Multiple intelligences is the notion that there are many different types of intelligence. This idea was proposed by psychologist Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983).
Gardner saw a fatal flaw in the traditional concept of general intelligence that was dominant at the time; that there is one form of intelligence that existed in all people to some degree or another.
According to Gardner, most definitions of intelligence and measurement attempts rely too heavily on linguistic elements. Instead, he offered an alternative conception of intelligence that explores a wider range of ways to measure intelligence.
Gardener proposed that there are at least 8 types of intelligence and that a person could be gifted in one area while not being especially capable in others. Each type of intelligence is qualitatively distinct.
The 8 Types of Intelligence
- Visual-Spatial Intelligence – You’re good at thinking in three dimensions.
- Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence – You’re good at working with words.
- Interpersonal Intelligence – You’re good at communicating with others.
- Intrapersonal Intelligence – You’re good at self-reflection (see also: intrapersonal communication skills)
- Logical-Mathematical Intelligence – You’re a mathematical thinker.
- Musical Intelligence – You’re naturally inclined to understand rhythm and pitch.
- Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence – You learn well when you’re physically engaged in your learning.
- Naturalistic Intelligence – You’re in tune with nature and the outdoors.
The 8 Multiple Intelligences Explained
Spatial intelligence is that ability to think in three dimensions. It involves being good at seeing how objects fit in a physical space, as well as mental imagery and manipulation.
For example, people with spatial intelligence are good at puzzles and seeing how pieces fit together.
They may enjoy the visual arts and visiting museums and installation art. Interpreting graphs and charts also exercises one’s visual-spatial intelligence and so people that possess this type of intelligence may prefer receiving information in this form as opposed to reading it in a paragraph.
Artists, sculptors and graphic designers express their spatial intelligence artistically. Architects, engineers, and carpenters are professions that also rely on visual-spatial intelligence to design various types of structures.
Linguistic-verbal intelligence is all about words. People with this ability are able to use words well, including both writing and speaking.
Examples of linguistic intelligence include being good at writing essays and stories and being able to process information presented in text form quite easily. It might be very easy for people with linguistic-verbal intelligence to learn other languages as well.
Linguistic-verbal intelligence is associated with being persuasive and good at debate. They are able to explain things well to others and might even be able to use humor to help make an unusual point.
People with this type of intelligence work as lawyers, journalists, and writers. They may also pursue a career as a talk-show host or comedian. Teachers and university professors may also possess high levels of linguistic-verbal intelligence.
3. Interpersonal Intelligence
Individuals that possess a high degree of interpersonal intelligence are good at dealing with people.
They have an instinctive understanding of others and are able to assess their emotions and motivations with ease. People with interpersonal intelligence are also skilled at creating positive work environments and inspiring others to accomplish things they never thought possible.
Interpersonal intelligence is involved in several professions where it is important to work with people. For example, certain types of leadership roles where team-building and conflict resolution are important require a leader with interpersonal intelligence.
Therapists, counselors, and youth development coordinators may also have high levels of this type of intelligence. Other professions include sales, politicians and public relations experts.
4. Intrapersonal Intelligence
People with strong intrapersonal intelligence are sensitive to their own emotional states and feelings.
They are self-reflective and have a deep understanding of their motivations and desires. They enjoy introspective activities such as daydreaming and journal writing.
Philosophers and novelists usually have high levels of intrapersonal intelligence which allow them to create interesting discourse or storylines.
Psychologists and counselors use their understanding of themselves to help them understand others that need therapy or life-coaching. Clergy and monks are other individuals that may have intrapersonal intelligence as they seek peace of mind and looking deep within oneself for spiritual understanding.
5. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
Logical-mathematical intelligence gives people the ability to solve problems logically using reason and deduction.
They are good at performing advanced mathematical operations, solving abstract problems and conducting scientific investigations.
Professions that require this type of intelligence include accountants and mathematicians. Statisticians and those that specialize in data analytics use their ability to crunch numbers and perform calculations with big data to understand trends in the stock market or various consumer industries.
Computer programmers must rely on carefully thought-out sequential logic to produce sophisticated apps and cyber security protocols. Structural engineers have high levels of logical-mathematical intelligence to make sure buildings and bridges don’t collapse.
If you are talking about scientific and technological endeavors, then logical-mathematical intelligence is key.
6. Musical Intelligence
People with musical intelligence are good at composing songs and playing musical instruments. They have a natural ability to hear pitch and tone, and recognize rhythms and patterns in music.
Studio musicians and those that perform in orchestras have high levels of musical intelligence. Individuals that play in jazz bands and other musical genres possess this type of intelligence as well and are good at creating original songs and performing in front of audiences.
Another job for people with musical intelligence is music teacher. Music teachers appreciate various forms of music and enjoy helping others see and feel the beauty of sound; while record producers are highly skilled at creating musical arrangements that will be pleasing to others.
7. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is an unusual ability to use one’s body in three-dimensional space to perform athletic feats.
This can involve the whole body or primarily more specific hand-eye/hand-foot coordination (which are key examples of an active learning approach). People with this type of intelligence are highly skilled at physical movements and body control.
Obviously, professional athletes have a great deal of body control. Dancers in ballets and other types of musical productions also possess a high degree of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. In addition, surgeons need to be highly skilled at hand-eye coordination to perform delicate operations. Carpenters and physical therapists are two other professions that require this type of intelligence as well.
8. Naturalistic Intelligence
The ability to distinguish between different types of plants and animals is a type of intelligence related to nature.
