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Intelligence...It's all in the mind

As a way of helping clients to focus more on the positive aspects of their lives I often ask them to select the traits they think they have from a list of around 50 e.g. kind, hard-working, patient, strong. What I have noticed is that very few of them select 'Intelligent'. This leads me to wonder why that would be. Are all my clients lacking in intelligence? I certainly don't think they are! Do they feel uncomfortable or too modest to admit that they consider themselves to be bright, or are they comparing themselves to somebody else that they feel is more intelligent and coming up short? Maybe that is part of it. Intelligent people are said to 'know what they don't know'... in other words they are more aware of their limitations and ignorance and realise how much there is still left to learn.

Society values logical thinking and rationality and views them as being desirable traits in terms of intelligence. Since Psychologist Alfred Binet introduced the IQ test in the 1900s we have come to believe that in order to be considered intelligent, a person must have a set of specific skills, and that intelligence is something which is quantifiable and measurable. It's possible then, that people who don't have the specific skill set needed to ace an IQ test therefore feel that they aren't intelligent.

Having explored some of the reasons why my clients say they didn't select intelligence as being a trait they have, I've come to realise that it is often the person's definition of what intelligence actually is that prevents them from being able to identify as an intelligent person - they quite simply feel that they don't meet the criteria. For example if the client feels that they didn't do well at school or doesn't have any qualifications to their name.

Psychologist Howard Gardner studied intelligence and came to feel that the way intelligence had commonly been assessed and understood was too one dimensional. He took a more pluralistic view of the mind and its inner workings, and he devised a theory of 'Multiple Intelligence' in the 1980s, in which he described 8 distinct types of intelligence. He recognised that there are many discrete aspects of cognition and that people have different cognitive strengths and contrasting cognitive styles. Consider a concert pianist, a champion golfer or a world class chess player...are they intelligent in their pursuits? If they are, then why do our tests (e.g. IQ or SATS) often fail to identify this? If they are not intelligent, then what is it exactly that allows them to achieve what they do? What really constitutes intelligence?

Gardner (2006) describes intelligence as requiring:

"...the ability to solve problems and fashion products that are of consequence in a particular cultural setting or community."

This offers a broader criteria for intelligence than we have previously had. Here is Gardner's list of the different types of intelligence. Decide for yourself whether you think they meet his definition:

  • Musical Intelligence

People with strong musical intelligence are good at thinking in patterns, rhythms and sounds. They have a keen appreciation of music and are often skilled at composing music as well as performing.

Characteristics: Enjoys singing and playing musical instruments, recognizes musical patterns and tones easily,good at remembering songs and melodies, ability to understanding musical structure, rhythm and notes.

  • Bodily - Kinaesthetic Intelligence

People with high bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence are good at moving and controlling their body and performing actions. They tend to have excellent hand-eye coordination and dexterity.


Skilled at dancing and sports, enjoys creating things, excellent physical co-ordination, tendency to remember by doing, rather than hearing or seeing.

  • Logical - Mathematical Intelligence

People with strong logical-mathematical intelligence are good at reasoning, recognizing patterns, logical thinking and analyzing problems. They tend to think conceptually about numbers, relationships and patterns.

Characteristics: Excellent problem solving skills, enjoyment from thinking about abstract ideas, good at conducting scientific experiments, good at solving complex computations.

  • Linguistic Intelligence

People with strong linguistic intelligence are able to use words well, both in the written and spoken word. They may be particularly skilled at writing stories, memorizing information and reading.

Characteristics: Ability to remember written and spoken information well, enjoyment from reading and writing, skilled at debating or delivering persuasive speeches, able to explain things well to others, makes use humour when telling stories.

  • Visual - Spatial Intelligence

People with strong visual-spatial intelligence are good at visualizing things. They are often good with directions as well as reading maps and charts.

Characteristics: Enjoyment of reading and writing, skilled with puzzles, good at interpreting pictures, graphs, and charts, enjoyment from drawing, painting and the visual arts, ability to recognize patterns.

  • Interpersonal Intelligence

Those with strong interpersonal intelligence are good at understanding and interacting with other people. They are skilled at assessing emotions, motivations, desires and the intentions of those around them.

Characteristics: Good at communicating verbally, skilled at non-verbal communication/body language, able to view situations from different perspectives, adept at creating positive relationships wit others. good at resolving conflict within groups.

  • Intrapersonal Intelligence

Individuals with strong in intrapersonal intelligence are more aware of their own emotional states, feelings, and motivations. They tend to enjoy self-reflection, analysis, exploring relationships with others, and assessing their personal strengths. They may also be prone to daydreaming.

Characteristics: Good at analyzing one's own strengths and weaknesses, enjoyment from analyzing theories and ideas, good self-awareness, clear understanding of the basis for one's own motivations and feelings.

  • Naturalistic Intelligence

Individuals with strong naturalistic intelligence are more in tune with nature, they are often drawn to nurturing, exploring the environment and learning about other animals/species. These individuals are more sensitive to and aware of subtle changes in their environment.

Characteristics: Interest in subjects such as botany, biology and zoology, adept at categorizing and cataloguing information, tendency to enjoy camping, gardening, walking and exploring the outdoors, dislike of learning unfamiliar topics that have no connection to nature.

Multiple Intelligence theory reinforces the idea that people actually have many talents that can be of value to society, and that all of us have a range of intelligences that aren't necessarily measurable on a standard test. Which intelligences can you identify with? What is it that you do or engage in which demonstrates this kind of intelligence?

If you use all the dimensions of intelligence to inform your view of yourself then hopefully you will gain a clearer understanding of your own strengths, and also come away feeling better about yourself and more competent than if you just focus on your IQ or your exam results!

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