While conventional views of human intelligence focus on an individual’s intellectual potential, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests that intelligence is more than just a single general mental ability. First introduced by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the theory suggests that people may possess different forms of intelligence.
In other words, the theory suggests that there is more than one way to be intelligent.
Multiple Intelligences vs General Intelligence
Intelligence research suggests that people possess a broad mental capacity that controls a wide range of cognitive abilities. Most modern intelligence tests are designed to measure this general intelligence and express it as a single number, or IQ score.
Cognitive factors that are believed to make up this general intelligence include fluid reasoning, working memory, visual-spatial processing, general knowledge, and quantitative reasoning.
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences suggests that the traditional definition of intelligence is too limited and restricted. Instead, it suggests that people can be intelligent in ways that are not usually captured by IQ tests.
9 Types of Intelligence
Gardner originally proposed seven distinct forms of intelligence. An eighth intelligence was added in the mid-1990s and in 2009 Gardner suggested the possible addition of a ninth intelligence.
1. Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence
People who are high in musical-rhythmic intelligence tend to be more sensitive to music, sounds, rhythms, and tones. They are often very good at playing music and may also enjoy singing or composing songs. They also enjoy musical performances and are good at understanding and identifying musical concepts such as timbre, harmony, pitch, and melody.
People who are strong in this area may enjoy music-related careers such as becoming a singer, musician, composer, music teacher, or sound engineer.
2. Visual-Spatial Intelligence
People who are strong in visual-spatial intelligence are good at visualizing objects and spaces in their minds. They tend to be very good at navigating and following directions. They are also usually good at interpreting pictures, maps, and charts. Those high in this type of intelligence often enjoy putting together puzzles, are good at recognizing patterns, and love the visual arts.
They also often excel at careers in art, engineering, architecture, and design.
3. Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence
People who are strong in verbal-linguistic intelligence are good with language and words. They excel at writing, reading, and storytelling. They are also very good at remembering things that they read and hear. They are good at explaining the things that they have learned to others. They are also skilled at persuading others and debating issues.
People who have strong verbal-linguistic intelligence make good writers, journalists, teachers, and lawyers.
4. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
Those who are high in logical-mathematical intelligence are good with numbers. They excel at seeing patterns and relationships. They are also very good at thinking logically and conceptually. People with this type of intelligence are good at math and science. They also enjoy thinking about abstract, complex subjects.
Careers that may appeal to people with logical-mathematical intelligence include being a scientist, mathematician, engineer, accountant, or engineer.
5. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
People who have a lot of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence have good coordination and are skilled at movement, action, and physical control. They are often very good at sports and dance. They tend to prefer doing hands-on activities and often enjoy making things. They often prefer learning by doing rather than through reading or listening to lectures.
Some of the careers that might appeal to people who are strong in this type of intelligence include athletics, building, dancing, and acting.
6. Interpersonal Intelligence
People who have a great deal of interpersonal intelligence are good at understanding and interacting with other people. They are in touch with other people’s emotions and moods. If you are strong in this area, you are probably good at understanding other people’s temperaments, motivations, and needs. This does not necessarily mean that you are an outgoing extrovert or group leader, but it does mean that you are good at empathizing and relating to others.
You might want to consider a career as a salesperson, therapist, counselor, or psychologist if this is your dominant type of intelligence.
7. Intrapersonal Intelligence
People who have strong intrapersonal intelligence excel at introspection and self-reflection. They tend to be very aware of their own emotions, motivations, and feelings. They are also good at knowing their own strengths and weaknesses.
People with strong intrapersonal intelligence often do well in fields that involve reflection and self-awareness such as the fields of philosophy, writing, and science.
8. Naturalistic Intelligence
This type of intelligence was not originally part of Gardner’s theory but was later suggested as part of the main eight intelligences. Gardner suggested that people with this type of intelligence are more connected to nature. They have a strong ecological awareness and enjoy spending time in the natural world and learning more about nature and other species.
Careers in areas related to biology, conservation, gardening, farming, and outdoor sports often appeal to people who are high in this form of intelligence.
9. Existential Intelligence
Existential intelligence is a proposed addition to the original theory that is characterized by an ability to think philosophically. People with this type of intelligence are good at looking at the big picture. They have a strong sense of intuition and excel and thinking about the future. They enjoy thinking about the purpose of life and other deep, often philosophical or spiritual questions.
Job options that might appeal to someone with this type of intelligence include counselor, life coach, psychologist, pastor, philosopher, yoga instructor, meditation guide, or motivational speaker.
What the Research Says
While Gardner’s theory has gained popularity, particularly in the field of education, the concept of multiple intelligences has been criticized and remains poorly supported by research.
One of the main criticisms of the theory centers on how Gardner defines intelligence. Many of the things that the theory labels as ‘intelligence,’ critics argue, are actually more related to personality traits, talents, and abilities.
- One 2006 study found that the intelligences described by Gardner represent aspects of general intelligence as well as personality characteristics, cognitive abilities, and non-cognitive abilities.
- Another study found that three of the multiple intelligences, musical, logical-mathematical, and visual-spatial intelligence, were positively correlated with IQ scores. The study also found that even children who scored low on IQ showed strengths in other forms of intelligence.
While the concept of general intelligence and its measurement does not remain without controversy, research indicates that people do have an underlying mental ability that plays a role in performance on a variety of cognitive tasks.
The theory has received little acceptance and support in the field of psychology. In education, it is often misconstrued as learning styles, which suggest that children should receive instruction that is aligned with how they learn best.
While Gardner’s theory has not been well-validated through empirical research, it has continued to be popular for a number of reasons. In the field of education, it is often used as a way to think about student strengths. Gardner himself has suggested that the purpose of formal education should be to help people develop skills and find a job that is best suited to their strongest areas of intelligence.
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