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Multiple Intelligences Theory:

Julie Wise

"It's not how smart you are that matters, what really counts is how you are smart."

~ Howard Gardner

Have you ever sat in a class where you thought to yourself how much more you would get out of it if the teacher would incorporate something visual along with his/her lecture? Is the instructor aware that you may learn more effectively by looking at visuals rather than simply listening to him/her lecture for an hour? Or maybe it would help if you could physically create something in order to understand the subject that was being discussed? What is your primary intelligence? Let's find out: (click here). How can the knowledge of your personal learning style help you to become more knowledgeable? Can you utilize this knowledge both in and out of the classroom? Whatever your personal learning style is, chances are that it is part of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory.

Howard Gardner, Ph.D is the founding father of the Multiple Intelligences Theory. Formerly a Senior Co-Director of Harvard University's Project Zero, Howard Gardner's proposed his theory of multiple intelligences in his 1983 book, Frames of Mind. Project Zero, established at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education in 1967, continues to "help create communities of reflective, self-directed learners, to encourage the pursuit of deep understanding within and across disciplines, and to promote critical and creative thinking" (9).

Gardner's pluralistic view of intelligence suggests that all people possess at least eight different intelligences that operate in varying degrees depending upon each individual. The seven primary intelligences identified by Gardner include linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence. The eighth, Naturalistic intelligence, was not part of Gardner's original framework but was added in 1996 to include those who excel in the realm of natural science. The general characteristics associated with each of these intelligences are described below.


Linguistic intelligence - refers to an individual's capacity to use language effectively as a means of expression and communication through the written or spoken word (Examples: poets, writers, orators, and comedians. Some famous examples include: Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman).

Logical-Mathematical intelligence - refers to an individual's ability to recognize relationships and patterns between concepts and things, to think logically, to calculate numbers, and to solve problems scientifically and systematically. (Examples: mathematicians, economists, lawyers and scientists. Some famous examples include: Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, and John Dewey).

Visual -Spatial intelligence - refers to the capability to think in images and orient oneself spatially. In addition, spatially intelligent people are able to graphically represent their visual and spatial ideas (Examples: artists, decorators, architects, pilots, sailors, surveyors, inventors, and guides. Some famous examples include: Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Leonardo DaVinci).

Musical intelligence - refers to the capacity to appreciate a variety of musical forms as well as being able to use music as a vehicle of expression. Musically intelligent people are perceptive to elements of rhythm, melody, and pitch (Examples: singers, musicians, and composers. Some famous examples include: Mozart, Julie Andrews, Andrea Boccelli and Leonard Bernstein).

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence - refers to the capacity of using one's own body skillfully as a means of expression or to work with one's body to create or manipulate objects (Examples: dancers, actors, athletes, sculptors, surgeons, mechanics, and craftspeople. Some famous examples include: Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, and Mikhail Baryshnikov).

Interpersonal (Social) intelligence - refers to the capacity to appropriately and effectively communicate with and respond to other people. The ability to work cooperatively with others and understand their feelings (Examples: sales people, politicians, religious leaders, talk show hosts, etc. Some famous examples include: Bill Clinton, Ghandi, Oprah Winfrey).

Intrapersonal intelligence - refers to the capacity to accurately know one's self, including knowledge of one's own strengths, motivations, goals, and feelings. To be capable of self-reflection and to be introverted and contemplative are also traits held by persons with Intrapersonal intelligence. (Examples: entrepreneurs, therapists, philosophers, etc. Some famous examples include: Freud, Bill Gates, and Plato).

Naturalistic intelligence - refers to the ability to identify and classify the components that make up our environment. This intelligence would have been especially apt during the evolution of the human race in individuals who served as hunters, gatherers, and farmers. (Examples: botanists, farmers, etc. Some famous examples include: Charles Darwin, E.O. Wilson).

