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Definition: Learnable Intelligence

There is a great debate raging in the cognitive psychology community about three distinct types of intelligence: neural intelligence, experiential intelligence, and reflective intelligence. You are born with neural intelligence (measured by IQ), and it never changes. You gain experiential intelligence through experience in a specific area, such as playing chess. You gain reflective intelligence by being aware of your thinking patterns and the way you can change these patterns. According to David Perkins, learnable intelligence is the combination of both experiential and reflective intelligence. Perkins, a senior research associate at Harvard, believes that "people can learn to think and act much more intelligently." It is reflective intelligence that provides individuals with immense opportunities to increase their effectiveness by using specific strategies. When we tap into reflective intelligence, we are able to increase our capacity for solving complex problems, making informed decisions, and generating new knowledge about the complicated world in which we live.


"Neural intelligence particularly supports initial learning and special talents. ... Neural intelligence also particularly supports general human talents. ... Experiential intelligence particularly supports day-to-day expert thinking in a domain. ... Experiential intelligence also particularly supports coping with recurrent everyday situations. ... Reflective intelligence particularly supports coping with novelty. ... Reflective intelligence also particularly supports thinking contrary to certain natural trends."
David Perkins, Outsmarting IQ: The Emerging Science of Learnable Intelligence, 1995

InfoMine References:

  • InfoMine Vol. 3, No. 4 • July-August 1996, Tapping into the Power of Learning Part 1: Increasing Intelligence

InfoMine: Every two months, MHA produces InfoMine, a complimentary newsletter on practical applications of theories and research in thinking and learning processes. Whenever you see InfoMine mentioned in this website, that means that there is more in-depth information about the topic being discussed. InfoMine newsletters have been published since 1994 and are available on this site.


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