The theory of multiple intelligences differentiates intelligence into
specific 'modalities', rather than seeing intelligence as dominated by
a single general ability.
Howard Gardner proposed this model in his
1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
According to the theory, an intelligence must fulfill eight
potential for brain isolation by brain damage,
place in evolutionary history,
presence of core operations,
susceptibility to encoding (symbolic expression),
a distinct developmental progression,
the existence of savants, prodigies and other exceptional people,
support from experimental psychology, and
support from psychometric findings.
Gardner proposed eight abilities that he held to meet these
He later suggested that existential and moral intelligence may also be
worthy of inclusion.
Although the distinction between intelligences has been set out in
great detail, Gardner opposes the idea of labeling learners to a
specific intelligence. Gardner maintains that his theory should
"empower learners", not restrict them to one modality of learning.
According to Gardner, an intelligence is "a biopsychological potential
to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to
solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture."
Many of Gardner's "intelligences" correlate with the g factor,
supporting the idea of a single, dominant type of intelligence.
According to a 2006 study, each of the domains proposed by Gardner
involved a blend of g, cognitive abilities other than g, and, in some
cases, non-cognitive abilities or personality characteristics.
1.1 Musical-rhythmic and harmonic
1.10 Additional intelligences
2 Critical reception
2.1 Definition of intelligence
2.2 Neo-Piagetian criticism
2.3 IQ tests
2.4 Lack of empirical evidence
3 Use in education
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
Musical-rhythmic and harmonic
Main article: Musicality
This area has to do with sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones, and
music. People with a high musical intelligence normally have good
pitch and may even have absolute pitch, and are able to sing, play
musical instruments, and compose music. They have sensitivity to
rhythm, pitch, meter, tone, melody or timbre.
Main article: Spatial intelligence (psychology)
This area deals with spatial judgment and the ability to visualize
with the mind's eye. Spatial ability is one of the three factors
beneath g in the hierarchical model of intelligence.
Main article: Linguistic intelligence
People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility
with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing,
telling stories and memorizing words along with dates. Verbal
ability is one of the most g-loaded abilities. This type of
intelligence is measured with the
Verbal IQ in WAIS-IV.
Further information: Reason
This area has to do with logic, abstractions, reasoning, numbers and
critical thinking. This also has to do with having the capacity to
understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system.
Logical reasoning is closely linked to fluid intelligence and to
general intelligence (g factor).
Gross motor skill
Gross motor skill and Fine motor skill
The core elements of the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are control
of one's bodily motions and the capacity to handle objects
skillfully. Gardner elaborates to say that this also includes a
sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along
with the ability to train responses.
People who have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence should be
generally good at physical activities such as sports, dance, acting,
and making things.
Gardner believes that careers that suit those with high
bodily-kinesthetic intelligence include: athletes, dancers, musicians,
actors, builders, police officers, and soldiers. Although these
careers can be duplicated through virtual simulation, they will not
produce the actual physical learning that is needed in this
Main article: Social skills
In theory, individuals who have high interpersonal intelligence are
characterized by their sensitivity to others' moods, feelings,
temperaments, motivations, and their ability to cooperate in order to
work as part of a group. According to Gardner in How Are Kids Smart:
Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, "Inter- and Intra- personal
intelligence is often misunderstood with being extroverted or liking
other people..." Those with high interpersonal intelligence
communicate effectively and empathize easily with others, and may be
either leaders or followers. They often enjoy discussion and debate."
Gardner has equated this with emotional intelligence of Goleman.
Gardner believes that careers that suit those with high interpersonal
intelligence include sales persons, politicians, managers, teachers,
lecturers, counselors and social workers.
Further information: Introspection
This area has to do with introspective and self-reflective capacities.
This refers to having a deep understanding of the self; what one's
strengths or weaknesses are, what makes one unique, being able to
predict one's own reactions or emotions.
