Almost 80 years after the first intelligence tests were developed, a Harvard psychologist named Howard Gardner challenged this commonly held belief. Saying that our culture had defined intelligence too narrowly, he proposed in the book Frames of Mind (Gardner, 1993a) the existence of at least seven basic intelligences. More recently, he has added an eighth and discussed the possibility of a ninth (Gardner, 1999). In his theory of multiple intelligences (MI theory), Gardner sought to broaden the scope of human potential beyond the confines of the IQ score. He seriously questioned the validity of determining intelligence through the practice of taking individuals out of their natural learning environment and asking them to do isolated tasks they'd never done before—and probably would never choose to do again. Instead, Gardner suggested that intelligence has more to do with the capacity for (1) solving problems and (2) fashioning products in a context-rich and naturalistic setting.
The Eight Intelligences Described
Once this broader and more pragmatic perspective was taken, the concept of intelligence began to lose its mystique and became a functional concept that could be seen working in people's lives in a variety of ways. Gardner provided a means of mapping the broad range of abilities that humans possess by grouping their capabilities into the following eight comprehensive categories or "intelligences":
Linguistic: The capacity to use words effectively, whether orally (e.g., as a storyteller, orator, or politician) or in writing (e.g., as a poet, playwright, editor, or journalist). This intelligence includes the ability to manipulate the syntax or structure of language, the phonology or sounds of language, the semantics or meanings of language, and the pragmatic dimensions or practical uses of language. Some of these uses include rhetoric (using language to convince others to take a specific course of action), mnemonics (using language to remember information), explanation (using language to inform), and metalanguage (using language to talk about itself).
Logical-mathematical: The capacity to use numbers effectively (e.g., as a mathematician, tax accountant, or statistician) and to reason well (e.g., as a scientist, computer programmer, or logician). This intelligence includes sensitivity to logical patterns and relationships, statements and propositions (if-then, cause-effect), functions, and other related abstractions. The kinds of processes used in the service of logical-mathematical intelligence include categorization, classification, inference, generalization, calculation, and hypothesis testing.
Spatial: The ability to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately (e.g., as a hunter, scout, or guide) and to perform transformations upon those perceptions (e.g., as an interior decorator, architect, artist, or inventor). This intelligence involves sensitivity to color, line, shape, form, space, and the relationships that exist between these elements. It includes the capacity to visualize, to graphically represent visual or spatial ideas, and to orient oneself appropriately in a spatial matrix.
Bodily-kinesthetic: Expertise in using one's whole body to express ideas and feelings (e.g., as an actor, a mime, an athlete, or a dancer) and facility in using one's hands to produce or transform things (e.g., as a craftsperson, sculptor, mechanic, or surgeon). This intelligence includes specific physical skills such as coordination, balance, dexterity, strength, flexibility, and speed, as well as proprioceptive, tactile, and haptic capacities.
Musical: The capacity to perceive (e.g., as a music aficionado), discriminate (e.g., as a music critic), transform (e.g., as a composer), and express (e.g., as a performer) musical forms. This intelligence includes sensitivity to the rhythm, pitch or melody, and timbre or tone color of a musical piece. One can have a figural or "top-down" understanding of music (global, intuitive), a formal or "bottom-up" understanding (analytic, technical), or both.
Interpersonal: The ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people. This can include sensitivity to facial expressions, voice, and gestures; the capacity for discriminating among many different kinds of interpersonal cues; and the ability to respond effectively to those cues in some pragmatic way (e.g., to influence a group of people to follow a certain line of action).
Intrapersonal: Self-knowledge and the ability to act adaptively on the basis of that knowledge. This intelligence includes having an accurate picture of oneself (one's strengths and limitations); awareness of inner moods, intentions, motivations, temperaments, and desires; and the capacity for self-discipline, self-understanding, and self-esteem.
Naturalist: Expertise in the recognition and classification of the numerous species—the flora and fauna—of an individual's environment. This also includes sensitivity to other natural phenomena (e.g., cloud formations, mountains, etc.) and, in the case of those growing up in an urban environment, the capacity to discriminate among inanimate objects such as cars, sneakers, and CD covers.
The Theoretical Basis for MI Theory
Many people look at the above categories—particularly musical, spatial, and bodily-kinesthetic—and wonder why Howard Gardner insists on calling them intelligences rather than talents or aptitudes. Gardner realized that people are used to hearing expressions like "He's not very intelligent, but he has a wonderful aptitude for music"; thus, he was quite conscious of his use of the word intelligence to describe each category. He said in an interview, "I'm deliberately being somewhat provocative. If I'd said that there's seven kinds of competencies, people would yawn and say 'Yeah, yeah.' But by calling them 'intelligences,' I'm saying that we've tended to put on a pedestal one variety called intelligence, and there's actually a plurality of them, and some are things we've never thought about as being 'intelligence' at all" (Weinreich-Haste, 1985, p. 48). To provide a sound theoretical foundation for his claims, Gardner set up certain basic "tests" that each intelligence had to meet to be considered a full-fledged intelligence and not simply a talent, skill, or aptitude. The criteria he used include the following eight factors:
- Potential isolation by brain damage
- The existence of savants, prodigies, and other exceptional individuals
- A distinctive developmental history and a definable set of expert "end-state" performances
- An evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility
- Support from psychometric findings
- Support from experimental psychological tasks
- An identifiable core operation or set of operations
- Susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system
Potential Isolation by Brain Damage
At the Boston Veterans Administration, Gardner worked with individuals who had suffered accidents or illnesses that affected specific areas of the brain. In several cases, brain lesions seemed to have selectively impaired one intelligence while leaving all the other intelligences intact. For example, a person with a lesion in Broca's area (left frontal lobe) might have a substantial portion of his linguistic intelligence damaged and thus experience great difficulty speaking, reading, and writing. Yet he might still be able to sing, do math, dance, reflect on feelings, and relate to others. A person with a lesion in the temporal lobe of the right hemisphere might have her musical capacities selectively impaired, while frontal lobe lesions might primarily affect the personal intelligences.
Gardner, then, is arguing for the existence of eight relatively autonomous brain systems—a more sophisticated and updated version of the "right-brain/left-brain" model of learning that was popular in the 1970s. Figure 1.1 shows the brain structures for each intelligence.
Figure 1.1. MI Theory Summary Chart
The Existence of Savants, Prodigies, and Other Exceptional Individuals
Gardner suggests that in some people we can see single intelligences operating at high levels, much like huge mountains rising up against the backdrop of a flat horizon. Savants are individuals who demonstrate superior abilities in part of one intelligence while one or more of their other intelligences function at a low level. They seem to exist for each of the eight intelligences. For instance, in the movie Rain Man (which is based on a true story), Dustin Hoffman plays the role of Raymond, a logical-mathematical autistic savant. Raymond rapidly calculates multidigit numbers in his head and does other amazing mathematical feats, yet he has poor peer relationships, low language functioning, and a lack of insight into his own life. There are also savants who draw exceptionally well, savants who have amazing musical memories (e.g., playing a composition after hearing it only one time), savants who read complex material yet don't comprehend what they're reading (hyperlexics), and savants who have exceptional sensitivity to nature or animals (see Grandin & Johnson, 2006, and Sacks, 1995).
A Distinctive Developmental History and a Definable Set of Expert "End-State" Performances
Gardner suggests that intelligences are galvanized by participation in some kind of culturally valued activity and that the individual's growth in such an activity follows a developmental pattern. Each intelligence-based activity has its own developmental trajectory; that is, each activity has its own time of arising in early childhood, its own time of peaking during one's lifetime, and its own pattern of either rapidly or gradually declining as one gets older. Musical composition, for example, seems to be among the earliest culturally valued activities to develop to a high level of proficiency: Mozart was only 4 years old when he began to compose. Numerous composers and performers have been active well into their 80s and 90s, so expertise in musical composition also seems to remain relatively robust into old age.
Higher mathematical expertise appears to have a somewhat different trajectory. It doesn't emerge as early as music composition ability (4-year-olds do not create new logical principles), but it does peak relatively early in life. Many great mathematical and scientific ideas were developed by teenagers such as Blaise Pascal and Karl Friedrich Gauss. In fact, a review of the history of mathematical ideas suggests that few original mathematical insights come to people past the age of 40. Once people reach this age, they're considered over the hill as higher mathematicians! Most of us can breathe a sigh of relief, however, because this decline generally does not seem to affect more pragmatic skills such as balancing a checkbook.
