Multiple Intelligences

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Unit 3: Multiple Intelligences

Multiple Intelligences


Is intelligence innate? Genetic? Fixed? Generally, this is how intelligence has been viewed - as a quantity. Recently, new views have emerged with enormous implications for education. This new perspective asserts that intelligence can be measured in different ways, that it grows, and it is more quality than quantity. It used to be that the question was asked: "Is she/he smart?" New questions now ask: "How is she/he smart?" The emphasis is on the various ways in which we demonstrate multiple intelligences, rather than a single intelligence.


Howard Gardner (born 1943) created a list of seven intelligences. The first two are ones that have been typically valued in schools; the next three are usually associated with the arts; and the final two are what Howard Gardner called "personal intelligences."


Linguistic Intelligence

Linguistic Intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically, and language as a means of remembering information. Writers, poets, lawyers, and speakers are among those that Howard Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.


Logical-mathematical Intelligence

Logical-mathematical Intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Howard Gardner's words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively, and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.


Musical Intelligence

Musical Intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. According to Howard Gardner, musical intelligence runs in an almost structural parallel to linguistic intelligence.


Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence

Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Students with this type of intelligence generally learn better when they can move around. They also enjoy physical activity, such as athletic pursuits or performing. They often learn by doing as opposed to reading or listening.

Spatial Intelligence

Spatial Intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas.


Interpersonal Intelligence

Interpersonal Intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations, and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders, and counselors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.


Intrapersonal Intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner's view, it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and being able to use such information to regulate our lives.


In his book Frames of Mind (1983), Howard Gardner treated the personal intelligences "as a piece." Because of their close association in most cultures, they are often linked together. However, he still argues that it makes sense to think of two forms of personal intelligence. Gardner claimed that the seven intelligences rarely operate independently. They are used at the same time and tend to complement each other as people develop skills or solve problems.

In essence, Howard Gardner makes two essential claims about multiple intelligences:


  1. The theory is an account of human cognition in its fullness. The intelligences provide "a new definition of human nature, cognitively speaking" (Gardner, 1999). Human beings are organisms who possess a basic set of intelligences.
  2. People have a unique blend of intelligences. Gardner argues that the big challenge facing the deployment of human resources "is how to best take advantage of the uniqueness conferred on us as a species exhibiting several intelligences."


Also, these intelligences, according to Howard Gardner, are amoral - they can be put to constructive or destructive use.


Additional Intelligences

Since Howard Gardner's original listing of the intelligences in Frames of Mind there has been a great deal of discussion as to other possible candidates for inclusion (or candidates for exclusion) - naturalistic intelligence (the ability of people to draw upon the resources and features of the environment to solve problems); spiritual intelligence (the ability of people to both access and use, practically, the resources available in somewhat less tangible, but nonetheless powerful lessons of the spirit); moral intelligence (the ability to access and use certain truths).


Emotional Intelligence

In a 1994 report on the current state of emotional literacy in the U.S., author Daniel Goleman stated:

... in navigating our lives, it is our fears and envies, our rages and depressions, our worries and anxieties that steer us day to day. Even the most academically brilliant among us are vulnerable to being undone by unruly emotions. The price we pay for emotional literacy is in failed marriages and troubled families, in stunted social and work lives, in deteriorating physical health and mental anguish and, as a society, in tragedies such as killings ...


Goleman attests that the best remedy for battling our emotional shortcomings is preventive medicine. In other words, we need to place as much importance on teaching our children the essential skills of Emotional Intelligence as we do on more traditional measures like IQ and GPA.


Exactly What Is Emotional Intelligence?

The term encompasses the following five characteristics and abilities:


  1. Self-awareness: knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they occur, and discriminating among them.
  2. Mood management: handling feelings so they're relevant to the current situation allowing you to react appropriately.
  3. Self-motivation: gathering up your feelings and directing yourself towards a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia, and impulsiveness.
  4. Empathy: recognizing feelings in others and tuning into their verbal and nonverbal cues.
  5. Managing relationships: handling interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution, and negotiations.


Why Do We Need Emotional Intelligence?

Research in brain-based learning suggests that emotional health is fundamental to effective learning. According to a report from the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs, the most critical element for a student's success in school is an understanding of how to learn. The key ingredients for this understanding are: confidence, curiosity, intentionality, self-control, relatedness, capacity to communicate, and ability to cooperate.


These traits are all aspects of Emotional Intelligence. A student who learns to learn is much more apt to succeed. Emotional Intelligence has proven a better predictor of future success than traditional methods like the GPA, IQ, and standardized test scores.

The idea of Emotional Intelligence has inspired research and curriculum development throughout corporations, universities, and schools worldwide. Researchers have concluded that people who manage their own feelings well and deal effectively with others are more likely to live content lives. Happy people are also more apt to retain information and do so more effectively than dissatisfied people.