Not part of Gardner's original seven, naturalistic intelligence was
proposed by him in 1995. "If I were to rewrite Frames of Mind today, I
would probably add an eighth intelligence - the intelligence of the
naturalist. It seems to me that the individual who is readily able to
recognize flora and fauna, to make other consequential distinctions in
the natural world, and to use this ability productively (in hunting,
in farming, in biological science) is exercising an important
intelligence and one that is not adequately encompassed in the current
list." This area has to do with nurturing and relating information
to one's natural surroundings. Examples include classifying natural
forms such as animal and plant species and rocks and mountain types.
This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters,
gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as
botanist or chef.
This sort of ecological receptiveness is deeply rooted in a
"sensitive, ethical, and holistic understanding" of the world and its
complexities – including the role of humanity within the greater
Main article: Spiritual intelligence
Gardner did not want to commit to a spiritual intelligence, but
suggested that an "existential" intelligence may be a useful
construct, also proposed after the original 7 in his 1999 book.
The hypothesis of an existential intelligence has been further
explored by educational researchers.
On January 13, 2016, Gardner mentioned in an interview with BigThink
that he is considering adding the teaching-pedagogical intelligence
"which allows us to be able to teach successfully to other
people". In the same interview, he explicitly refused some other
suggested intelligences like humour, cooking and sexual
Gardner argues that there is a wide range of cognitive abilities, but
that there are only very weak correlations among them. For example,
the theory postulates that a child who learns to multiply easily is
not necessarily more intelligent than a child who has more difficulty
on this task. The child who takes more time to master multiplication
may best learn to multiply through a different approach, may excel in
a field outside mathematics, or may be looking at and understanding
the multiplication process at a fundamentally deeper level.
Intelligence tests and psychometrics have generally found high
correlations between different aspects of intelligence, rather than
the low correlations which Gardner's theory predicts, supporting the
prevailing theory of general intelligence rather than multiple
intelligences (MI). The theory has been criticized by mainstream
psychology for its lack of empirical evidence, and its dependence on
subjective judgement. However research by Dweck (2006),
referred to as Growth Mindset Theory, shows that individuals with low
correlations can attain also high correlations through intelligence
growth. This challenges the notion of fixed or static intelligence
levels that general intelligence tests measure. More importantly, it
challenges the notion that intelligence test scores are an accurate
predictor for future ability.
Definition of intelligence
One major criticism of the theory is that it is ad hoc: that Gardner
is not expanding the definition of the word "intelligence", but rather
denies the existence of intelligence as traditionally understood, and
instead uses the word "intelligence" where other people have
traditionally used words like "ability" and "aptitude". This practice
has been criticized by Robert J. Sternberg, Eysenck, and
Scarr. White (2006) points out that Gardner's selection and
application of criteria for his "intelligences" is subjective and
arbitrary, and that a different researcher would likely have come up
with different criteria.
Defenders of MI theory argue that the traditional definition of
intelligence is too narrow, and thus a broader definition more
accurately reflects the differing ways in which humans think and
Some criticisms arise from the fact that Gardner has not provided a
test of his multiple intelligences. He originally defined it as the
ability to solve problems that have value in at least one culture, or
as something that a student is interested in. He then added a
disclaimer that he has no fixed definition, and his classification is
more of an artistic judgment than fact:
Ultimately, it would certainly be desirable to have an algorithm for
the selection of an intelligence, such that any trained researcher
could determine whether a candidate's intelligence met the appropriate
criteria. At present, however, it must be admitted that the selection
(or rejection) of a candidate's intelligence is reminiscent more of an
artistic judgment than of a scientific assessment.
Generally, linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities are called
intelligences, but artistic, musical, athletic, etc. abilities are
not. Gardner argues this causes the former to be needlessly
aggrandized. Certain critics are wary of this widening of the
definition, saying that it ignores "the connotation of
intelligence ... [which] has always connoted the kind of thinking
skills that makes one successful in school."
