...Once upon a time... The case of social representations of intelligence

  • Felice Carugati Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna
  • Patrizia Selleri Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna


This commentary goes over the research on the sociogenesis of social representations of intelligence (SRI), following the hypothesis that representations tend to turn an unfamiliar thing or the unfamiliar in general, into something familiar. In the case of intelligence, the importance of its study in terms of SR is justified by reminding that it is a social object which almost everybody agrees in placing a positive value on it, but science may not be allowed the ultimate explication of it; furthermore SR of intelligence could be seen as having an impact on the development of child’s intelligence, through the parents’/teachers’ educational procedures. Four conditions are proposed as the sociogenesis of SRI: i) the functional necessity for specific categories of people to organize their own conceptions ii) because they are confronted with a given value-laden topic or a set of interrelated value-laden topics which iii) should be salient and relatively inexplicable for these people, for whom iv) the topics activate some identity problems and imply an unavoidable decision making. Several categories of women (mother, teachers, working mothers, housewives) have been chosen for testing the plausibility of this way of studying SRI. The role of relative inexplicability of intelligence has been documented as the origins of SRI in terms of a theory of naturally gifted inequalities. Over years this approach to SRI has been documented in more recent empirical investigations, different social categories of women and different cultural settings. Future perspectives are discussed to expand the study of sociogenesis of SR in different social subjects, focusing on the role of the relationships between the relative inexplicability of a subject, the conflict of identities, and the necessity of decision-making.

Author Biographies

Felice Carugati, Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna

FELICE CARUGATI is Full Professor of Psychology of Development, Head of Department of Education (1993-1996) and Vice Dean (2009-) of the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Bologna. He is member of PhD Juries at the Universities of Aix-en-Provence, Coimbra, Geneva, Grenoble, Lisbon, Nantes, Neuchâtel, Porto, Rennes, Toulouse. He is Scientific Advisor and Former Editor of “Papers on Social Representations” and member of European Association of Social Psychology, Association pour la Diffusion de le Recherche Internationale en Psychologie Sociale, International Society for the Cultural and Activity Research, Jean Piaget Society, and European Association of Research on Learning and Instruction. Since 2000 he is Editor-in-Chief of the “European Journal of Psychology of Education”. His main scientific interests are: socialization
processes in institutions and the families; social interaction and cognitive development; social representations of development, education, learning and teaching; activity theory and cognitive functioning; distance learning in higher education.

Patrizia Selleri, Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna

PATRIZIA SELLERI is associate professor of Psychology of Education at the University of Bologna. Her main research interests are in the field of socio-cognitive development and in the shared construction of knowledge in educational environments; social networks and promotion of knowledge through E-learning; representations of quality of life in children; communication and social judgments in educational contexts; Intelligence, educational practices and school reforms, agreements and disagreements in parents’ and teachers’ social representations; social development and the development of social representations; teachers’ judgments and pupils’ causal explanations; university students, music teachers and social representations of music. Currently she is interested in freshmen’s representations of future professions in different university courses.