Building one's Emotional Intelligence has a lifelong impact. Many parents and educators, alarmed by increasing levels of conflict in young schoolchildren - from low self-esteem to early drug and alcohol use to depression - are rushing to teach students the skills necessary for Emotional Intelligence. Also, in corporations, the inclusion of Emotional Intelligence in training programs has helped employees cooperate better and be more motivated, thereby increasing productivity and profits.

Daniel Goleman believes that "Emotional Intelligence is a master aptitude, a capacity that profoundly affects all other abilities, either facilitating or interfering with them" (Emotional Intelligence, p. 80).


The Appeal

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has not been readily accepted within academic psychology. However, it has met with a strongly positive response from many educators. It has been embraced by a range of educational theorists, and, significantly, applied by teachers and policymakers to the problems of schooling. A number of schools in North America have looked to structure curricula according to the intelligences, and to design classrooms and even whole schools to reflect the understandings that Howard Gardner developed through his work. The theory can also be found in use within pre-school, higher, vocational, and adult-education initiatives.


However, this appeal was not, at first, obvious.


At first, this diagnosis would appear to sound a "death knell" for formal education. It is hard to teach knowing that there is one intelligence; what if there are seven? It is hard enough to teach even when anything can be taught; what to do if there are distinct limits and strong constraints on human cognition and learning?


Howard Gardner responds to such questions by first making the point that psychology does not directly dictate education, "it merely helps one to understand the conditions within which education takes place."


The theory also validates educators' everyday experience: students think and learn in many different ways. It also provides educators with a conceptual framework for organizing and reflecting on curriculum assessment and pedagogical practices. In turn, this reflection has led many educators to develop new approaches that might better meet the needs of the range of learners in their classrooms.

Three particular aspects of Gardner's thinking need noting here as they allow for hope, and an alternative way of thinking, for those educators who feel out of step with the current, dominant product orientation to curriculum and educational policy. The approach entails:


  1. A broad vision of education. All seven intelligences are needed to live life well. Teachers, therefore, need to attend to all intelligences, not just the first two that have been their traditional concern. Educators should focus more on depth as opposed to breadth. Understanding entails taking knowledge gained in one setting and using it in another.
  2. Developing local and flexible programs. Howard Gardner's interest in "deep understanding," performance, exploration, and creativity are not easily accommodated within an orientation based on the delivery of a detailed curriculum planned outside of the immediate educational context. A multiple intelligences setting can be undone if the curriculum is too rigid or if there is only a single form of assessment.
  3. Looking to morality. "We must figure out how intelligence and morality can work together," Howard Gardner argues, "to create a world in which a great variety of people will want to live." While there are considerable benefits to developing understanding in relation to the disciplines, something more is needed.


Some Issues and Problems

As with all theories in education, multiple intelligences theory has its critics. Some maintain that longitudinal studies still bear out the power of genetics and intelligence as a fixed quantity. They argue that this theory apologizes for lack of intellectual achievement. Others argue that the ability to measure or test for such intelligences undermines its core assertions. In short, such critics claim: "If you can't test it, it's not valid."


Gardner contests such claims of validity by arguing for a different view of standardized testing that is not biased in favor of only one kind of intelligence at the expense of others. He also notes the achievements of students in non-academic settings and the tragedy of exclusion that results when whole segments of the population are not served because their intelligences do not have the opportunity for expression.


Implications of Multiple Intelligences for Schools


Culture: Support for diverse learners and hard work. Acting on a value system that maintains that diverse students can learn and succeed, that learning is exciting, and that hard work by teachers is necessary.


Readiness: Awareness-building for implementing Multiple Intelligences. Building staff awareness of Multiple Intelligences and of the different ways that students learn.


Tool: Multiple Intelligences is a means to foster high-quality work. Using Multiple Intelligences as a tool to promote high-quality student work rather than using the theory as an end in and of itself.


Collaboration: Informal and formal exchanges. Sharing ideas and constructive suggestions by the staff in formal and informal exchanges.


Choice: Meaningful curriculum and assessment options. Embedding curriculum and assessment in activities that are valued both by students and the wider culture.


Arts: Employing the arts to develop children's skills and understanding within and across disciplines. 

Additional Resources

Index of Learning Styles


Multiple Intelligences Reaches the Tibetan Village (

Implications for Students (


Inventory of Your Intelligences

Here is a tool to help you learn more about multiple intelligences by examining your own:

Click on the above link. Read the screen that comes up, especially the directions under the title "Create Your Own Intelligence Profile" and click on the button at the bottom of that screen that says "Begin."

In this interactive activity, you will see that each person has all of the intelligences in varying degrees. This is intended to be a fun exercise - answer the questions to the best of your ability. At the end of the activity, a unique "Multiple Intelligence Snowflake" will be generated. The results are not absolute indicators of intelligence, they are meant to give you the opportunity to learn more about your unique combination of intelligences.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. fred. (2008, June 13). Education for the New Millennium. Retrieved May 04, 2010, from TWB Courseware Web site. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.