Human intelligence has been a theme of discussion in psychology and social science for a long time. Scholars and educators have been trying to understand whether intelligence is a primary factor of achievement or if any other variables may be affecting learning outcomes and academic success. Whereas the impact of innate intelligence is rarely denied, the recent debates are focused on theories that introduce and evaluate additional elements of success.
In particular, professionals in the education sphere are divided in terms of determining key factors influencing academic performance. On the one hand, Poropat (2014, as cited in North, 2015) argues that conscientiousness (a tendency to be diligent) and openness, manifested in creativity and curiosity, are more correlated to academic performance than innate intelligence. This idea found support in several schools that organized classes of grit, where children are taught about the importance of perseverance in the face of challenging tasks (North, 2015). On the other hand, such educators as Alfie Kohn and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder claim that personality is secondary to the learning environment. According to Snyder, teaching grit is pointless outside the context of civic education and social responsibility (North, 2015). Regardless, one can agree that scholars and educators do not narrow academic achievement down to natural intelligence, even though their positions on additional factors vary significantly.
In this regard, one can claim that both proponents of personality and the environment’s role in learning lean toward the empiricist side of the Nature vs. Nurture debate on intelligence. This debate has a long history and includes two principal theoretical positions. The “Nature” or nativist camp claims that intelligence is primarily influenced by genes and hereditary factors. Therefore, intelligence can be inherited from the parents, similar to physical appearance (Cherry, 2020). In contrast, the “Nurture” camp states that intelligence is predominantly affected by environmental variables, such as childhood experiences, social relationships, and surrounding culture (Cherry, 2020). Nowadays, few scholars take radical nativist or empiricist positions, and the perception of intelligence as a combination of genetic characteristics and environmental influences is prevalent (Cherry, 2020). Consequently, modern theories related to intelligence and learning acknowledge the impact of natural and environmental factors on academic performance.
Several scholars and professional educators contributed to the emergence of more complex approaches to intelligence. David Wechsler, a psychologist widely known for creating popular intelligence tests, was among the pioneers who shifted the perspective. Wechsler considered Spearman’s theory of general intelligence too narrow and asserted that additional factors, such as personality, affect the development of each individual’s intelligence (Human Intelligence, 2018). He defined intelligence as “the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment” (Wechsler, 1940, as cited in Human Intelligence, 2018). In this regard, Wechsler’s work paved the road for contemporary systems approaches to intelligence as he set the trend for broader conceptions.
Most importantly, Wechsler emphasized the role of personality in education, which became a cornerstone of intelligence theories that recognized the diversity of learners. In particular, Howard Gardner proposed a theory of multiple intelligences, according to which eight distinctive intelligence types exist (Sternberg & Williams, 2010). For instance, children with better-developed linguistic intelligence may excel at writing and speaking, whereas their classmates with good interpersonal intelligence may better understand others’ behavior (Sternberg & Williams, 2010). This theory encourages an educator to gear instructions toward the talents and needs of individual students, which is beneficial for their academic performance and eventual fulfillment of natural potential.
However, Gardner’s theory perceived intelligence as a largely independent concept — its novelty was in emphasizing learners’ diversity rather than redefining the essence of intelligence. The triarchic theory of human intelligence proposed by Robert Sternberg expanded the paradigm by presenting intelligence as a set of relatively interdependent processes (Sternberg & Williams, 2010). Initially, metacomponents, such as planning, monitoring, and evaluation, allow the learners to determine a sequence of practical steps and activate the performance and knowledge-acquisition components. Performance is related to actual activities undertaken during the learning process, whereas knowledge acquisition governs gathering the necessary information (Sternberg & Williams, 2010). In return, performance and knowledge acquisition provide feedback to metacomponents, which makes it possible to adjust the individual’s mental representation of information (Sternberg & Williams, 2010). In addition, the triarchic model engages students’ analytical, creative, and practical abilities, thus contributing to well-rounded learning and enhanced academic performance. As a result, students become capable of capitalizing on their strengths or compensating for their weaknesses.
Overall, the intelligence models proposed by Wechsler, Gardner, and Sternberg explain the profound impact of personality on academic performance. A combination of their studies created a framework that redefined education. Firstly, Wechsler acknowledged the importance of environment and personal traits, which shifted the balance in favor of empiricist theories of intelligence. Secondly, Gardner expanded Wechsler’s approach by distinguishing between various intelligence types and championing the diversification of learning instructions according to students’ strengths. Finally, Sternberg redefined intelligence as a system of interrelated processes that an educator can engage in order to boost the students’ analytical, creative, and practical competencies. As such, these theories made a compelling argument in favor of personality and environment-related factors’ influence on academic performance.
Cherry, K. (2020). The age old debate of nature vs. nurture. Verywell Mind. Web.
Human Intelligence. (2018). David Wechsler. Web.
North, A. (2015). Smarts vs. personality in school. The New York Times.
Sternberg, R. J., & Williams, W. M. (2010). Educational psychology (2nd ed.). Merrill.