One can become a successful novelist at age 40, 50, or even later. Nobel Prize–winner in literature Toni Morrison didn't publish her first novel until she was 39. One can even be over 75 and choose to become a painter: Grandma Moses did. Gardner points out that we need to use several different developmental maps in order to understand the eight intelligences. Piaget provides a comprehensive map for logical-mathematical intelligence, but we may need to go to Erik Erikson for a map of the development of the personal intelligences, and to Noam Chomsky or Lev Vygotsky for developmental models of linguistic intelligence. Figure 1.1 includes a summary of developmental trajectories for each intelligence.
Gardner (1993b) points out that we can best see the intelligences working at their zenith by studying the "end-states" of intelligences in the lives of truly exceptional individuals. For example, we can see musical intelligence at work by studying Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, the naturalist intelligence through Darwin's theory of evolution, or spatial intelligence via Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings. Figure 1.1 includes examples of end-states for each intelligence.
An Evolutionary History and Evolutionary Plausibility
Gardner concludes that each of the eight intelligences meets the test of having its roots deeply embedded in the evolution of human beings and, even earlier, in the evolution of other species. So, for example, spatial intelligence can be studied in the cave drawings of Lascaux, as well as in the way certain insects orient themselves in space while tracking flowers. Similarly, musical intelligence can be traced back to archaeological evidence of early musical instruments, as well as through the wide variety of bird songs. Figure 1.1 includes notes on the evolutionary origins of the intelligences.
MI theory also has a historical context. Certain intelligences seem to have been more important in earlier times than they are today. Naturalist and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, for example, were probably valued more 100 years ago in the United States, when a majority of the population lived in rural settings and the ability to hunt, harvest grain, and build silos had strong social approbation. Similarly, certain intelligences may become more important in the future. As more and more people receive their information from films, television, DVDs, and online sources, the value placed on having a strong spatial intelligence may increase. Similarly, there is now a growing need for individuals who have expertise in the naturalist intelligence to help protect endangered ecosystems. Figure 1.1 notes some of the historical factors that have influenced the perceived value of each intelligence.
Support from Psychometric Findings
Standardized measures of human ability provide the "test" that most theories of intelligence (as well as many learning-style theories) use to ascertain the validity of a model. Although Gardner is no champion of standardized tests, and in fact has been an ardent supporter of alternatives to formal testing (see Chapter 10), he suggests that we can look at many existing standardized tests for support of the theory of multiple intelligences (although Gardner would point out that standardized tests assess multiple intelligences in a strikingly decontextualized fashion). For example, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children includes subtests that require linguistic intelligence (e.g., information, vocabulary), logical-mathematical intelligence (e.g., arithmetic), spatial intelligence (e.g., picture arrangement), and to a lesser extent bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (e.g., object assembly). Still other assessments tap personal intelligences (e.g., the Vineland Society Maturity Scale and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory). Chapter 3 includes a survey of the types of formal tests associated with each of the eight intelligences.
Support from Experimental Psychological Tasks
Gardner suggests that by looking at specific psychological studies, we can witness intelligences working in isolation from one another. For example, in studies where subjects master a specific skill, such as reading, but fail to transfer that ability to another area, such as mathematics, we see the failure of linguistic ability to transfer to logical-mathematical intelligence. Similarly, in studies of cognitive abilities such as memory, perception, or attention, we can see evidence that individuals possess selective abilities. Certain individuals, for instance, may have a superior memory for words but not for faces; others may have acute perception of musical sounds but not verbal sounds. Each of these cognitive faculties, then, is intelligence-specific; that is, people can demonstrate different levels of proficiency across the eight intelligences in each cognitive area.
An Identifiable Core Operation or Set of Operations
Gardner says that much as a computer program requires a set of operations (e.g., DOS) in order for it to function, each intelligence has a set of core operations that serve to drive the various activities indigenous to that intelligence. In musical intelligence, for example, those components may include sensitivity to pitch or the ability to discriminate among various rhythmic structures. In bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, core operations may include the ability to imitate the physical movements of others or the capacity to master established fine-motor routines for building a structure. Gardner speculates that these core operations may someday be identified with such precision as to be simulated on a computer.
