• How do people define intelligence in everyday life?

• What are the major components of the life-span approach?

• What are the major research approaches for studying intelligence?


fter Toni graduated from high school she decided to start her own pet-sitting business. She started small, but ultimately cornered the market in her city. She lives a comfortable and wealthy lifestyle. After high school Stacey went to college and majored in math. She pursued her doctorate and now lives a comfortable and modest lifestyle as a university pro­fessor. In comparing Toni and Stacey on intellectual ability, who would come out on top?

In terms of intelligence, the distinction between Toni and Stacey’s success points to an important question to ask: What do we mean by intelligence? Is it being able to learn new things very quickly? Is it knowing a great deal of information? Is it the ability to adapt to new situations or to create new things or ideas? Or is it the ability to make the most of what we have and to enjoy life? Intelligence is all these abilities and more, as we can see in the differ­ent pathways Toni and Stacey took. It is all in the sense that people who stand out on these dimen­sions are often considered smart, or intelligent. It is more than just these abilities because intelligence also involves the qualitative aspects of thinking style, or how one approaches and conceptualizes problems.

Intelligence in Everyday Life

Some intriguing work by Sternberg and his col­leagues points out that intelligence involves more than just a particular fixed set of characteristics (Berg & Sternberg, 1992; Sternberg et al., 1981). They compiled a list of behaviors that laypeople at a train station, supermarket, or college library reported to be distinctly characteristic of excep­tionally intelligent, academically intelligent, every­day intelligent, or unintelligent people. This list of behaviors was then given to experts in the field of intelligence and to a new set of laypeople, who were asked to rate either how distinctively characteristic each behavior was of an ideally intelligent, academ­ically intelligent, or everyday intelligent individual or how important each behavior was in defin­ing these types of intelligent individuals. Ratings were analyzed separately for the experts and the laypeople.

Sternberg and his colleagues found extremely high agreement between experts and laypeople on ratings of the importance of particular behaviors in defining intelligence. The two groups agreed that intelligence consisted of three major clusters of related abilities: problem-solving ability, verbal ability, and social competence. Problem-solving ability consists of behaviors such as reasoning logi­cally, identifying connections among ideas, see­ing all aspects of a problem, and making good decisions. Verbal ability includes such things as speaking articulately, reading with high compre­hension, and having a good vocabulary. Social com­petence includes behaviors such as accepting others for what they are, admitting mistakes, displaying

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interest in the world at large, and being on time for appointments.

Berg and Sternberg (1992) also wanted to know how these conceptions of intelligence differed across the adult life span. To find out, people aged 22 to 85 were asked to rate 55 behaviors that they viewed as characteristic of exceptionally intelligent 30-, 50-, or 70-year-olds. Behaviors such as moti­vation, intellectual effort, and reading were said to be important indicators of intelligence for people of all ages. But other behaviors were specific to particular points in the life span. For example, for a 30-year-old planning for the future and being open-minded were listed most often. The intelli­gent 50- and 70-year-olds were described as acting responsibly, adjusting to life situations, being ver­bally fluent, and displaying wisdom.