Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Careers

Cognitive intelligence

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 01 December 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:0212458
  1. Brian McMullen, specialist in holistic medical education1
  1. 1Kinloss, Scotland

In the first article in our series about intelligence and medicine, Brian McMullen explores how doctors and medical students think and if this can affect their careers

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

T S Elliot, The Rock, 1928

How many different forms of intelligence can you think of? For most people, being clever is connected with success in exams. In the past, the standard measure of intelligence has been the IQ test.

In 1983, Howard Gardner from the Harvard School of Education proposed that there is not a single entity called intelligence. He suggested an idea of “multiple intelligences” (see box).1

Multiple intelligences

  • Musical or rhythmic

  • Visual or spatial

  • Bodily or kinesthetic

  • Verbal or linguistic

  • Logical or mathematical

  • Interpersonal

  • Intrapersonal


Others have suggested different kinds of intelligences: cognitive (IQ), emotional (EQ), and spiritual (SQ). This article is concerned with cognitive intelligence. In the next two articles I will consider emotional and spiritual intelligence and their relation to the practice of medicine. Being “clever” in the traditional sense is no longer enough.

A brief history of IQ

The word intelligence goes back to Aristotle, who distinguished “orexis,” the emotional and moral functions, from “dianoia,” the cognitive and intellectual function. Dianoia was translated by Cicero as intellegentia (“intra” means within and “legere” means to choose).

Ebbinghaus devised the first test of higher intellectual function in 1897. It was the French psychologist Alfred Binet, however, who produced the first practical scale for measuring intelligence, in 1905. For many years he had studied the physical and mental development of his daughters. Then the Paris education authorities approached him for help in discovering children who were …

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