Cultural Intelligence Research Paper Starter

Cultural Intelligence

(Research Starters)

Cultural intelligence is the ability to adapt to various cultural contexts and function in different cultural settings or with those of a different culture in one's own setting. Cultural intelligence was introduced in 2003 by Earley and Ang, two researchers who believed that an individual's ability to successfully manage situations in which others from different cultures are present had been overlooked in intelligence research. Cultural intelligence shares aspects of emotional and social intelligence, in that it describes a person's ability to function well different situations, but neither emotional nor social intelligence take into account the cultural context.

Keywords: Assimilation; Cultural Intelligence; Cultural Pluralism; Emotional Intelligence; g; Psychometric Testing; Social Intelligence; Theory of Multiple Intelligences; Triarchic Model of Intelligence


Attempts at measuring and quantifying human intelligence have a long history. The effort to invent a valid and reliable assessment for intelligence can be traced back hundreds of years, and the work has continued to be prevalent in the twentieth century. Researchers have endeavored to measure intelligence through psychometric testing such as the Standford-Binet intelligence test, increasing testing in schools, and through classification of people into various groups. The most prevalent term associated with intelligence testing is the intelligence quotient, or IQ, which is purported to measure "g," or general intelligence. A host of tests that measure IQ have been implemented and used in schools and places of work throughout the world.

Theories of Intelligence

Despite the wealth of research regarding human intelligence and the variety of attempts to easily quantify it, the assessment of human intelligence remains imperfect and controversial. Many argue that standard intelligence testing today is biased and only measures a very narrow picture of what intelligence is. Thus, there have been a host of critics who offer breaks from the traditional models of intelligence. The most prominent of these theories include Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and Sternberg's triarchic model of intelligence, which suggest other "types" of intelligence, such as emotional or social intelligence. All of these models have been widely used and referenced by educators.

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences, developed and introduced by Howard Gardner in 1983, outlines a theory of intelligence that purports to move beyond IQ or g (general intelligence). Gardner criticized the general intelligence theory that had been prevalent since the early twentieth century because he saw two key limitations. First, the measures used to determine g were too variable. Second, the theory was too narrow — based on western educational models that heavily emphasized literacy and mathematical abilities (Gardner, 1983).

Gardner's original model, which has evolved over time, cited seven different types of intelligences. They include:

  • Verbal-linguistic,
  • Logical-mathematical,
  • Visual-spatial,
  • Musical,
  • Bodily-kinesthetic,
  • Interpersonal, and
  • Intrapersonal.

The first two intelligences were those that are most typically addressed in the western education system, while the last two are what Gardner (1983) terms "personal" intelligences. Other intelligences have been added to the list since the original seven were introduced. Gardner's theory highly impacted curriculum and instruction. Today, educators continue to research and discuss the implementation of the theory in the classroom.

Sternberg's Triarchic Model

Another model of intelligence widely referenced in education research is the triarchic model, developed by Robert Sternberg, which includes three facets:

  • Analytic,
  • Creative, and
  • Practical reasoning skills.

In the model analytical intelligence refers to the classical model of intelligence — one's ability to solve academic problems. Creative intelligence allows individuals to think creatively and adjust creatively in new situations. Finally, practical intelligence has often been described as "street smarts," or knowing how to fit into an environment to make yourself most successful. Sternberg's model was created as a reaction to intelligence testing, or traditional psychometric measures of intelligence.


Emotional and social intelligence (Mayer & Salovey, 1997) are often discussed in conjunction with one another. Emotional intelligence refers to an individual's ability to interpret and react properly to others. Social intelligence is closely related to emotional intelligence, and defined as the ability to empathize with and effectively manage people.

Emotional and social intelligence share several similarities with cultural intelligence. All three are abilities rather than behaviors, and all three types of intelligence move beyond academic and general intelligence. However, there are also differences between emotional or social intelligence and cultural intelligence. For example, neither emotional nor social intelligence takes into account cultural context when discussing a person's ability to perceive and manage emotions and social situations.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Culture can be defined in various ways. In this context, culture encompasses the shared attitudes, beliefs, goals, and traditions that characterize a group of people. Culture can affect how individuals act and work with others, and culture can also act as a lens through which individuals or groups view and react to the actions of those in other groups. Cultural intelligence is generally a newly minted term, but not necessarily a new concept. We have all seen how different individuals can navigate situations well or poorly, based on their knowledge of the other person's culture.

Seeing a need to take into account the cultural contexts of situations, the differences in how people react within them, and how successful individuals were in the outcomes of these situations, Earley and Ang (2003) developed and introduced the theory of cultural intelligence in their book, Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures. The theory is applicable to the disciplines of social sciences and management (Ang & Van Dyne, 2008), and specifically addresses the issue of recognizing and managing cultural issues that emerge in our interactions with others.

Earley and Ang's research was largely fueled by the unparalleled and increasing globalization occurring throughout the world. Advancements in technology are allowing different groups of people to communicate and travel as never before. As a result, businesses and governments have become increasingly global in scope, and more interconnected and dependent as never before. These factors are necessitating more and more interactions between and across individuals and groups that have different cultural backgrounds. Earley and Ang (2003) sought to highlight what they believed was an essential component in these interactions, and to provide more directions for additional research on the topic of cultural intelligence.

While globalization and increased communication between various groups have a multitude of positive outcomes, another central issue is the differences in ideology and culture present in these new interactions that could potentially lead to conflict on small and large scales. Consequently, the theory of cultural intelligence has also been applied to help individuals and organizations manage these potential conflicts, through increased training in cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence indicates an individual's ability to adapt to various cultural contexts, and function at a high level across different cultural settings or in situations where he or she does not share the same cultural background as others (Earley & Ang, 2003). Cultural intelligence is not a brand new concept; it is related to other types of intelligence that have been introduced by social scientists. What sets it apart, however, is that cultural intelligence specifically takes into account the impact of the culture or cultural setting in which an individual may find himself. Earley & Ang (2003) note that while culture does not necessarily influence everything, there are many...

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