Intellect is a term used in studies of the human mind, and refers to the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or false, and about how to solve problems. Historically the term comes from the Greek philosophical term nous, which was translated into Latin as intellectus (derived from the verb intelligere, "to understand", from inter, "between" and legere, "to choose"[1]) and into French and then English as intelligence (other than intellect). Intellect is in fact considered as a branch of intelligence (see Intellect vs intelligence).

Discussion of the intellect can be divided into two broad areas. In both of these areas, the terms "intellect" and "intelligence" have continued to be used as related words.

  • In philosophy, especially in classical and medieval philosophy the intellect or nous is an important subject connected to the question of how humans can know things. Especially during late antiquity and the Middle Ages, the intellect was often proposed as a concept which could reconcile philosophical and scientific understandings of nature with monotheistic religious understandings, by making the intellect a link between each human soul, and the divine intellect (or intellects) of the cosmos itself. (During the Latin Middle Ages a distinction developed whereby the term "intelligence" was typically used to refer to the incorporeal beings which governed the celestial spheres in many of these accounts.[2]) Also see: passive intellect and active intellect.
  • In modern psychology and neuroscience, intelligence and intellect are used as terms describing mental ability (or abilities) that allow people to understand. A distinction is sometimes made whereby intellect is considered to be related to "facts" in contrast to intelligence concerning "feelings".[3] Intellect refers to the cognition and rational mental processes gained through external input rather than internal.

A person who uses intelligence (thought and reason) and critical or analytical reasoning in either a professional or a personal capacity is often referred to as an intellectual.

Intellect vs intelligence

Intellect is often considered to be a branch of intelligence reflecting mainly its logical and rational side.

Because of the lack of emotional and sensitive engagement, intellect is sometimes considered to be strictly limited to facts and not going beyond mere raw knowledge.[4] However, intellect can carry a high level of complexity and thus avoid linear and formal logic patterns by referring to such mental processes as, for example, fuzzy logic and dialectical logic.[5]

Development of intellect[6]

Experience plays a crucial role in the formation of intellect. Through solving life problems people can reach intellectual enlightenment and improve their behavioral patterns to act more reasonably and appropriately in the future. Therefore, intellectual development is encouraged by the feeling of dissatisfaction gained from particular situation’s outcome and the emanating search for better solutions. Only experience can provide people with genuine and thoughtful understanding of reality, which consequently contributes to intellectual development.

Understanding is built upon creating a model of the reality through human perception and cognitive reflection. The process of finding solutions to life problems enriches human mental “database” of reality attributes. When acquiring the most accurate understanding of the surrounding world, the model mirrored in human mind becomes very similar or identical to the reality and that is when the intellect releases its full potential.

Intellect that reaches its maturity[7] is referred as self-management. At this state intellect can encounter every problem it faces and not only change itself in the most efficient manner, but also alter the reality in the most desirable way. Overall, success and failure turn to depend primarily on the extent of intellectual capabilities.

Intellect structure

According to J.P.Guilford, intellect consists of three key parameters: operations, contents and products. Each parameter contains specific elements, which are independent and therefore should be measured individually and considered as autonomous units of human intellect.[8]

Operations are represented by cognition, memory, divergent and convergent production, and evaluation. Content can be figural, symbolic, semantic and behavioral. Products are divided into units, classes, relations, systems, transformations and implications.[9]

Intellect in therapy

Intellectualization is a therapeutic method, which is based on avoiding emotional penetration through intense intellectual focus. When exercising this technique, the problem that can cause psychological disturbance is approached from rational, cool and scientific attitude. It is one of the defense mechanisms described by Freud that blocks feelings to prevent human psyche from anxiety and stress.

The principle that shapes intellectualization involves Freud’s concept of Id, ego and super-ego. Ego is a conscious part of human personality, Id refers to unconscious, “dark” side of human nature driven by animal instincts, and super-ego is a controlling mechanism that adjusts people’s actions and behavior to social norms and expectations. The purpose of intellectualization is to isolate Id and make conscious aspects of life the only object of reflection and consideration. Therefore, this defense mechanism aims to protect ego from unconscious processes, which are often impossible to handle and control.[10]

One of the ways to launch intellectualization is to use jargon and complex scientific terms instead of regularly used words. A common example is saying “carcinoma” instead of “cancer” if a doctor wants to mitigate the effect of announcing the disease by driving patient’s attention away from the illness and approaching it more systematically to avoid emotional outburst.[11]

However, intellectualization is sometimes criticized because of its disregard of feelings. That subsequently leads to the full denial of intuition, which sometimes contributes to decision-making process. Moreover, the absence of emotional stimuli can deprive people from motivation and therefore lead to dissatisfaction and melancholy. Furthermore, “emotional constipation” threatens human creativity capabilities by replacing them with more matter-of-fact solutions.[12]

See also


  1. Colman, Andrew M. (2008). A dictionary of psychology (3rd ed.). Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191726828.
  2. Davidson, Herbert (1992), Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect, Oxford University Press page 6.
  3. "Intellect and Intelligence". Psychology Today.
  4. Sangha, Nithyananda. "Instinct, intellect, intelligence, intuition". Nithyananda Sangha. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  5. Rowan, John (1989). The Intellect. SAGE Social Science Collections.
  6. "Psychology of Knowledge, Development of the Intellect". Retrieved 2015-11-01.
  7. chief, Gary R. VandenBos, editor in (2006). APA dictionary of psychology (1st ed.). Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association. ISBN 978-1-59147-380-0.
  8. "Structure of Intellect (J.P. Guilford)". Retrieved 2015-10-28.
  9. "Guilford's 'structure of intellect' model". Retrieved 2015-11-02.
  10. Lemouse, M. "Teaching Psychology - Defense Mechanisms". Retrieved 2015-10-25.
  11. Khetarpal, A. "Intellectualization: isolation from emotions!(A Psychological Tranquilizer) | Mindful Cogitations". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  12. "On Finding Out How We Don't Know Ourselves in Therapy and Counselling. (On Defences, Part Seven)". Lucid Psychotherapy & Counselling. 2015-05-19. Retrieved 2015-11-01.
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