, intelligent individuals tend to have more self-control than normal.
The relationship between these two traits is thought to have to do with an area of the brain known as the ” prefrontal cortex .” This area is responsible for tasks such as planning, creating goals, creating strategies, and the ability to think about the consequences of a given action.
Has a good sense of humor
Generally, when we think of someone intelligent, the first thing that comes to mind is the image of a serious person, working on something important and without time to enjoy themselves. However, according to research on this trait, people with high intelligence would be quite out of this stereotype.
Thus, scientists have discovered that intelligence correlates with a greater ability to create humor and enjoy it. This may have to do both with the great verbal ability that most people with this trait have, and with a better ability to understand points of view other than their own.
In addition, several studies on this trait have found that intelligent people tend to enjoy crude jokes, dark humor and the like more than usual.
You can put yourself in other people’s shoes
The curiosity and open-mindedness of intelligent individuals allow them to put themselves in the shoes of others more easily than normal. Thus, it is very common for people with a high IQ to show more empathy than average, in addition to scoring higher on tests designed to measure this trait.
On the other hand, this greater ability to understand the motivations, needs and tastes of others makes intelligent people capable of acting compassionately with those around them.
Lastly, the unique way smart people think often leads them to question absolutely everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s about traditions, social norms, or beliefs accepted by everyone else: High IQ individuals will reflect on it and usually have something to say about it.
Due to this characteristic, it is very common for intelligent people to have very different ways of thinking than usual. For them, it is not enough that something “has always been done this way” or is accepted by others. This makes them very creative individuals, brave and capable of advancing society when they put their minds to it.
The first theory of intelligence to be developed was the “intelligence quotient” or IQ. Created at the beginning of the 20th century by William Stern, and developed later by Alfred Binet, intelligence was understood as the difference between a person’s mental capacities and those that he should theoretically have according to his age. These two psychologists were also the first to develop a test to measure IQ.
From this moment, however, the study of intelligence has become much more complex, and many theories have been developed that try to explain how this attribute works, how it arises and why there are differences between people. In this section we will look at some of the most important ones.
Intelligence: An Innate or Acquired Ability?
The first thing that needs to be understood about the theories of intelligence is that they can all be divided into two camps: those that give more importance to the innate component, and those that believe that culture plays a more relevant role. Although most explanations recognize that both aspects are important, practically all give more emphasis to one of them.
To this day, research on this mental capacity increasingly points to the fact that intelligence is largely innate. Studies with twins and with siblings separated at birth reveal that genes can explain up to 90% of the differences that exist in people’s IQ. For this reason, it has long been believed that intelligence is determined at birth, and that little can be done to change it.
However, today we also know that although genes create the limit of intelligence that a person can reach, their environment plays a very important role in their development. Thus, a person with lower genetic capacity but more stimulated can be as intelligent as another with very good innate traits.
Over the last 100 years, countless theories have come up trying to explain differences in intelligence. However, only some have obtained enough empirical support to be taken seriously and have lasted to this day. Next we will see the most important ones.
– Theory of general intelligence
One of the earliest theories of intelligence was that of Charles Spearman, who described the concept of “general intelligence” or “g factor.” Through the use of a technique known as factor analysis, he tried to find a trait that correlated with all measures of mental ability that existed so far.
Spearman found that the ability most closely related to this g-factor was working memory : the ability to hold information in the mind in the short term while performing other tasks. From this discovery, he developed several intelligence tests that are still used today.
– Louis Thurstone and Primary Mental Abilities
However, Spearman’s theory was far from the only one that appeared at the time. At about the same time that he was working on his concept of intelligence, another psychologist was creating a totally different explanation. We are talking about Louis L. Thurstone, who developed the theory of Primary Mental Abilities.
According to this researcher, intelligence is related to seven primary abilities: verbal comprehension, logical reasoning, perceptual speed, numerical ability, verbal fluency, associative memory and spatial visualization. From this theory, numerous ways of measuring mental ability were developed, which are also still in use today.
– The theory of multiple intelligences
One of the most recent theories in the field of intelligence, but one that is most popular right now, is that of Multiple Intelligences developed by Howard Garner. According to this author, traditional IQ tests only measure a series of closely related abilities that would give an incomplete picture of people’s true mental ability.
