Theory of multiple intelligences
|Abilities, traits and constructs|
|Models and theories|
|Fields of study|
The theory of multiple intelligences was proposed by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences as a model of intelligence that differentiates it into specific (primarily sensory) "modalities", rather than seeing it as dominated by a single general ability.
Gardner argues that there is a wide range of cognitive abilities, but that there are only very weak correlations among them. For example, the theory postulates that a child who learns to multiply easily is not necessarily more intelligent than a child who has more difficulty on this task. The child who takes more time to master multiplication may best learn to multiply through a different approach, may excel in a field outside mathematics, or may be looking at and understanding the multiplication process at a fundamentally deeper level. Such a fundamental understanding can result in slowness and can hide a mathematical intelligence potentially higher than that of a child who quickly memorizes the multiplication table despite possessing a shallower understanding of the process of multiplication.
Intelligence tests and psychometrics have generally found high correlations between different aspects of intelligence, rather than the low correlations which Gardner's theory predicts, supporting the prevailing theory of general intelligence rather than multiple intelligences (MI). The theory has been widely criticized by mainstream psychology for its lack of empirical evidence, and its dependence on subjective judgement. Certain models of alternative education employ the approaches suggested by the theory.
The multiple intelligences
Gardner articulated seven criteria for a behavior to be considered an intelligence. These were that the intelligences showed:
- Potential for brain isolation by brain damage,
- Place in evolutionary history,
- Presence of core operations,
- Susceptibility to encoding (symbolic expression),
- A distinct developmental progression,
- The existence of savants, prodigies and other exceptional people,
- Support from experimental psychology and psychometric findings.
Gardner chose eight abilities that he held to meet these criteria: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. He later suggested that existential and moral intelligence may also be worthy of inclusion.
This area has to do with logic, abstractions, reasoning and numbers and critical thinking. This also has to do with having the capacity to understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system. Logical reasoning is closely linked to fluid intelligence and to general intelligence (g factor).
This area deals with spatial judgment and the ability to visualize with the mind's eye. Spatial ability is one of the three factors beneath g in the hierarchical model of intelligence.
People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words along with dates. Verbal ability is one of the most g-loaded abilities. This type of intelligence is associated with the Verbal IQ in WAIS-III.
The core elements of the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are control of one's bodily motions and the capacity to handle objects skillfully. Gardner elaborates to say that this also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses.
People who have bodily-kinesthetic intelligence should learn better by involving muscular movement (e.g. getting up and moving around into the learning experience), and be generally good at physical activities such as sports, dance, acting, and making things.
Gardner believes that careers that suit those with this intelligence include: athletes, pilots, dancers, musicians, actors, surgeons, builders, police officers, and soldiers. Although these careers can be duplicated through virtual simulation, they will not produce the actual physical learning that is needed in this intelligence.
This area has to do with sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones, and music. People with a high musical intelligence normally have good pitch and may even have absolute pitch, and are able to sing, play musical instruments, and compose music. Since there is a strong auditory component to this intelligence, those who are strongest in it may learn best via lecture. They will sometimes use songs or rhythms to learn. They have sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, meter, tone, melody or timbre.
This area has to do with interaction with others. In theory, individuals who have high interpersonal intelligence are characterized by their sensitivity to others' moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations, and their ability to cooperate in order to work as part of a group. According to Gardner in How Are Kids Smart: Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, "Inter- and Intra- personal intelligence is often misunderstood with being extroverted or liking other people..." Those with this intelligence communicate effectively and empathize easily with others, and may be either leaders or followers. They typically learn best by working with others and often enjoy discussion and debate.
This area has to do with introspective and self-reflective capacities. This refers to having a deep understanding of the self; what your strengths/ weaknesses are, what makes you unique, being able to predict your own reactions/emotions.
This area has to do with nurturing and relating information to one’s natural surroundings. Examples include classifying natural forms such as animal and plant species and rocks and mountain types. This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef.
Some proponents of multiple intelligence theory proposed spiritual or religious intelligence as a possible additional type. Gardner did not want to commit to a spiritual intelligence, but suggested that an "existential" intelligence may be a useful construct. The hypothesis of an existential intelligence has been further explored by educational researchers.
