Mental Health - Intelligence

Intelligence is defined most broadly as the ability and capacity to understand. It has taken many years for researchers to understand how to determine the precise differences between very intellectual individuals and those


According to psychiatrist Gene Cohen (a game inventor, founder of the game company Genco, and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health's Center on Aging) games are mental gymnastics that can help people stay mentally fit. Cohen and other mental health professionals believe that playing games allows for people to flex brain-power and connections that they don't typically get to use when working or doing everyday tasks. Exercising the brain in this manner promotes the growth of better neural connections and the growth of brain cells.

Cohen's theories are backed up by research performed by Marian Diamond, a mental health professional at the Brain Research Institute of the University of California at Berkeley, who found that laboratory rats given toys to play with were able to find their way through mazes more quickly than rats who were not provided with toys. Upon examination of the two sets of rats the researchers discovered that there were profound differences in the brains of the two groups; the brains of the rats that had been given toys had more well-developed cerebral cortexes (which is the part of the brain related to thought). These findings gave rise to fun educational programs such as Sesame Street.

What Cohen wants people to remember, though, is that mental exertion through games can boost the brainpower of people—and rats as evidenced by Diamond's study—of all ages. Also, Diamond's study found that rats that simply watched other rats playing did not increase their brainpower at all. So, instead of passive activity such as watching television every night, to be mentally nimble in the years to come Cohen advises playing board games or cards. And, according to Cohen, computerized games do not boost brainpower because they do not involve reading nonverbal cues like watching one's opponents' reactions, which are part of traditional games.

who are less so. Until Alfred Binet (1857–1911), a French psychologist, sought to identify why certain students in French schools in the early twentieth century were not learning at the same pace as other students, no one had come up with any sort of solution to the question of how to measure intelligence. Using a trial-and-error approach to compiling his test, Binet developed his questions based on a division of students into categories of "bright" or "dull." The questions that ended up on the test were the ones that reinforced the difference in knowledge between these two groups.

The intelligence quotient (IQ) is the measure of intelligence as based on intelligence tests and the intelligence of the general population. While Binet created and published the very first standardized test of human intelligence (which was revised several times), it was American psychology professor Lewis Terman, of Stanford University, who came up with the actual formula for determining IQ: divide the test taker's "mental age," which is revealed by his or her score on the intelligence test, by his or her chronological age. The resulting number is what Terman called the intelligence quotient or IQ. In 1916 Terman brought the existing Binet test from France to the United States, translated it into English, and developed a new set of standard questions for American children. He named the new test Stanford-Binet.


Many times, there are people who are not necessarily "book" or "school" smart but who are whizzes when it comes to specific fields such as music, art, or the written word. In response to this phenomenon, psychologist Howard Gardner came up with seven different types of intelligence. They include: musical intelligence; intelligence involving envisioning and measuring space abstractly (in one's mind, as artists and architects often do); mathematical intelligence; and linguistic intelligence (superior writing skills). In addition, there is interpersonal intelligence (being able to relate to others in a productive manner); intrapersonal intelligence (having the ability to be deeply in touch with oneself on an emotional and mental level); and physical intelligence (skills possessed by superior athletes, dancers, or surgeons).

Other theorists have brought forth issues of practical intelligence, or the intelligence that correlates with a person's success in day-to-day life. According to these theorists, practical intelligence, which comes from observing others, has a great deal of validity in that traditional intelligence does not have any correlation to success in life; often times, people with high IQs never realize their potential or lack the common sense to make the best of their capacities.

In terms of how intelligent the general population is, the average IQ is 100, with 68.3 percent of people possessing IQs ranging between 85 and 115. People with IQs between 115 and 130 are classified as having superior IQs while those with IQs in excess of 130 are labeled as gifted. Those individuals whose IQ falls below 85 are labeled as borderline and any score under 70 often indicates that an individual is mentally impaired to some degree (see Chapter 12: Mental Illness for a discussion of mental retardation and its relationship to intelligence quotients).

There are people who are not necessarily "book" or "school" smart but who are whizzes when it comes to specific fields such as music, art, or the written word. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
There are people who are not necessarily "book" or "school" smart but who are whizzes when it comes to specific fields such as music, art, or the written word. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

IQ tests have come to be viewed as predictors of a person's performance in school and in given careers. Over the years, however, the idea of intelligence, which is strongly tied to Binet's initial test, has come under fire. The notion of intelligence and ways of measuring it do not take into account that individuals with learning disorders, while still being very intelligent, may have trouble with the standard test. In addition, many people feel that intelligence tests are culturally biased (preferential to certain groups of people).

For example, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, which is based on Binet's initial test, includes questions for young children about "typical" daily activities. However, depending upon where one lives (for example, in the city or in the country, or in California or New York) or what one's experiences are, it might be difficult for some children to come up with the "correct" answer, according to the intelligence test, of what a typical daily activity is. In the case of adult testing, participants are asked to interpret the meaning of "common" proverbs (short sayings such as "A stitch in time saves nine"). It may be difficult to answer the question if a person has never heard of a certain proverb, or perhaps the proverb has a slightly different meaning depending on where a person grew up. Is it fair to say that someone possesses less intelligence than someone else because his or her life experiences do not coincide with the intelligence test?

Objectors to this type of intelligence testing propose that basic intelligence is not necessarily tied to knowledge, the acquiring of which has cultural biases. These concerns have given rise to a variety of intelligence tests that will measure not only verbal skills but also nonverbal skills and which are free of any bias.

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