What is intelligence? And what about IQ?

This article is written as a follow-up to a precedent one — Is IQ the same as Intelligence? — and presents a further expository on the two concepts previously discussed.

What is Intelligence?

Surprising as it may be, the seemingly simple concept of intelligence has been one much debated, and continues to be rather controversial in its conceptualizations and definitions today.

Though, as aforementioned, the exact definition of what intelligence is varies considerably within theorists, there are certain overlaps and commonalities that can be found among the proposals that have been put forth. These are the entailed ability to learn from experience; recognize problems; and solve said problems.

Learning from experience

This aspect of intelligence is in relation to one’s acquisition, retention, and utilization of knowledge.

Recognizing problems

This aspect of intelligence is in relation to one’s adeptness at identifying possible problems in an environment, and the varying urgencies in which said problems require addressing.


This aspect of intelligence is in relation to one’s use of available mental resources (experience, knowledge, conceptual frameworks, etc.) in the construction of useful solutions to problems identified.

There are also multiple theories of intelligence that seek to explain the nature of the virtue. Major theories include that of General Intelligence by Charles Spearman; that of Primary Mental Abilities by Louis L. Thurstone; that of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner; and the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence by Robert Sternberg. You can read more about each of these in a separate article we’ve written, Theories on Intelligence.

What is IQ?

As a measure of intelligence, IQ, likewise, is an inherently controversial topic with numerous perspectives and manifestations.

Typically, the tests that prescribe an IQ score to an individual examines intelligence through multiple fronts: verbal comprehension; working memory; perceptual reasoning; and processing speed.

Verbal comprehension

This refers to one’s adeptness in the acts of reading, writing, and communication. It focuses on verbal fluency, word knowledge, and language utilization (as in word choice and syntax). Test items often manifest as activities such as picture identification or word definition.

Working memory

This refers to one’s adeptness in remembering and processing information presented. It focuses on mathematic abilities; sequencing abilities; attention to task; and auditory recall. Test items often manifest as mathematical problems and memory assessments.

Processing speed

This refers to one’s adeptness in processing information in a swift and efficient manner. It focuses on speedy visual discrimination; selective attention; and visual-motor dexterity. Test items often manifest as speed tests entailing classification of objects or quick identification of shapes, figures, or symbols.

There are also multiple types of IQ tests that seek to accurately measure intelligence. Major tests include the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale; Differential Ability Scales; Cognitive Assessment System; Woodcock Johnson IV (Test of Cognitive Abilities); and the Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Intelligence Test. You can read more about each of these in a separate article we’ve written, Types of IQ Tests.

Of course, there’s a lot more to intelligence and IQ than what has been covered in this article. To further your discovery on the topic, you can read up on A History of IQ Testing, or The Relationship Between High Giftedness and Personality. Alternatively, you can also click here for a full list of related topics.