How is intelligence defined? According to Howard Gardner, intelligence "refers to the human ability to solve problems or to make something that is valued in one or more cultures. As long as we can find a culture that values an ability to solve a problem or create a product in a particular way, then I would strongly consider whether that ability should be considered an intelligence" (10). There has been discussion about adding a ninth intelligence that would highlight Spiritual or Existential intelligence ?"" (2) but Gardner has not solidified this as part of the list because of the lack of sufficient neurological evidence ?"" (10). One of the components of Gardner's definition of intelligence is that there be a particular representation for that ability in the brain. Gardner's theory of multiple intelligence radically altered the global community's view of human intelligence. The standard view of intelligence has been that intelligence is something you are born with; you only have a finite amount of it and there are tests that tell you how smart you are. "The theory of multiple intelligences challenges that view. It asks, instead, "Given what we know about the brain, evolution, and the differences in cultures, what are the sets of human abilities we all share?"" (10). An interesting sidebar is that not everyone is strong in the same areas. Just as we look different on the outside, internally we learn differently.

Prior to his proposal, schools were predominantly emphasizing two of the eight intelligences cited by Gardner - the Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical. If we consider the traditional teaching styles practiced in the classroom and the tests that are given to measure the knowledge gained by an individual student, it is clear that those students who are naturally strong in the Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical intelligences will perform well on standardized tests. It is reasonable to assume also that those students who do well on such tests will perform well overall in school because the tools used (logically constructed text books) and the mode by which they are taught to students (mainly lecture) are geared toward the two previously mentioned intelligences : (2). To assume that all children - individuals - are the same would be to deny a huge segment of the population a proper education. It's great for those who are part of the Linguistic and/or Logical intelligences but detrimental to those who are not. The fervor with which educators embraced his premise that we have multiple intelligences surprised even Gardner himself. "It obviously spoke to some sense that people had that kids weren't all the same and that the tests we had only skimmed the surface about the differences among kids," Gardner said (10). In terms of IQ and measuring IQ with standardized tests, those tests were designed to weed out individuals who would perform poorly in school. Tests, it should be added, that only measure Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, and occasionally spatial abilities, do not allow for the quantification of a person's creativity for example or any other strength of their character. What about the SAT's then? Do they not mimic that same closed-mindedness that Gardner cites as the flaw in IQ tests? Do the SAT's really predict one's success in college? Is a high IQ result a good predictor of success in life? Does it correlate with one's level of happiness, of economic success, of success in relationships? No, not necessarily. Gardner's theory and its implications within the realm of education certainly help to explain why some people are better at certain things than others. An interesting offspring of Gardner's theory is the exploration of the role that an individual's environment has in his/her success and or survival in that environment. If, for example, an individual grew up in the wilderness without significant bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, that facet of intelligence would either have to be developed or that individual may not survive. Is IQ inherent or acquired and developed? Gardner's theory allows room for development of the various intelligences through biological and social means. He stresses the need for a combination of the eight intelligences so that each individual may learn about and understand the world around them. Gardner says, "What I argue against is the notion that there's only one way to learn how to read, only one way to learn how to compute, only one way to learn about biology. I think that such contentions are nonsense" (10).

When asked in an interview how he started thinking about multiple intelligences, Gardner replied that, "the most important influence was actually learning about brain damage and what could happen to people when they had strokes. When a person has a stroke, a certain part of the brain gets injured, and that injury can tell you what that part of the brain does. Individuals who lose their musical abilities can still talk. People who lose their linguistic ability still might be able to sing. That understanding not only brought me into the whole world of brain study, but it was really the seed that led ultimately to the theory of multiple intelligences. As long as you can lose one ability while others are spared, you cannot just have a single intelligence. You have to have several intelligences" (10).

Intelligence remains a primary attribute of the human race and Gardner's views shed light not only on social constructions but also on theories of biological survival within the human race. We will undoubtedly use these insights, along with advancements in the studies of neuroscience to better understand the world around us and our role in that world.

WWW Sources

1) Multiple Intelligences Self Test

2) Exploring The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Accelerated Learning Network

3) Exploring Multiple Ingelligences

4) Developing Higher Order Thinking Skills and Multiple Intelligences

5) Resources in Teaching: Introduction to Multiple Intelligence Theory


7)The Building Tool Room

8) Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles

9)Harvard Project Zero

10) Teaching for Multiple Intelligences

11) The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences

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