In 1983, Harvard psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner introduced a theory that expanded the boundaries of what constitutes intelligence. Critical of the way intelligence was measured, Gardner sought to redefine the concept by incorporating recent findings from neuropsychology. He put forth the view that the intelligence quotient (IQ) does not adequately encompass the vast array of human abilities and that it misses important areas of intelligence. Traditional IQ tests primarily measure linguistic and logical/mathematical skills, whereas Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences proposes at least eight other skill areas. Gardner’s research expands the idea of intelligence and asks: How does intelligence express itself? In what ways is a person smart?
Types of Intelligence
Based on empirical evidence comprised of hundreds of studies, Dr. Gardner describes eight distinct mental capacities, each geared to a specific context in the world.
“I have always believed that the heart of the MI perspective—in theory and in practice—inheres in taking human differences seriously.” —Howard Gardner
Linguistic Intelligence refers to expressing and communicating ideas. This intelligence involves semantics—understanding the meaning of words; phonology—the sounds and their interaction with each other; and syntax—the rules governing the order of words and the pragmatic functions of different communications. Poets, writers, and attorneys are adept in linguistic intelligence.
Musical Intelligence is the ability to hear, recognize, remember, and manipulate musical patterns. The first intelligence to emerge, often in early childhood, it involves an innate understanding of pitch (or melody), rhythm, and timbre (the characteristic qualities of a tone) and an ability to appreciate the emotional aspects of music.
Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (nonverbal problem solving) is the capacity to move from the concrete to the abstract, to discern and make sense of patterns, symbols, and codes. This intelligence is the basis of the scientific, mathematical, and computer-oriented thinker.
Spatial Intelligence is used in navigation, map reading, and the arts. Also called visual-spatial, it is the capacity to perceive the visual world accurately, to transform and modify initial perceptions, and to re-create aspects of these perceptions. Spatial intelligence is evident in artistically oriented individuals, such as visual artists, sculptors, and architects. The scientifically oriented person draws on spatial intelligence to study anatomy, geography, or topology.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (sports, drama, dance, and the use of tools) comprises the ability to use one’s body in highly skilled ways for expressive and goal-directed purposes. It includes the capacity to work well with objects, whether they involve fine motor skills or whole body movements. Dancers, performers (especially mimes), athletes, and craftspeople are accomplished in this intelligence.
Interpersonal Intelligence (social and leadership skills) includes the ability to notice and make distinctions among other individuals, to read the intentions and desires of others, and to act on this social knowledge. This type of intelligence is important for political and religious leaders and is often well developed in skilled parents, teachers, and therapists.
Intrapersonal Intelligence (self-awareness) involves an understanding of one’s own range of feelings and an ability to discriminate among them, label them, and draw upon them as a means of comprehending and guiding behavior. Novelists often tap into this intelligence, especially if they are also gifted in linguistic intelligence.
Naturalist Intelligence is the ability to discriminate among living things and features of the natural world. The last of Gardner’s intelligences to be identified, it is characterized by an ability to recognize, distinguish, and categorize members of a species. Botanists and gardeners draw on this capacity.
Theory in Practice
Because of the substantial gulf between psychological knowledge about the mind and educational practice, there is no agreed-upon pedagogy based on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory. However, this doesn’t mean MI theory is not being translated into practice. Several factors contribute to a Multiple Intelligences–infused classroom. MI theory
- provides students with a variety of opportunities to explore, think, and make sense of what they learn;
- is problem-centered, offering a range of topics appealing to wide interests;
- allows teachers to engage students in problem solving and enables students to demonstrate understanding through performance assessment;
- encourages critical and creative thought;
- provides opportunities for practical application of knowledge; and
- cultivates personal reflection.
For true learning to take place, it’s also vital that students see the relevance of subject material in relation to the real world and that they gradually assume responsibility for their own learning. “School matters,” reminds Gardner, “but only insofar as it yields something that can be used once students leave school.”
Gardner’s research indicates that allowing students to demonstrate their competence in a variety of ways brings freedom to those who don’t perform as well under traditional assessment models and is more representative of how human beings in society use their skills.
Gardner’s work has much to say to parents and teachers of gifted students. The best way to foster the development of many kinds of minds may be summed up by his comments on the application of MI theory. “In general,” says Gardner, “my advice has echoed the traditional Chinese adage ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom.’”
More on MI Theory
- Harvard Project Zero
- Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, by Howard Gardner, Basic Books, 1993
- Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, by Howard Gardner, Basic Books, 1999