A human brain being measured  with a measuring tape. Human Intelligence

Human Intelligence: Historical influences, current controversies, teaching resources.

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New and Emerging Theories of Intelligence

Originally prepared by: Kristin Garrigan and Jonathan Plucker (fall 2001)

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Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Sternberg's Conceptions 
Moral Intelligence 
Social Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence


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    You cannot pick up a magazine today without seeing an article regarding intelligence or intelligences. The study of intelligence has proved to be a continuously evolving, dynamic field, with the breadth of the field expanding rapidly over the past 25 - 30 years. Many individuals, such as Gardner, Naglieri, and Goleman, argue that our view of human intelligence is far too narrow, leading the way to an expanded view of what intelligence is and what constitutes an intelligence. Several of the new and emerging intelligences are noted in the following sections.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
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     In the early 1980s, Howard Gardner opened the window to multiple intelligences (MI), Prof. Gardner claimed that MI theory illuminates the fact that humans exist in a multitude of contexts and that these contexts both call for and nourish different arrays and assemblies of intelligence. Many psychologists have expounded on this notion and today the number of quantifiable intelligences extends beyond that of Gardner's initial seven multiple intelligences. MI Theory is discussed in greater depth in a separate Hot Topic.

Sternberg's Conceptions

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Robert J. Sternberg has devoted much of his career to the study of various conceptions of human intelligence. Starting with his Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence (Sternberg, 1985), he has expanded on his view of human ability and success. Successful intelligence is defined as that set of mental abilities used to achieve one's goals in life, given a socio-cultural context, through adaptation to, selection of, and shaping of environments. Successful intelligence involves three aspects that are interrelated but largely distinct: analytical, creative, and practical thinking (Sternberg, 1998). Practical Intelligence is the ability to size up a situation well, to be able to determine how to achieve goals, to display awareness to the world around you, and to display interest in the world at large (Sternberg, 1990; Sternberg et al., 2000; Wagner, 2000). Prof. Sternberg is working on several projects that examine the interrelation of his various conceptions of ability in applied settings.

Moral Intelligence

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Moral Intelligence is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Broadly conceived, moral intelligence represents the ability to make sound decisions that benefit not only yourself, but others around you (Coles, 1997; Hass, 1998).


Social Intelligence

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    Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them. Successful salespeople, politicians, teachers, clinicians, and religious leaders are all likely to be individuals with high degrees of interpersonal intelligence. At the same time, social intelligence probably draws on specific internal (Gardner would say intrapersonal) abilities. For example, in a recent study of incompetence, Kruger and Dunning (1999) found that incompetent people assessed themselves as being highly competent. This lack of ability to self-assess may be due to a combination of internal (poor metacognition) and external factors (poor ability to compare oneself to others). Social intelligence appears to be receiving the most attention in the management and organizational psychology literatures (e.g., Hough, 2001; Riggio, Murphy, & Pirozzolo, 2002).

Emotional Intelligence

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    Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, "is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one's thinking and actions" (Mayer & Salovey, 1993, p. 433). According to Goleman (1995), "Emotional intelligence, the skills that help people harmonize, should become increasingly valued as a workplace asset in the years to come" (p. 160). EI may subsume Gardner's inter- and intrapersonal intelligences, and involves abilities that may be categorized into five domains (Salovey & Mayer, 1990):

  • Self-awareness: Observing yourself and recognizing a feeling as it happens.
  • Managing emotions: Handling feelings so that they are appropriate; realizing what is behind a feeling; finding ways to handle fears and anxieties, anger, and sadness.
  • Motivating oneself: Channeling emotions in the service of a goal; emotional self control; delaying gratification and stifling impulses.
  • Empathy: Sensitivity to others' feelings and concerns and taking their perspective; appreciating the differences in how people feel about things.
  • Handling relationships: Managing emotions in others; social competence and social skills.

Additional perspectives on EI are available in Bar-On and Parker (2000).


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    In this Hot Topic, we attempted to provide a brief overview of the major categories of new and emerging conceptions of intelligences. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and we refer interested readers to the recent special issue of the journal, Roeper Review (April 2001), which addressed these and other new conceptions.


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Bar-On, R., & Parker, J. D. A. (Eds.). (2000). The handbook of emotional intelligence: Theory, development, assessment, and application at home, school, and in the workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Coles, R. (1997). The moral intelligence of children: How to raise a moral child. New York: NAL/Dutton.

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit theories and their role in judgments and reactions: A world from two perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6, 267-285.

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences. New York: BasicBooks.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Hass, A. (1998). Doing the right thing: Cultivating your moral intelligence. New York: Hardcover.

Hough, L. M. (2001). I/Owes its advances to personality. In B. W. Roberts & R. Hogan (Eds.), Personality psychology in the workplace. Decade of behavior (pp. 19-44). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1121-1134.

Mayer, J. D. & Salovey, P. (1993). The intelligence of emotional intelligence. Intelligence, 17, 433-442.

Riggio, R. E., Murphy, S. E., & Pirozzolo, F. J. (Eds.). (2002). Multiple intelligences and leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.

Sternberg, R. J. (1998). Principles of teaching for successful intelligence. Educational Psychologist, 33, 65-71.

Sternberg, R. J. (1990). Handbook of human intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J., Forsythe, G. B., Hedlund, J., Horvath, J. A., Wagner, R. K., Williams, W. M., Snook, S. A., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2000). Practical intelligence in everyday life. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wagner, R. K. (2000). Practical intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of intelligence (pp. 380-395). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Prepared by Kristin Garrigan and Jonathan Plucker.

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