Thus, for Gardner there would be 8 totally different types of intelligence, which would be measured and developed differently. These are as follows: visual-spatial, verbal, kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and naturalistic.
– Sternberg triarchic theory
Psychologist Robert Sternberg agreed with Gardner that intelligence encompasses several entirely different abilities; but he believed that some of the types described by this author had more to do with talents than with innate mental abilities.
Contrary to Gardner, Sternberg believed that intelligence was made up of three mental abilities:
– Analytical intelligence, or the ability to understand and solve problems of all kinds.
– Creative intelligence, or the ability to apply past experiences and existing skills in novel situations.
– Practical intelligence, or the ability to adapt to a new environment.
– Guildford theory of the structure of the intellect
It correlates three independent factors: operations (mental processes), contents (semantic, symbolic, visual and behavioral) and products (types of responses required or way of taking the processed information) to explain intelligence.
It is noteworthy that Guilford expanded intelligence capabilities from 120 to 150, in addition to considering the non-existence of a “g” factor.
– Vernon’s hierarchical model
Philip E. Vernon established in his hierarchical model the existence of a series of specific abilities grouped under various factors (educational-verbal and motor-spatial). From these skills emerged such as mechanical, linguistic, numerical, creative or psychomotor ability.
The main novelty introduced by this Canadian psychologist is his exposition on the three types of intelligence (A, B and C).
Intelligence A refers to its biological capacity to adapt and develop in a specific environment.
Intelligence B to the ability to understand reality and the level of skill demonstrated in behavior.
Finally, intelligence C is that manifestation of capacities extracted from cognitive ability tests, such as intelligence tests.
How is intelligence measured?
Despite the fact that there are so many different theories about what exactly intelligence is, the truth is that today the most common ways to measure this attribute are based on those of Spearman and Thurston. Thus, the intelligence quotient or IQ of a person is checked based on his factor goa his primary mental abilities.
There are many tests to measure each of these variables; but the most used are the Raven for the g factor, and the WAIS for primary mental abilities. The choice between one and the other will depend on the circumstances in which the test is carried out, the origin of the participant, his age and the objective of the measurement.
Types of intelligence according to Howard Gardner
As we have already mentioned, Howard Gardner ‘s theory of multiple intelligences is one of the most accepted today. Next we will see what each of the eight types described by this author consist of.
This ability has to do with the perception of space and the ability to create images in the mind. This is one of the most important capabilities in theories such as the g-factor.
Kinesthetic intelligence refers to the ability to control one’s own body, both in large movements that involve many muscles at the same time, and in other more delicate ones. People with great ability in this area can easily acquire physical abilities.
This area has to do with numbers, critical thinking , logical reasoning, and the ability to draw conclusions. People with high scores in this skill can discover the fundamental principles of an area, and find causal relationships with ease.
This area has to do with the ability to perceive and understand sounds, tones, rhythms and music in general. People with this ability usually have a good ear for music, and are generally able to play instruments, compose, and sing with greater ease than normal.
Interpersonal intelligence would be closely related to the part of emotional intelligence that has to do with understanding and dealing with others. Thus, abilities such as empathy and charisma would be found within this area.
On the contrary, this ability has to do with the ease with which a person understands and regulates their own emotional states and thoughts.
The last type of intelligence to appear in Gardner’s theory has to do with a person’s ability to live in harmony with and take care of their environment. He would have to do with ethics and would be very present in professions such as farmer, chef or botanist.
How to develop intelligence?
As we have already seen, much of a person’s intellectual abilities are determined by their genetics. Therefore, for a long time it has been believed that it was impossible to improve intelligence directly.
However, today we know that some aspects of this mental capacity can be trained. Experts generally agree that training complex skills (such as learning a language or playing an instrument) increases the number of neural connections in the brain.
In addition, it has recently been discovered that certain habits such as exercising, debating using logic, reading or setting goals and pursuing them can trigger a process known as neurogenesis, in which new neurons are created. Thus, today we know that our habits and actions can really increase our level of intelligence.