Gardner writes "I balk at the unwarranted assumption that certain
human abilities can be arbitrarily singled out as intelligence while
others cannot." Critics hold that given this statement, any
interest or ability can be redefined as "intelligence". Thus, studying
intelligence becomes difficult, because it diffuses into the broader
concept of ability or talent. Gardner's addition of the naturalistic
intelligence and conceptions of the existential and moral
intelligences are seen as the fruits of this diffusion. Defenders of
the MI theory would argue that this is simply a recognition of the
broad scope of inherent mental abilities, and that such an exhaustive
scope by nature defies a one-dimensional classification such as an IQ
The theory and definitions have been critiqued by Perry D. Klein as
being so unclear as to be tautologous and thus unfalsifiable. Having a
high musical ability means being good at music while at the same time
being good at music is explained by having a high musical ability.
Andreas Demetriou suggests that theories which overemphasize the
autonomy of the domains are as simplistic as the theories that
overemphasize the role of general intelligence and ignore the domains.
He agrees with Gardner that there are indeed domains of intelligence
that are relevantly autonomous of each other. Some of the domains,
such as verbal, spatial, mathematical, and social intelligence are
identified by most lines of research in psychology. In Demetriou's
theory, one of the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development,
Gardner is criticized for underestimating the effects exerted on the
various domains of intelligences by the various subprocesses that
define overall processing efficiency, such as speed of processing,
executive functions, working memory, and meta-cognitive processes
underlying self-awareness and self-regulation. All of these processes
are integral components of general intelligence that regulate the
functioning and development of different domains of intelligence.
The domains are to a large extent expressions of the condition of the
general processes, and may vary because of their constitutional
differences but also differences in individual preferences and
inclinations. Their functioning both channels and influences the
operation of the general processes. Thus, one cannot
satisfactorily specify the intelligence of an individual or design
effective intervention programs unless both the general processes and
the domains of interest are evaluated.
Gardner argues that IQ tests only measure linguistic and
logical-mathematical abilities. He argues the importance of assessing
in an "intelligence-fair" manner. While traditional paper-and-pen
examinations favor linguistic and logical skills, there is a need for
intelligence-fair measures that value the distinct modalities of
thinking and learning that uniquely define each intelligence.
Alan S. Kaufman points out that IQ tests have measured
spatial abilities for 70 years. Modern IQ tests are greatly
influenced by the
Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory which incorporates a
general intelligence but also many more narrow abilities. While IQ
tests do give an overall IQ score, they now also give scores for many
more narrow abilities.
Lack of empirical evidence
According to a 2006 study many of Gardner's "intelligences" correlate
with the g factor, supporting the idea of a single dominant type of
intelligence. According to the study, each of the domains proposed by
Gardner involved a blend of g, of cognitive abilities other than g,
and, in some cases, of non-cognitive abilities or of personality
Linda Gottfredson (2006) has argued that thousands of studies support
the importance of intelligence quotient (IQ) in predicting school and
job performance, and numerous other life outcomes. In contrast,
empirical support for non-g intelligences is either lacking or very
poor. She argued that despite this the ideas of multiple non-g
intelligences are very attractive to many due to the suggestion that
everyone can be smart in some way.
A critical review of MI theory argues that there is little empirical
evidence to support it:
To date, there have been no published studies that offer evidence of
the validity of the multiple intelligences. In 1994 Sternberg reported
finding no empirical studies. In 2000 Allix reported finding no
empirical validating studies, and at that time Gardner and Connell
conceded that there was "little hard evidence for MI theory" (2000, p.
