The Social Construction of Intelligence

By Dhruv Sharma

Intelligence: Who’s smarter?-No One.


The history of intelligence is riddled with debate and controversy. Since the early 1900s, “intelligence tests have been heavily weighted toward measuring verbal memory, verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, appreciation of logical sequences, and the ability to state how one would solve the daily problems of living” (Gardner 12). Alternative models of intelligence such as the “theory of multiple intelligences” highlighting such abilities as “musical intelligence”, or “spatial intelligence”. Despite the seaming differences, traditional researchers have been asking the same question: How do we measure intelligence? It is this author’s contention that intelligence can never be measured, and that everyone is equally intelligent.

What is intelligence?

Intelligence is a social construct which exists in a context. Intelligence if viewed as a fluid is a substance which aids problem solving and dynamic response.

Yet humans make the mistake of assuming it is a quantity which has relative degrees. In reality, it is not a measurement that can be compared. It is not an object in and of itself. It instead is an emergent phenomenon. It can be encouraged and fostered and applied but it cannot be compared.

To say person A is smarter than person B is a fallacy. What varies among people is not intelligence but forms of expression of intelligence. If person A can accomplish a task arbitrarily thought be value more than B and it is not due to sheer physical prowess it is deemed intelligence. While in contrast another person B may not be able to perform task1 well or at all it is not sufficient to claim they are less intelligent.

In a sense everyone is the same smart. Some people express their intelligence in more recognizable and valued ways and others not.

Intelligence is socially constructed to differentiate people who express their intelligence in similar manners. It is then further used socially to classify and judge.

The HR claim that intelligence tests predict work performance well, when conducted with unbiased instruments, is really a way of saying people who perform well on this given 'intelligence instrument' are more likely to express their intelligence in a compatible manner to produce white collar office work. It is ironic that the majority of white collar jobs which require Bachelors and Masters Degrees comprise of work that a high school student can do given some decision aids and some learning examples. It is also due to this culture fascination with constructing intelligence as a social class designated by brand names associated with schooling and SAT test scores it is no surprise people are educated to a degree to which they are unable to use a majority of their learning.

Another way to look at intelligence would be as a measure for knowledge but then memory and an appetite for knowledge would be sufficient. We all know that people who fill their minds constantly may produce witty banter or impress friends but may never product any substantive work of intellect or discovery. That said I love being an interdisciplinarian as it gives one many lenses to view things and play with them. It is a joy to find how multiple unrelated concepts may parallel or complement one another. This is a passion or hobby. The secret to research and giving back to society is trying things and continually expressing your innate intelligence which is no less than anyone else in as many ways as it is seems right to you.

Perhaps the wealthy have produced more scholarly works as they have time to tinker and play and have fun in certain expressions of intellect that are popular.

In short everyone is the same smart. That said let's not waste time measuring a non existent quantity and making erroneous inferences. Instead it is better to express yourself and your intelligence in anyway you see fit. Produce what you think, feel, and share it with the world. History will be the judge of its utility and resonance.

Gardner, Howard. Intelligence Reframed. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
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