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Evasive and ever changing nature of intelligence makes this concept rather challenging to define in a concise way. It is strongly influenced by historical, geographical, cultural, or socio-economic factors, not to mention individual understandings of intelligence each person has. That is why intelligence can be generally defined as the ability of a human being to function successfully, usually better than the rest, in a particular setting defined by implicit values, beliefs, and rules.
It can be argued that intelligence is in fact culturally-defined quality. For example, what is considered intelligence in the United States may be ridiculous and unimportant in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The truth is that intelligence is only relevant when mutually recognized by the members of a particular group or groups of people. Moreover, in a lot of industrialized nations, including the USA, education is considered to be the crucial factor for increasing intelligence. Of course, the kind of education that exists in a given country directly reflects the cultural values and, consequently, the kind of intelligence that is valued. There is also a tendency to view intelligence as something one can measure; hence the existence of various tests that are supposed to determine the level of a person’s intelligence.
Thinking about how intelligence, as defined above, manifests itself in the real world, the application of the IQ test immediately comes to mind. For instance when trying to apply the version of WISC test to Kpelle tribe, the researches received frustrating results. Instead of sorting the objects into the similar categories (e.g. food, clothes, etc.) the tribesmen paired them according to functions. This illustrates that different cultures have different values, which are not necessarily reflected in standardized tests.
The cultural and historical influence may also be vividly seen from the following illustration. Earlier in human history when farming was one of the dominant livelihoods, knowledge related to laws of nature and understanding of weather signs was considered to be intelligence. Nowadays, however the more industrialized the country is the less relevant such knowledge becomes. There even used to be a profession of an agrarian who advised the community when to plant seeds and when it is time to gather the crops. Nowadays the heavy reliance on technology has replaced the sophisticated intelligence related to nature.
Education and intelligence have a symbiotic and complementary relationship. In America, for example, education is believed to increase intelligence. The underlying reason for this is the cultural value of socio-economic status. Therefore, economically disadvantaged people with lack of formal education are viewed as less intelligent. It is often forgotten that “uneducated” is not equal to “not intelligent”. High respect for economic well-being, together with the overarching neoliberal ideology that dominates today’s developed nations, has created a push for young people to go through a formal education in order to obtain skills for successful functioning in American society.
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Overall, the concept of intelligence is understood universally but, paradoxically, there is a huge miscommunication and sometimes even incomprehension as to the differences among various cultures or even sub-cultures as to what is considered intelligent and the way how it should be achieved.
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