Theory of multiple intelligences

From Academic Kids


The theory of multiple intelligences is a psychological and educational theory first proposed by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983. The paradigm suggests several different kinds of "intelligence" exist in humans, each relating to a different sphere of human life and activity. Educators, the theory states, can reach all of their students only by adapting their teaching program to meet all the types of intelligence which their target audience possesses. Various books and educational materials are marketed premised on this concept.

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.


Gardner's Proposed Categories of Intelligence



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 spatial judgement. People in this group are generally possessed of high hand-eye coordination, can interpret art well and can tessellate 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 categorized 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 categorized 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.

Proposed areas

Other intelligences have been suggested by popular psychology writers such as Tony Buzan, such as "sexual intelligence" and "spiritual intelligence". Gardner himself has entertained the notion of "existential intelligence"—which he sees as less fraught with theological baggage than "spiritual intelligence"—but remains uncommitted to it. Additional intelligences such as cooking intelligence, humor intelligence and football intelligence have been proposed, but similar to the other intelligences proposed by Gardner, they have not been isolated in experimental studies. Other, metaphysical, writers, have discussed the possibility of there being at least 53 identifiable senses.

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.

Opposing Views

As one would expect from a theory that redefines the definition of intelligence, one of the major criticisms of the theory is that it is ad hoc. The criticism is that Gardner is not expanding the definition of the word "intelligence"; rather, he denies the existence of intelligence, as is traditionally understood, and instead uses the word intelligence whenever other people have traditionally used the word "interest." 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. Defenders of the M.I. theory would argue that intelligence has never been rigorously defined, thus inviting new efforts to define it.

Gardner has not settled on a single definition of intelligence. 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 disclaimer that he has no fixed definition, and his classification is more of an artistic 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 judgement than of a scientific assessment. (Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1985)

One of the criticisms against M.I. theory is aimed at the underlying ideology. Gardner writes "I balk at the unwarranted assumption that certain human abilities can be arbitrarily singled out as intelligence while others cannot" (Peterson, 1997, p. D2) Critics hold that given this statement, any interest or ability is now redefined as "intelligence"; and adherents of M.I. theory can and do declare that all human beings are equally intelligent. Several logical problems are pointed out:

  • Gardner doesn't prove that all people are intelligent. Rather, he states this as his assumption, and redefines the word "intelligence" such that all people are equally intelligent by virtue of his definition.
  • Once someone adopts Gardner's position, the entire idea of studying intelligence is meaningless. Any ability is intelligence, thereby reducing the meaning of the word "intelligence" to "interest". In accord with this prediction, Gardner has repeatedly changed his theory; students who show an interest in nature are now deemed to have "Natural intelligence", and students interested in spirituality or religion are now deemed to have "Spiritual intelligence".
  • The existence of students with any kind of handicaps proves that even in Gardner's scheme, many people cannot be equally intelligent. 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 zero natural intelligence, people who are deaf have zero musical intelligence, etc.

A number of articles 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 workshop 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 universitySt. Johns University in New York, Carbos 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.

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

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 is the author of 18 books, including:

  • Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence (1983) ISBN 0465025102 (1993 ed.)
  • The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach (1991) ISBN 0465088961 (1993 ed.)
  • Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (1993) ISBN 046501822X (1993 ed.)

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.
  • 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.
  • Kavale, Kenneth,A., and Steven R. Forness, 1987. "Substance over style: Assessing the efficacy of modality testing and teaching", Exceptional Children 54:228-239.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sempsey, James, "The Pedagogical Implications Of Cognitive Science and Howard Gardner's M.I. Theory (A Critique)" 10.19.93
  • Steven A. Stahl "Different Strokes for Different Folks?: A Critique of Learning Styles", 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.
    • (1988) The triarchic mind: A new theory of human intelligence New York: Penguin Books.
    • (1991) "Death, taxes, and bad intelligence tests", Intelligence, 15(3), 257-270.

Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools