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Theory of multiple intelligences
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Theory of multiple intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences is an educational development technique and an educational business franchise created by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983.

He proposes that people have several kinds of "intelligence", and that teachers can only reach all of their students by adapting their lessons to each of these types of intelligences. Gardner sells a number of books and lesson plans based on this idea. Every few years Gardner has revised his multiple intelligences program, constantly adding new intelligences.

Gardner bases his theory on (a) his interpretation of studies of people who have had brain damage and studying their relative ability or inability to learn, (b) the belief that all humans are equally intelligent.

Table of contents
1 Controversy
2 Thinking
3 Sensational
4 Communicational
5 Naturalist
6 Relationship to education
7 Books by Howard Gardner
8 External links
9 References


One of the major controversies in this area is that he has a different definition of what the word "intelligence" should be used for. Instead of the general useage, Gardner has a number of definitions of intelligence, but himself has not settled on any one. As such, over the last 20 years he has repeatedly changed his list of intelligences. He originally defined intelligence as the ability to solve problems that have value in at least one culture, or as something that a student is interested in. However, he added a disclaimed that in the end, he has no fixed definition, and his classification is more of an artisitic judgement 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 intelligence met the appropriate criteria. At present, however, it must be admitted that the selection (or rejection) of a candidate intelligence is reminiscent more of an artistic judgment than of a scientific assessment. (Gardner, ''Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1985)

James Traub's article in The New Republic notes that Gardner's system has not been accepted by most experts in intelligence or teaching.

...In the 15 years since the publication of Gardner's Frames of Mind, multiple intelligences has gone from being a widely disputed theory to a rallying cry for school reformers to a cultural commonplace. And, amazingly, it has done so without ever winning over the scientific establishment. Gardner's central claim is that what we normally think of as intelligence is merely a single aspect, or two aspects, of a much wider range of aptitudes; he has counted eight so far.
...Gardner failed to persuade his peers. George Miller, the esteemed psychologist credited with discovering the mechanisms by which short term memory operates, wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Gardner's argument boiled down to "hunch and opinion" (p. 20). And Gardner's subsequent work has done very little to shift the balance of opinion. A recent issue of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law devoted to the study of intelligence contained virtually no reference to Gardner's work. Most people who study intelligence view M.I. theory as rhetoric rather than science, and they're divided on the virtues of the rhetoric.

Gardner states that "I balk at the unwarranted assumption that certain human abilities can be arbitrarily singled out as intelligence while others cannot" (Peterson, 1997, p. D2). The criticism of this position is twofold: (A) Once someone adopts this position, the entire idea of studying intelligence is meaningless. Liteerally any ability is intelligence, thereby reducing the meaning of the word "intelligence" to nothing. The word "intelligence" is reduced to "ability". Thus, swimming is an ability, thus people have "swimming intelligence". (B) Gardner's view is not well thought-out, as it contains a logical contradiction. Sternberg and Frensch write "it seems strange to describe someone who is tone deaf or physically uncoordinated as unintelligent." In Gardner's system, people not interested in nature have low or zero natural intelligence, people who are deaf have zero musical intelligence, etc.

In his 1983 paper, Robert J. Sternberg offered three reasons why the MI model should be seen as flawed, (a) An over reliance on one narrow set of unporven ideas, (b) the substitution of the word "intelligence" for "talent", and (c) the overall structure of the theory.

One of the more common criticisms of the theory of multiple intelligences is the claim that these different interest are all forms of "intelligence". In this view, it is intellectually dishonest to relabel all of a person's talents as "intelligences". This tactic has been criticised by Robert J. Sternerb (1983, 1991), Eysenck, 1994, and Scarr, 1985

Perhaps every good book has some axe to grind. In any case, knowing why it was written often helps more than anything else to understand what a book is about. In this case, the book is supposed to help deflate books likeThe Bell Curve, and Arthur Jensen's seminal "The g Factor," which together argue that intelligence exists, is sociologically fateful, and highly heritable (i.e., that if everybody had the same genes for it, most of the variation presently observed in intelligence would not exist). Gardner's tactic is simple: he denies that intelligence exists, or at least that IQ tests measure intelligence. Instead he postulates "multiple intelligences," such as "kinesthetic intelligence" (physical/athletic coordination/skill), and "social intelligence" (social grace/ability)...all this, while certainly interesting (since all these various talents are certainly interesting to explore and very valuable) basically amounts to what an ordinary person with common sense usually calls a "purely semantic argument." In other words, Gardner does not show that there is anything wrong with Herrnstein's heresy besides a choice of words. Remove the term "intelligence," and plug in the term "IQ test score," and the same politically heretical conclusion follows, thus: IQ test score significantly predicts social status, IQ test score is highly heritable, therefore in a free and fair meritocracy social status will be significantly heritable. Gardner has done nothing to forestall the dreaded heresy. He has, however, allowed people to believe that he does, and thus enjoyed an unearned boost from the forces of political correctness, as other reviews will show. How many legs does a dog have, if you call a tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one. Neither can calling athletic ability, musical talent, and social grace "multiple intelligences" do anything to change the biological heritability (or lack thereof) of socioeconomic status. The meaning of a word depends on how people actually use it. If most ordinary English speakers call athletic ability, musical talent, and social grace "talents" rather than "intelligences," then that's what they are. Conversely, if IQ tests do measure what most people do call "intelligence," then IQ tests measure intelligence. To the extent that these things are true, they're just true by definition. (Source: Anonymous psychology student review circulating on the Internet)

A number of articles (e.g. Different Strokes for Different Folks?: A Critique of Learning Styles) have surveyed the use of Gardner's ideas in classrooms, and claim that there is no evidence that his ideas work in practice. This article, by Steven A. Stahl, found that most of the previous studies which claimed to show positive results had major flaws.