Susceptibility to Encoding in a Symbol System
According to Gardner, one of the best indicators of intelligent behavior is the ability to use symbols. The word "cat" that appears here on the page is simply a collection of marks printed in a specific way, yet it probably conjures up for you an entire range of associations, images, and memories. What has occurred is the bringing to the present ("re-present-ation") of something that is not actually here. Gardner suggests that the ability to symbolize is one of the most important factors separating humans from most other species. He notes that each of the eight intelligences in his theory meets the criterion of being able to be symbolized. Each intelligence, in fact, has its own unique symbol or notational systems. For linguistic intelligence, there are a number of spoken and written languages such as English, French, and Spanish. For spatial intelligence, there is a range of graphic languages used by architects, engineers, and designers, as well as certain partially ideographic languages such as Chinese. Figure 1.1 includes examples of symbol systems for all eight intelligences.
Key Points in MI Theory
Beyond the descriptions of the eight intelligences and their theoretical underpinnings, certain points of the MI model are important to remember:
Each person possesses all eight intelligences. MI theory is not a "type theory" for determining the one intelligence that fits. It is a theory of cognitive functioning, and it proposes that each person has capacities in all eight intelligences. Of course, the eight intelligences function together in ways unique to each person. Some people appear to possess extremely high levels of functioning in all or most of the eight intelligences—for example, German poet-statesman-scientist-naturalist-philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Other people, such as certain severely impaired individuals in institutions for the developmentally disabled, appear to lack all but the most rudimentary aspects of the intelligences. Most of us fall somewhere in between these two poles—being highly developed in some intelligences, modestly developed in others, and relatively underdeveloped in the rest.
Most people can develop each intelligence to an adequate level of competency. Although individuals may bewail their deficiencies in a given area and consider their problems innate and intractable, Gardner suggests that virtually everyone has the capacity to develop all eight intelligences to a reasonably high level of performance if given the appropriate encouragement, enrichment, and instruction. He points to the Suzuki Talent Education Program as an example of how individuals of relatively modest biological musical endowment can achieve a sophisticated level of proficiency in playing the violin or piano through a combination of the right environmental influences (e.g., an involved parent, exposure from infancy to classical music, and early instruction). Such educational models can be found in other intelligences as well (see, for example, Edwards, 1989, for a method that improves one's spatial abilities through drawing).
Intelligences usually work together in complex ways. Gardner points out that each intelligence as described above is actually a "fiction"; that is, no intelligence exists by itself in life (except perhaps in very rare instances in savants and brain-injured individuals). Intelligences are always interacting with each other. To cook a meal, one must read the recipe (linguistic), perhaps double the recipe (logical-mathematical), develop a menu that satisfies all members of the family (interpersonal), and placate one's own appetite as well (intrapersonal). Similarly, when a child plays a game of kickball, she needs bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (to run, kick, and catch), spatial intelligence (to orient herself to the playing field and to anticipate the trajectories of flying balls), and linguistic and interpersonal intelligences (to successfully argue a point during a dispute in the game). The intelligences have been taken out of context in MI theory only for the purpose of examining their essential features and learning how to use them effectively. We must always remember to put them back into their specific culturally valued contexts when we are finished with their formal study.
There are many ways to be intelligent within each category. There is no standard set of attributes that one must have to be considered intelligent in a specific area. Consequently, a person may not be able to read, yet be highly linguistic because he can tell a terrific story or has a large oral vocabulary. Similarly, a person may be quite awkward on the playing field, yet possess superior bodily-kinesthetic intelligence when she weaves a carpet or creates an inlaid chess table. MI theory emphasizes the rich diversity of ways in which people show their gifts within intelligences as well as between
intelligences. (See Chapter 3 for more information on the varieties of attributes in each intelligence.)