Definition of intelligence
One major criticism of the theory is that it is ad hoc: that Gardner is not expanding the definition of the word "intelligence", but rather denies the existence of intelligence as traditionally understood, and instead uses the word "intelligence" where other people have traditionally used words like "ability" and "aptitude". This practice has been criticized by Robert J. Sternberg, Eysenck, and Scarr. White (2006) points out that Gardner's selection and application of criteria for his "intelligences" is subjective and arbitrary, and that a different researcher would likely have come up with different criteria.
Defenders of MI theory argue that the traditional definition of intelligence is too narrow, and thus a broader definition more accurately reflects the differing ways in which humans think and learn. They would state that the traditional interpretation of intelligence collapses under the weight of its own logic and definition, noting that intelligence is usually defined as the cognitive or mental capacity of an individual, which by logical necessity would include all forms of mental qualities, not just the ones most transparent to I.Q. tests.
Some criticisms arise from the fact that Gardner has not provided a test of his multiple intelligences. He originally defined it as the ability to solve problems that have value in at least one culture, or as something that a student is interested in. He then added a disclaimer that he has no fixed definition, and his classification is more of an artistic judgment 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's intelligence met the appropriate criteria. At present, however, it must be admitted that the selection (or rejection) of a candidate's intelligence is reminiscent more of an artistic judgment than of a scientific assessment.
Gardner argues that by calling linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities intelligences, but not artistic, musical, athletic, etc. abilities, the former are needlessly aggrandized. Certain critics balk at this widening of the definition, saying that it ignores "the connotation of intelligence ... [which] has always connoted the kind of thinking skills that makes one successful in school."
Gardner writes "I balk at the unwarranted assumption that certain human abilities can be arbitrarily singled out as intelligence while others cannot." Critics hold that given this statement, any interest or ability can be redefined as "intelligence". Thus, studying intelligence becomes difficult, because it diffuses into the broader concept of ability or talent. Gardner's addition of the naturalistic intelligence and conceptions of the existential and moral intelligences are seen as fruits of this diffusion. Defenders of the MI theory would argue that this is simply a recognition of the broad scope of inherent mental abilities, and that such an exhaustive scope by nature defies a one-dimensional classification such as an IQ value.
The theory and definitions have been critiqued by Perry D. Klein as being so unclear as to be tautologous and thus unfalsifiable. Having a high musical ability means being good at music while at the same time being good at music is explained by having a high musical ability.
Andreas Demetriou suggests that theories which overemphasize the autonomy of the domains are as simplistic as the theories that overemphasize the role of general intelligence and ignore the domains. He agrees with Gardner that there are indeed domains of intelligence that are relevantly autonomous of each other. Some of the domains, such as verbal, spatial, mathematical, and social intelligence are identified by most lines of research in psychology. In Demetriou's theory, one of the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development, Gardner is criticized for underestimating the effects exerted on the various domains of intelligences by processes that define general processing efficiency, such as speed of processing, executive functions, working memory, and meta-cognitive processes underlying self-awareness and self-regulation. All of these processes are integral components of general intelligence that regulate the functioning and development of different domains of intelligence.
The domains are to a large extent expressions of the condition of the general processes, and may vary because of their constitutional differences but also differences in individual preferences and inclinations. Their functioning both channels and influences the operation of the general processes. Thus, one cannot satisfactorily specify the intelligence of an individual or design effective intervention programs unless both the general processes and the domains of interest are evaluated.
Gardner argues that IQ tests only measures linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. Psychologist Alan S. Kaufman points out that IQ tests have measured spatial abilities for 70 years. Modern IQ tests are greatly influenced by the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory which incorporates a general intelligence but also many more narrow abilities. While IQ tests do give an overall IQ score, they now also give scores for many more narrow abilities.
Lack of empirical evidence
According to a 2006 study many of Gardner's "intelligences" correlate with the g factor, supporting the idea of a single dominant type of intelligence. According to the study, each of the domains proposed by Gardner involved a blend of g, of cognitive abilities other than g, and, in some cases, of non-cognitive abilities or of personality characteristics.
Linda Gottfredson (2006) has argued that thousands of studies support the importance of intelligence quotient (IQ) in predicting school and job performance, and numerous other life outcomes. In contrast, empirical support for non-g intelligences is lacking or very poor. She argued that despite this the ideas of multiple non-g intelligences are very attractive to many due to the suggestion that everyone can be smart in some way.
