Intelligence – Inherited, Environmental or Acquired?


When it comes to personal development I have noticed that people often accept limiting beliefs regarding their intelligence, such as “I´m just not smart enough to be good at school/work!” and “I’ve always been stupid. This will not change, I’m simply not gifted with intelligence!”. What a fatal point of view! But when it comes to the counter-question “If you assume you must have been born dumb, do you really think that great geniuses like Einstein and da Vinci were born highly intelligent, which allowed them to present their theories and inventions in childhood?” Certainly not! In fact, none of us was born with a huge intelligence quotient (IQ) just as none of us is born stupid or with low a degree of intelligence.

The forms of intelligence:

Generally, we associate different indicators with an intelligent person and if these indicators are present we consider this person to be intelligent. But did you know that there exist a dozen different forms of intelligence such as:

  • Logical-mathematical intelligence
  • Analytical intelligence
  • Creativeness
  • Social intelligence / Interpersonal Intelligence
  • Linguistic intelligence
  • Spatial intelligence
  • Esthetic intelligence
  • Musical intelligence
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence

Most intelligent persons have perfected their skills and knowledge in up to four or five of the above-named areas, which means that a person that is highly intelligent when it comes to dealing with numbers and mathematics could lack musical intelligence or social intelligence.

“Show me a clever person and I can show you at least three forms of intelligence that this person lacks!”

This allows us to realize that intelligence is a vague term and when we speak of a highly intelligent person it means that this person has acquired knowledge and perfected his skills in some forms of intelligence. This also results in the fact that when we speak of a dumb or stupid person it means that this person has not acquired intelligence in some areas (e.g. math) but this does not mean that this person is overall stupid.

Is intelligence inherited?

When it comes to the question if intelligence is inherited there can be only one answer: No! Just because the parents of a child are intelligent does not mean that their child will be as intelligent as they are. In fact: our genes define only the framework of our intelligence, which means that our genes are not responsible for how intelligent we become as they only define the maximum of intelligence we could achieve. Scientific research by the British psychologist Dr. Burton (amongst others) with identical twins which were separated at birth has shown that about 60% of our intelligence depends on genetic factors (important: these genetic factors only set the framework) and 40% depend on environmental factors.

Does our environment influence intelligence?

Absolutely! As already mentioned our genes set the framework of the highest level of intelligence that we can reach, but it depends on the environment we grow up if we can come close to the maximum or only use a slight percentage of our inherited intelligence.

Now that we have clarified this there is simply no space for excuses and limited beliefs such as “I wasn’t born intelligent” or “My parents weren’t that intelligent as well” as it depends on ourselves if we make use of the potential we have inherited or not. Intelligence can be trained even when we have already become adults and even more positive: we can become more intelligent as well.

The following article might also be very interesting to you: Stop Thinking You’re Stupid

Photo by smanography

What do you think? Is intelligence inherited or dependent on environmental factors?


About Author

Steve is the founder of Planet of Success, the #1 choice when it comes to motivation, self-growth and empowerment. This world does not need followers. What it needs is people who stand in their own sovereignty. Join us in the quest to live life to the fullest!


  1. The article confuses intelligence with knowledge. Intelligence isn’t what you have learned. Rather, intelligence is the degree to which you are able to learn: how fast you pick up on a subject, how aware you are to small differences, how complicated a thing you can learn to handle in a reasonable amount of time.

    For example, consider the game “Minesweeper.” Most PCs have a version of this game included with the operating system. It features a game board divided into initially featureless squares. Hidden under some of the squares are “mines.” If you click to uncover a mine, you will lose the game. The other squares contain a number which reveals how many mines are present in the eight adjacent squares.

    Using arithmetic and logic, the player attempts to clear the entire game board without exposing any of the mines.

    One thing should be said, however: there are times when, during a game, logic and math don’t give the player sufficient information to make a choice, and the player must guess. If he guesses wrongly, he’ll lose the game, even though it won’t be due to any error he made. So rather than taking the result of a single game as a measure of a player’s competence, it is better to let him play ten or more games and then average the times of the games he managed to complete.

    If a player doesn’t complete at least half of the games he begins, then probably the reason is that he’s making mistakes and then making excuses for the failures that those mistakes caused. On the other hand, if he “bombs out” of fewer than one-third of the games, then there’s a good chance that the reason is a failure of logic to provide an unambiguous guide to choosing squares to uncover.

    When someone first begins playing the game on the “intermediate” setting (medium difficulty), his time might be somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes. But if he persists in playing the game, hour after hour, day after day, for a week or more, the time necessary for him to finish a game will lessen.

    Is the player’s intelligence increasing? No.

    What’s happening is that his brain is learning how to play the game. Inside his brain, synapses are adjusting themselves, physically and chemically, to accommodate the kind of electrical impulse traffic that playing Minesweeper generates. The neural pathways increase in bandwidth, so that the brain can make (more probably) correct decisions faster, and then order the hands to comply with those decisions more rapidly.

    After two weeks of intensive training, a Minesweeper player might be regularly scoring times that are under one minute, perhaps even approaching 30 seconds.

    But this is not an increase of intelligence. It is an instance of the USE of intelligence.

    The player’s intelligence is not increased by training for a mental task. Rather, it is measured by the extent to which training can be effective. Some Minesweeper players, playing on the Intermediate Level, might never be able to break the one-minute time mark, no matter how much they practice. Other, more intelligent players will be able to do this.

  2. So David, I somewhat agree with your intepretation of knowledge vs. intelligence. However, given that definition, are there ways to acquire intelligence then…especially at an older age. Or are we only left with just acquiring knowledge? Additionally, I want to point out about the nine diff types of intelligence. Recent progress has been made in the field of cognitive science that can more aptly measure more than just logical-mathematical intelligence (the kind that is measured via IQ tests). Here’s a link that talks more about the nine diff types of intelligence.

  3. Well, I like this article, but would like to point the following out.
    1. Intelligence is an inherent capacity. A dog cannot be more intelligent than a man, we have crude forms of life and more advanced forms of life . Man is the most advanced form of life. With each form comes an inherent ability a dog will always bark a cat will always his if it doesn’t then it’s not normal. Man is an advanced and intelligent being that has in him inherent ability that makes him man. And this is the ability to reason in the abstract sense this is the height of intelligence. This puts no limit to his ability because reasoning is the tool creating. Dog, Goats, Rabbits, Cows. Can be conditioned to master habits that is conditioning. But they cannot reason and create like man. People with adequate and timely training can master various art e.g ability to read and remember, ability to solve maths problems easily. But that ability to reason is not thought it is inherent and can only be stimulated by experience and this is what we call knowledge. This is were reasoning becomes dependent on knowledge and training. The difference between Men is not this ability to reason which we all have but, just that little information experience, skill, knowledge that I have which you don’t all these will create a mindset and provide the substrate for me to reason with. With early and proper stimulation every human can achieve anything. Individuals who don’t believe in themselves can’t be intelligent and reason creatively. You have to believe in your ability to reason(understand that you are a MAN) before you can achieve any sort of creativity. This is Intelligence in the context of Man this is what make us unique and every Man has got it

  4. Sthandiwe Mbuyazi on

    I like this article and am learning more on others point of view on differentiating between intelligence en genetic factors thanks a lot Steve for accounting this article.

  5. Will you please stop using the word “dumb” equating it to the word stupid? I really do enjoy your writtings, but misusing this term does make it frustrating to seriously follow. Great work, and thank you for the insights – this itsy bitsy thing is driving my nuts!

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