The Existence of Other Intelligences
Gardner points out that his model is a tentative formulation; after further research and investigation, some of the intelligences on his list may not meet certain of the eight criteria described above and therefore may no longer qualify as intelligences. However, we may identify new intelligences that do meet the various tests. In fact, Gardner has acted on this belief by adding a new intelligence—the naturalist—after deciding that it fits each of the eight criteria. His consideration of a ninth intelligence—the existential—is also based upon its meeting most of the criteria (see Chapter 14 for a detailed discussion of the existential intelligence). Other intelligences that have been proposed by individuals other than Gardner include spirituality, moral sensibility, humor, intuition, creativity, culinary (cooking) ability, olfactory perception (sense of smell), an ability to synthesize the other intelligences, and mechanical ability. It remains to be seen whether these proposed intelligences can, in fact, meet each of the eight tests described above.
The Relationship of MI Theory to Other Intelligence Theories
Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is certainly not the first model to grapple with the notion of intelligence. There have been theories of intelligence since ancient times, when the mind was considered to reside somewhere in the heart, the liver, or the kidneys. In more recent times, theories of intelligence have emerged touting anywhere from 1 (Spearman's "g") to 150 (Guilford's Structure of the Intellect) types of intelligence.
A growing number of learning-style theories also deserve to be mentioned here. Gardner has sought to differentiate the theory of multiple intelligences from the concept of "learning style." He writes: "The concept of
style designates a general approach that an individual can apply equally to every conceivable content. In contrast, an intelligence is a capacity, with its component processes, that is geared to a specific content in the world (such as musical sounds or spatial patterns)" (Gardner, 1995, pp. 202–203). There is no clear evidence yet, according to Gardner, that a person highly developed in spatial intelligence, for example, will show that capacity in every aspect of his or her life (e.g., washing the car spatially, reflecting on ideas spatially, socializing spatially, etc.). He suggests that this task remains to be empirically investigated. (For an example of an attempt in this direction, see Silver, Strong, & Perini, 1997.)
Still, it is tempting to want to relate MI theory to any of a number of learning-style theories that have gained prominence in the past two decades, since learners expand their knowledge base by linking new information (in this case, MI theory) to existing schemes or models (the learning-style model with which they're most familiar). This task is not so easy, however, partly because of what we've suggested above and partly because MI theory has a different type of underlying structure than do many of the most current learning-style theories. MI theory is a cognitive model that seeks to describe how individuals use their intelligences to solve problems and fashion products. Unlike other models that are primarily process oriented, Gardner's approach is particularly geared to how the human mind operates on the contents of the world (e.g., objects, persons, numerical patterns, etc.). A seemingly related theory, the Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic model, is actually very different from MI theory, in that it is a sensory-channel model. (MI theory is not specifically tied to the senses; it is possible to be blind and have spatial intelligence or to be deaf and be quite musical—as is the case, for example, with the world-renowned percussionist Evelyn Glennie.) Another popular theory, the Myers-Briggs model, is actually a personality
theory based on Carl Jung's theoretical formulation of different types of personalities. To attempt to correlate MI theory with models like these is akin to comparing apples with oranges. Although we can identify relationships and connections, our efforts may resemble those of the blind men and the elephant: each model touching upon a different aspect of the whole learner.
For Further Study
- Form a study group on MI theory using Howard Gardner's seminal book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences—10th Anniversary Edition (1993a) as a text. Each member can be responsible for reading and reporting on a specific chapter. For an example of how a multiple intelligences school arose from such a study group, see Hoerr (2000).
- Use Gardner's comprehensive bibliography on MI theory found in his books Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice (2006) and
Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century (1999) as a basis for reading more widely about the model.
- Propose the existence of a new intelligence and apply Gardner's eight criteria to see if it qualifies for inclusion in MI theory.
- Collect examples of symbol systems in each intelligence. Robert McKim's book Experiences in Visual Thinking (1980) contains examples of several spatial "languages" used by designers, architects, artists, and inventors, and you can consult books on music history that provide examples of earlier systems of musical notation.
- Read about savants in each intelligence. Some of the footnoted entries in Gardner's Frames of Mind identify sources of information on savants in logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, linguistic, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences. In addition, the work of neurologist Oliver Sacks (1985, 1995) provides engagingly written case studies of savants and other individuals with specific brain damage that has affected their intelligences in intriguing ways.
- Relate MI theory to a learning-style model (e.g., V-A-K-T, Myers-Briggs, Dunn and Dunn, etc.).