People with naturalistic intelligence are in tune with nature, enjoy exploring the environment and feel passionate about environmental issues. They enjoy going to unfamiliar habitats to explore landscapes, gardening and camping, or other outdoor activities.
A meteorologist is a profession that requires naturalistic intelligence to understand weather formations, how they are formed and they flow through their life-cycle. Botanists and biologists use this type of intelligence to classify plant and animal species and to study them in great detail. Farmers and conservationists are other occupations that exercise this type of intelligence to produce food and work on environmental protection issues.
Strengths of Multiple Intelligences Theory
1. It Challenges Traditional Ideas of Smart and Dumb
Despite the fact that this theory is widely seen as flawed pop psychology, it has had one big upside. It’s encouraged us to change our idea of smart and dumb.
People who have traditionally been seen as unintelligent suddenly have a theory that they know to be true: I’m not dumb, it’s just that the school system doesn’t value my type of intelligence!
Of course, sitting in a classroom where the teacher is droning on in front of you isn’t great if you’re an active learner who needs to by physical to stay engaged (i.e. bodily-kinesthetic intelligence).
So, we still teach multiple intelligences theory in teacher education to get teachers to think about our traditional conceptions of general intelligence and how flawed they are.
2. It Generates Discussion
On the surface, Gardner would seem to have identified different types of intelligences that are quite reasonable.
The 8 types have a great deal of face validity and intuitive appeal.
However, his theory of multiple intelligences has received an incredible amount of criticism in the academic community (see Waterhouse, 2006).
This is a good thing.
Having detailed discussions and debate is a key necessity in all sciences.
For this reason, one of the primary strengths of Gardner’s MI is that it has caused researchers and scholars to question the traditional concept of intelligence and has broadened our understanding of intelligence on many fronts: how it is defined, how it is measured, and how it is enhanced.
3. It has Improved Educational Practices
The concept of multiple intelligences has had a tremendous impact in the classroom. Teachers and educators have accepted the concept of MI with great zeal and have changed their practices considerably.
Teachers today design lessons and activities that allow their students to exercise their different natural abilities and dispositions.
This has given students that are not gifted in areas traditionally considered to be in the domain of “intelligence” to excel and demonstrate their skills in other ways.
When students feel recognized for their abilities it improves their confidence and increases their motivation to achieve.
As Gardner (1999) has stated, his theory has inspired a broader vision of education that seeks to find “ways that will work for this student learning this topic” (p. 154).
4. It’s Supported by Some Brain Research
Gardner points out that there is support for MI in brain research. More specifically, neuroscientists agree that certain areas of the brain are associated with specific abilities, both cognitive and otherwise.
For example, the left temporal region of the brain contains language areas, while at the same time, there are regions in the right hemisphere that are linked to spatial skills.
When it is possible to point to specific areas of the brain that are directly responsible for specific types of abilities, such as spatial reasoning or linguistic ability, then this lends strong support to the notion of multiple intelligences.
From Gardner’s point of view, this seems quite reasonable.
Criticisms of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory
1. Overlapping of Types of Intelligence
According to a strict interpretation of Gardner’s theory of MI, each type of intelligence is separate and distinct.
Many researchers have therefore attempted to develop various tests to measure the 8 types of intelligence.
By conducting sophisticated psychometric analyses, researchers have attempted to measure the types of intelligences and expected to find a clear statistically-based distinction between the different proposed types. This has not always been firmly supported by research (Visser, et al., 2006).
2. It Lacks Empirical Support
Klein (1997) has criticized the theory for being too broad and lacking empirical support. Because it represents a “static” view of student abilities it also loses utility.
Gottfredson (2004) contends that there is ample evidence to support the notion of general intelligence.
This concept of intelligence has been more informative regarding student abilities and future academic performance, whereas MI does not provide this value.
3. It Excuses Students for Not Engaging with other ‘Types’ of Intelligence
Some people who learn about multiple intelligences decide that they only learn in one way.
For example, someone who thinks their linguistic intelligence is their strength may insist that they can’t work in logical-mathematical ways.
This is used by them as an excuse for why they don’t try hard in math classes.
Similarly, a student in class might complain that their teacher isn’t teaching in a bodily-kinesthetic way, so they blame their teacher for having a poor teaching style and not successfully differentiating for their students.
Davis, K., Christodoulou, J., Seider, S., & Gardner, H. (2011). The theory of multiple intelligences. In R.J. Sternberg & S.B. Kaufman (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence (pp. 485-503). Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. Basic Books.
Gardner, H. E. (2000). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. Hachette UK.
Gottfredson, L. S. (2004). Schools and the g factor. The Wilson Quarterly (1976-), 28(3), 35-45.
Klein, P. D. (1997). Multiplying the problems of intelligence by eight: A critique of Gardner’s theory. Canadian Journal of Education, 22(4), 377–394. https://doi.org/10.2307/1585790
Nettlebeck, T., & Wilson, C. (2005). Intelligence and IQ: What teachers should know. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, 25, (6), 609-630.
Tirri, K., Nokelainen, P., & Komulainen, E. (2013). Multiple intelligences: Can they be measured? Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling, 55(4), 438-461.
Visser, B. A., Ashton, M. C., & Vernon, P. A. (2006). Beyond g: Putting multiple intelligences theory to the test. Intelligence, 34(5), 487-502.
Waterhouse, L. (2006). Multiple intelligences, the Mozart effect, and emotional intelligence: A critical review. Educational Psychologist, 41(4), 207-225.