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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: July 2009

2 - The Theory of Successful Intelligence



The theory of successful intelligence views intelligence as broader than do most theories. In general, the conception fits best with the systems theories discussed in Chapter 1.

The Definition of Successful Intelligence

Intelligence is defined in terms of the ability to achieve success in life in terms of one's personal standards, within one's sociocultural context. The field of intelligence has at times tended to put “the cart before the horse,” defining the construct conceptually on the basis of how it is operationalized rather than vice versa. This practice has resulted in tests that stress the academic aspect of intelligence, as one might expect, given the origins of modern intelligence testing in the work of Binet and Simon (1916b) in designing an instrument to distinguish children who would succeed from those who would fail in school. But the construct of intelligence needs to serve a broader purpose, accounting for the bases of success in all one's life.

The use of societal criteria of success (e.g., school grades, personal income) can obscure the fact that these operationalizations often do not capture people's personal notions of success. Some people choose to concentrate on extracurricular activities such as athletics or music and pay less attention to grades in school; others may choose occupations that are personally meaningful to them but that will never yield the income they might gain doing other work. Although scientific analysis of some kinds requires nomothetic operationalizations, the definition of success for an individual is idiographic. In the theory of successful intelligence, however, the conceptualization of intelligence is always within a sociocultural context.