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Theories of Intelligence and Their Application

The field of human intelligence has evolved with time and different scholars have come up with varied definitions and theories on the subject. In addition, the application of the theories of intelligence cuts across different fields especially in the workplace. Human resource managers apply these theories in the hiring and training processes to ensure that companies get the right skills for the available job positions. This paper explores four theories of intelligence, viz. the information processing theory, Sternberg’s triarchic theory, multiple intelligence theory, and emotional intelligence (EQ) theory.

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The Information Processing Theory

This theory focuses on a person’s cognitive development to study and analyse how an individual grasps and interprets new information, which underscores the learning process. According to this theory, human beings receive, synthesise, and store information just like computers. In this case, the sensory receptors in one’s brain are likened to a computer’s hardware, while the mind-set formed during information processing is the software. The information processing theory follows a fixed structure divided into four parts namely the store model, sensory register, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The store model underlines how information is stored after being received. The sensory register deals with the processing units in the brain that determine how the received information is stored and processed. The short-term memory determines whether information will be discarded or transferred to the long-term memory for permanent storage. Human resources departments use this theory to modify responses to previous problems as a way of developing new ways of handling future problems by avoiding past mistakes.

Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory

According to Sternberg (1985), human intelligence is “a mental activity directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection, and shaping of real-world environments relevant to one’s life” (p. 45). This theory has three facets, which include analytical, creative, and practical elements. The analytical aspect defines one’s ability to solve problems from an academic perspective. The creative facet underscores the ability to adapt to new situations. One’s creativity is the central component in the definition of this face. Finally, the practical facet explains an individual’s capacity to deal with issues in a given context. The human resources departments use this theory to measure how individuals can fit in the workplace and work in teams to achieve the set objectives. For instance, if an interviewer scores poorly in the practical facet it means s/he cannot function properly in a team, and thus s/he may not be the best candidate for a given position. On the other hand, a creative candidate whose academic performance is above average with high scores on the practical context is the best match for most workplace positions. Creativity, teamwork, and problem-solving capabilities are critical factors in the performance of any company.

Multiple Intelligence Theory

Howard Gardner came up with this theory to dispel the conventional way of measuring intelligence through literacy and arithmetic skills alone. The theory holds that there are eight primary intelligences and while someone can be good at a few of them, no one can excel in all areas (Gardner, 2011). Therefore, while one may fail at arithmetic or academics in general, s/he may excel in other areas like music and art. This theory explains why some people suffering from conditions like dyslexia go on to become successful entrepreneurs in spite of facing learning challenges as children. Unfortunately, this theory is not popular amongst human resource areas especially in the contemporary times where workers are expected to be all rounded. Nevertheless, HR managers can employ this theory when seeking to recruit individuals for specific tasks like software development.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Theory

The EQ theory integrated elements of behaviour and character into the multiple intelligence theory to highlight factors that contribute to one’s success. The EQ theory holds that to be “successful requires the effective awareness, control, and management of one’s own emotions and those of other people” (Kelly & Kaminskiene, 2016, p. 57). In essence, the EQ theory forms the basis on which people interact with each other with reduced conflict to achieve a certain objective. Such assertion explains why most organisations have adopted this theory of intelligence as the standard unit of hiring workers. Individuals with high EQ can relate well with fellow workers, customers, and society. The success of an individual in the contemporary work environment depends on how one can form functional relationships towards the achievement of an organisation’s mission and vision.

Four theories have emerged to narrow and dissect the broad field of human intelligence. Initially, scholars believed that human intelligence could only be measured through psychometric tests like IQ and academic achievement. However, with time it emerged that people’s success depended on other factors on top of IQ. The information processing theory explores how people receive, store, and process information. Sternberg’s triarchic theory explains how individuals interact with the environment in decision-making. The multiple intelligence theory holds that people are gifted in different ways and no one can succeed in all areas of life. Finally, the EQ theory focuses on the role of character and behaviour in determining one’s intelligence. All the mentioned theories are important to the human resources department due to their usefulness in the hiring process.


Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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Kelly, E., & Kaminskiene, N. (2016). Importance of emotional intelligence in negotiation and mediation. International Comparative Jurisprudence, 2(1), 55-60.

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of intelligence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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