Among others, Marie Carbo claims that her learning styles work is based on research. [I discuss Carbo because she publishes extensively on her model and is very prominent in the worshop circuit...] But given the overwhelmingly negative findings in the published research, I wondered what she was citing, and about a decade ago, I thought it would be interesting to take a look. Reviewing her articles, I found that out of 17 studies she had cited, only one was published. Fifteen were doctoral dissertations and 13 of these came out of one university—St. John’s University in New York, Carbo’s alma mater. None of these had been in a peer-refereed journal. When I looked closely at the dissertations and other materials, I found that 13 of the 17 studies that supposedly support her claim had to do with learning styles based on something other than modality.



To do with words, spoken or written. People who specialise in this area are generally good at writing, oration and (to a lesser extent) learning from lectures. They also tend to have broad vocabularies and learn languages easily.


To do with numbers, with logic and abstractions. Those who favour this intelligence generally excel in mathematics and computer programming, and are often jacks of all trades by virtue of logic. Careers might include those involving science and computer programming.



To do with vision and spacial judgement. People in this group are generally possessed of high hand-eye coordination, can interpret art well and can tesselate objects (as in loading a truck) easily. Such people might work as artists, artisans and engineers.


To do with muscular coordination, movement and doing. In this category, people generally are more adept at sports and dance, and work better when moving. In addition, they learn better by doing things and interacting with them physically. Most dancers, gymnasts and athletes are in this category.


To do with hearing. Those good with this tend to be better singers and have better pitch, in addition to liking music more. Music also helps people in this category work better, and those here will also learn better from lectures.


Interpersonal communication

To do with interaction with others. People categorised here are usually extroverts, and good with people. They can be charismatic and convincing and diplomatic. They tend to learn better when people are involved, eg. in discussions.

Intrapersonal communication

To do with oneself. People categorised here are most often introverts and have very complex philosophies. These people often end up in religion or psychology and like to be alone.


To do with nature. People in this category are not only good with life but also with the various functions of it and mechanisms behind it; indeed many people here claim to sense life force and energy. In this area, people generally end up in biology or environmentalism.

Other intelligences have been suggested, such as "spiritual intelligence".

Relationship to education

Schools emphasize the development of logical intelligence and linguistic intelligence (mainly reading and writing). People may also have various degrees of spatial intelligence (such as that possessed by architects and sculptors), kinesthetic intelligence (athletes and ballet dancers for instance), musical intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence (ability to reflect and know oneself) and interpersonal intelligence. According to Gardner, schools must strive to develop all intelligences, at the same time recognizing that children will usually excel at only one or two of them and should not be penalized for this.

Books by Howard Gardner

Gardner is the author of 18 books, including:

See also:

External links


Eysenck, M. W (1994) Intelligence. In M. W. Eysenck, (Ed.), The Blackwell dictionary of cognitive psychology (pp. 192-193). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

Kavale, Kenneth,A., and Steven R. Forness, 1987. Substance over style: Assessing the efficacy of modality testing and teaching, Exceptional Children 54:228-239.

Scarr, S. (1985) An authors frame of mind [Review of Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences] New Ideas in Psychology, 3(1), 95-100.

The Pedagogical Implications Of Cognitive Science and Howard Gardner's M.I. Theory (A Critique) James Sempsey 10.19.93

Different Strokes for Different Folks?: A Critique of Learning Styles Steven A. Stahl, American Educator, Fall, 199

Sternberg, R. J. (1983, Winter) How much Gall is too much gall? {Review of Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences}. Contemporary Education Review, 2(3), 215-224.

Sternberg, R. J. (1988) The triarchic mind: A new theory of human intelligence New York: Penguin Books.

Sternberg, R. J. (1991) Death, taxes, and bad intelligence tests Intelligence, 15(3), 257-270.

Traub, James (1998, October 26). Multiple intelligence disorder, The New Republic

Klein, Perry, D. (1997) Multiplying the problems of intelligence by eight: A critique of Gardner's theory Canadian Journal of Education, 22(4), 377-394.

Gardner, Howard. (1998) A Reply to Perry D. Klein's "Multiplying the problems of intelligence by eight" Canadian Journal of Education, 23(1), 96-102.

Klein, Perry, D. (1998) A response to Howard Gardner: Falsifibality, empirical evidence, and pedagogical usefulness in educational psychology Canadian Journal of Education, 23(1), 103-112.