292). In 2004 Sternberg and Grigerenko stated that there were no
validating studies for multiple intelligences, and in 2004 Gardner
asserted that he would be "delighted were such evidence to
accrue", and admitted that "MI theory has few enthusiasts among
psychometricians or others of a traditional psychological background"
because they require "psychometric or experimental evidence that
allows one to prove the existence of the several
The same review presents evidence to demonstrate that cognitive
neuroscience research does not support the theory of multiple
... the human brain is unlikely to function via Gardner's multiple
intelligences. Taken together the evidence for the intercorrelations
of subskills of IQ measures, the evidence for a shared set of genes
associated with mathematics, reading, and g, and the evidence for
shared and overlapping "what is it?" and "where is it?" neural
processing pathways, and shared neural pathways for language, music,
motor skills, and emotions suggest that it is unlikely that each of
Gardner's intelligences could operate "via a different set of neural
mechanisms" (1999, p. 99). Equally important, the evidence for the
"what is it?" and "where is it?" processing pathways, for Kahneman's
two decision-making systems, and for adapted cognition modules
suggests that these cognitive brain specializations have evolved to
address very specific problems in our environment. Because Gardner
claimed that the intelligences are innate potentialities related to a
general content area, MI theory lacks a rationale for the phylogenetic
emergence of the intelligences.
The theory of multiple intelligences is sometimes cited as an example
of pseudoscience because it lacks empirical evidence or
falsifiability, though Gardner has argued otherwise.
Use in education
Gardner defines an intelligence as "bio-psychological potential to
process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to
solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture."
According to Gardner, there are more ways to do this than just through
logical and linguistic intelligence. Gardner believes that the purpose
of schooling "should be to develop intelligences and to help people
reach vocational and avocational goals that are appropriate to their
particular spectrum of intelligences. People who are helped to do so,
[he] believe[s], feel more engaged and competent and therefore more
inclined to serve society in a constructive way."[a]
Gardner contends that IQ tests focus mostly on logical and linguistic
intelligence. Upon doing well on these tests, the chances of attending
a prestigious college or university increase, which in turn creates
contributing members of society. While many students function well
in this environment, there are those who do not. Gardner's theory
argues that students will be better served by a broader vision of
education, wherein teachers use different methodologies, exercises and
activities to reach all students, not just those who excel at
linguistic and logical intelligence. It challenges educators to find
"ways that will work for this student learning this topic".
James Traub's article in
The New Republic
The New Republic notes that Gardner's system
has not been accepted by most academics in intelligence or
teaching. Gardner states that "while Multiple Intelligences theory
is consistent with much empirical evidence, it has not been subjected
to strong experimental tests ... Within the area of education,
the applications of the theory are currently being examined in many
projects. Our hunches will have to be revised many times in light of
actual classroom experience."
Jerome Bruner agreed with Gardner that the intelligences were "useful
fictions," and went on to state that "his approach is so far beyond
the data-crunching of mental testers that it deserves to be
George Miller, a prominent cognitive psychologist, wrote in The New
York Times Book Review that Gardner's argument consisted of "hunch and
opinion" and Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein in The Bell
Curve (1994) called Gardner's theory "uniquely devoid of psychometric
or other quantitative evidence."
In spite of its lack of general acceptance in the psychological
community, Gardner's theory has been adopted by many schools, where it
is often conflated with learning styles, and hundreds of books
have been written about its applications in education. Some of the
applications of Gardner's theory have been described as "simplistic"
and Gardner himself has said he is "uneasy" with the way his theory
has been used in schools. Gardner has denied that multiple
intelligences are learning styles and agrees that the idea of learning
styles is incoherent and lacking in empirical evidence. Gardner
summarizes his approach with three recommendations for educators:
individualize the teaching style (to suit the most effective method
for each student), pluralize the teaching (teach important materials
in multiple ways), and avoid the term "styles" as being confusing.
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Library resources about
Theory of multiple intelligences
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Multiple Intelligences Oasis, Howard Gardner's official website for MI
Multiple Intelligences, Future Minds and Educating The App Generation:
A discussion with Dr Howard Gardner, Bridging the Gaps: A
Human intelligence topics
Fluid and crystallized intelligence
Models and theories
Fluid and crystallized intelligence
Areas of research
Evolution of human intelligence
Heritability of IQ
Intelligence and environment / health / longevity /
neuroscience / race
Outline of human intelligence