Triarchic theory of intelligence: what is it?

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The traditional IQ test only measures analytical skills, but the triarchic theory of intelligence adds creative and practical intelligences to estimate a person’s potential. Contextual intelligence, or practical intelligence, is the ability to apply knowledge to the real world. The experiential intelligence aspect bridges analytical and practical thinking, and creative intelligence is highly specialized. The theory has been criticized for excluding emotional intelligence.

The traditional intelligence quotient (IQ) test measures a subject’s analytical skills in areas such as logical reasoning and mathematical proficiency. While the resulting IQ score is often the benchmark for assessing an individual’s intelligence, only a fraction of a person’s true functionality can be predicted from this number. The triarchic theory of intelligence addresses this deficit by adding creative and practical intelligences to estimate an individual’s actual potential.

For some, the aspect of the triarchic theory of intelligence that is most likely to measure success in life is contextual intelligence. Often called practical intelligence or common sense, contextual intelligence is the acquisition of information and skills needed during an individual’s daily life. In short, it is a person’s ability to apply their knowledge to the real world. Individuals with “street smarts” are often highly intelligent in context.

By the standards of the triarchic theory of intelligence, a meteorology professor who doesn’t carry an umbrella on a rainy day would likely have an above-average IQ but lack practical intelligence. The professor is likely to be able to analyze atmospheric conditions, then logically reason that precipitation is likely. However, by not taking an umbrella, he would show an inability to apply his knowledge of him sensibly.

The experiential intelligence aspect of the triarchic theory of intelligence can be seen as the bridge between analytical and practical thinking. Creativity allows an individual to take acquired information and bend it to adapt to new situations. Thus, people with high creative intelligence are often very adaptive and forward-thinking. These individuals are often found in industries such as music, advertising and journalism.

Creative intelligence tends to be highly specialized and can often be related to other aspects of triarchic theory. Writers, for example, tend to have high creativity as well as high scores on the verbal portions of analytical intelligence tests. Conversely, inventors are often both experientially and practically gifted. It is theorized that the presence of creative intelligence may explain the emergence of savantism within groups of individuals who have been labeled as severely intellectually and functionally impaired.

The triarchic theory of intelligence has come under very rigorous scrutiny. In many psychology communities, creativity is considered a personality trait rather than an intellectual process and a practical aptitude or adaptive ability. Even among its supporters, some think the theory is limited by the exclusion of the emotional intelligence quotient.

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