A critical review of MI theory argues that there is little empirical evidence to support it:
To date there have been no published studies that offer evidence of the validity of the multiple intelligences. In 1994 Sternberg reported finding no empirical studies. In 2000 Allix reported finding no empirical validating studies, and at that time Gardner and Connell conceded that there was "little hard evidence for MI theory" (2000, p. 292). In 2004 Sternberg and Grigerenko stated that there were no validating studies for multiple intelligences, and in 2004 Gardner asserted that he would be "delighted were such evidence to accrue", and admitted that "MI theory has few enthusiasts among psychometricians or others of a traditional psychological background" because they require "psychometric or experimental evidence that allows one to prove the existence of the several intelligences."
The same review presents evidence to demonstrate that cognitive neuroscience research does not support the theory of multiple intelligences:
... the human brain is unlikely to function via Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Taken together the evidence for the intercorrelations of subskills of IQ measures, the evidence for a shared set of genes associated with mathematics, reading, and g, and the evidence for shared and overlapping "what is it?" and "where is it?" neural processing pathways, and shared neural pathways for language, music, motor skills, and emotions suggest that it is unlikely that each of Gardner’s intelligences could operate "via a different set of neural mechanisms" (1999, p. 99). Equally important, the evidence for the "what is it?" and "where is it?" processing pathways, for Kahneman’s two decision-making systems, and for adapted cognition modules suggests that these cognitive brain specializations have evolved to address very specific problems in our environment. Because Gardner claimed that the intelligences are innate potentialities related to a general content area, MI theory lacks a rationale for the phylogenetic emergence of the intelligences.
Several articles have surveyed the use of Gardner's ideas and conclude that there is little to no academically substantiated evidence that his ideas work in practice. 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 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.
Use in education
Gardner defines an intelligence as "biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture." According to Gardner, there are more ways to do this than just through logical and linguistic intelligence. Gardner believes that the purpose of schooling "should be to develop intelligences and to help people reach vocational and avocational goals that are appropriate to their particular spectrum of intelligences. People who are helped to do so, [he] believe[s], feel more engaged and competent and therefore more inclined to serve society in a constructive way."[a]
Gardner contends that IQ tests focus mostly on logical and linguistic intelligence. Upon doing well on these tests, the chances of attending a prestigious college or university increase, which in turn creates contributing members of society. While many students function well in this environment, there are those who do not. According to Helding (2009), "Standard IQ tests measure knowledge gained at a particular moment in time, they can only provide a freeze-frame view of crystallized knowledge. They cannot assess or predict a person’s ability to learn, to assimilate new information, or to solve new problems." Gardner's theory argues that students will be better served by a broader vision of education, wherein teachers use different methodologies, exercises and activities to reach all students, not just those who excel at linguistic and logical intelligence. It challenges educators to find "ways that will work for this student learning this topic".
James Traub's article in The New Republic notes that Gardner's system has not been accepted by most academics in intelligence or teaching. Gardner states that "while Multiple Intelligences theory is consistent with much empirical evidence, it has not been subjected to strong experimental tests ... Within the area of education, the applications of the theory are currently being examined in many projects. Our hunches will have to be revised many times in light of actual classroom experience."
George Miller, a prominent cognitive psychologist, wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Gardner's argument consisted of "hunch and opinion". Jerome Bruner called Gardner’s "intelligences" "at best useful fictions," and Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein in The Bell Curve (1994) called Gardner's theory "uniquely devoid of psychometric or other quantitative evidence."
Thomas Armstrong argues that Waldorf education engages all of Gardner's original seven intelligences.[b] In spite of its lack of general acceptance in the psychological community, Gardner's theory has been adopted by many schools, where it is often used to underpin discussion about learning styles, and hundreds of books have been written about its applications in education. Gardner himself has said he is "uneasy" with the way his theory has been used in education. The No Child Left Behind test legislation in the United States does not encompass the multiple intelligences framework in the exams' design or implementation.
- This information is based on an informal talk given on the 350th anniversary of Harvard University on 5 September 1986. Harvard Education Review, Harvard Education Publishing Group, 1987, 57, 187–93.
- "Waldorf education embodies in a truly organic sense all of Howard Gardner's seven intelligences ... not simply an amalgam of the seven intelligences. Many schools are currently attempting to construct curricula based on Gardner's model simply through an additive process (what can we add to what we have already got?). Steiner's approach, however, was to begin with an inner vision of the child and the child's needs and build a curriculum around that vision." Thomas Armstrong, cited in Eric Oddleifson, Boston Public Schools As Arts-Integrated Learning Organizations: Developing a High Standard of Culture for All
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