For decades, psychology defined this aptitude in terms of the ability to do well on paper-and-pencil “IQ” tests. In the late 1980s, new data emerged questioning whether this traditional approach to intelligence actually tapped into people’s ability to succeed at important life tasks. One line of studies investigated what we now call emotional intelligence (“EQ”), or the ability to understand yourself and other people, and found that children followed into adulthood who had done particularly well on tests of EQ were more successful in college than those who did well on standard IQ tests.
Along similar lines, Cornell psychologist Robert Sternberg’s notion of practical intelligence emphasizes “street smarts.” A person high in this quality can read other people well and solve actual problems that require solutions in the here-and-now. This individual may not score well on traditional IQ tests and, in fact, may perform quite poorly. Rather than simply learning the right answers to test questions, people high in practical intelligence can accurately judge the questions from a variety of angles. This makes it a challenge for them to pick out the one best answer on a multiple-choice test.
To capture intelligence as a multifaceted quality, including the ability to do well in school, Harvard’s Howard Gardner developed the notion of multiple intelligences. Emotional and practical intelligence are different abilities, in his view, but only part of the total picture. People can be intelligent with their bodies, in their understanding of nature, and their ability to produce and enjoy music.