The Importance of Nonverbal Intelligence

China, Guangxi Province, girl (6-9) looking at globe in class

Buena Vista Images / Stone / Getty Images

Nonverbal intelligence is the ability to analyze information and solve problems using visual, or hands-on reasoning. In other words, it is the ability to make sense of and act on the world without necessarily using words.

What Concepts and Skills Are Involved?

Nonverbal tasks may involve concepts such as:

  • Concrete or abstract ideas
  • Internalized language-based reasoning
  • Internalized reasoning without language

Nonverbal tasks involve skills such as:

  • The ability to recognize visual sequences and remember them
  • Understanding the meaning of visual information and recognizing relationships between visual concepts
  • Performing visual analogies
  • Recognition of causal relationships in pictured situations

Examples of nonverbal intelligence in action include:

  • Solving a puzzle
  • Using a diagram or blueprint to build a two- or three-dimensional structure or to set up a system (for example, a sound system, television system, etc.)
  • Conceiving of and implementing a two- or three-dimensional design such as creating a drawing, a sculpture, a shed, a piece of furniture, etc.
  • Creating and/or following a map
  • Anticipating and/or planning for outcomes (for example, hearing that it will snow and therefore making sure that shovels and ice scrapers are available)

Why Is It Important?

In school, nonverbal intelligence enables students to analyze and solve complex problems without relying upon or being limited by language abilities. Many mathematical concepts, physics problems, computer science tasks, and science problems require strong reasoning skills.

Outside of school, nonverbal intelligence may otherwise be described as "common sense." While a person with common sense may or may not score high on a typical IQ test, it is common sense that gets us through our days. A person who scores high on a typical IQ test may not have the basic nonverbal skills to, for example, get to the grocery store before the food runs out or put together a build-it-yourself piece of furniture.

Nonverbal intelligence allows us to think through, plan for, and implement projects. We also use nonverbal intelligence to organize and manage our time and our belongings.

How Is It Assessed?

Nonverbal intelligence is typically assessed in extended IQ tests. It's important, however, to distinguish between IQ tests which are nonverbal and IQ tests which assess nonverbal intelligence.

Nonverbal IQ tests such as the TONI-4 (Test Of Nonverbal Intelligence, 4th edition) are intended to assess the basic intelligence of people with speech and language challenges (people with autism, aphasia, and other disabilities). The TONI-4 is a language-free test, so children taking the test answer with gestures like pointing, nodding, or blinking.

On the other hand, tests which assess nonverbal intelligence are actually intended to discover an individual's ability to manage nonverbal tasks.

Can Nonverbal Intelligence Be Improved?

Nonverbal intelligence may be improved by working with hands-on tasks like picture puzzles, blocks, and building toys, find-a-word puzzles, mazes, and erector sets. There is also a wide range of support systems available to help enhance nonverbal abilities. These range from time planners and alarms to occupational therapy.

Was this page helpful?