Multiple Intelligences Theory

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Multiple Intelligences Theory


Among various theories of intelligence are some that view intelligence as a system. The overarching assumption in these theories is that intelligence is not a single entity but a multifaceted structure. Correspondingly, traditional definitions of intelligence were called excessively narrow, and the quest for definitions and theories reflecting the variety of ways humans think, learn, and adapt to their environments began in the early 1980s in the United States. Among such systemic theories of intelligence are, most notably, Howard Gardners theory of multiple intelligences and Robert Sternbergs triarchic theory of intelligence. Another relevant example is the theory of emotional intelligence, initially presented in the scientific literature in 1900 by Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer and popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 best-selling book.

Gardners theory of multiple intelligences (also referred to as MI theory) assumes the presence of a number of distinct forms of intelligence. Individuals possess these types of intelligence in varying degrees, which establishes their unique cognitive profiles. The theory arose based on the argument that traditional definitions of intelligence do not capture the wide variety of abilities humans display. While presenting and defending this argument, Gardner analyzed cases of individuals with unusual talents, neuropsychological evidence supporting the idea of specialization of certain brain areas on processing particular types of information, evolutionary evidence, and psychological studies of intelligence. According to Gardner, there are eight primary forms of intelligence:

linguistic (manifested in dealing with spoken or written words);

musical (demonstrated in dealing with rhythm, music, and hearing);

logicalmathematical (invoked while reasoning inductively or deductively and dealing with abstractions and numbers);

spatial (engaged in vision and spatial judgment);

bodily-kinesthetic (required for movement and doing);

interpersonal (needed for interactions with others);

intrapersonal (manifested in dealing with self);

naturalistic (demonstrated in dealing with nature, nurturing, and classification).

The addition of a ninth typeexistential (descriptive of the capacity to raise and consider existential questions) intelligenceis under consideration. Because of its humanistic approach to acknowledging and promoting the value and contributions of each and every student, the MI theory has been embraced and supported by the educational community around the world.

A number of schools and many teachers claim to use MI theory as the fundamental framework for their pedagogies. Yet the theory has been widely criticized as well. It has been argued that the theory is based primarily on Gardners intuition and observations rather than evidence, that there are no or limited empirical data to support the evidence, that the separation between the constructs of multiple intelligences and personality types is blurry, that the assumption that all students are gifted in something might lead to intellectual relativism, and that there has been no systematic evaluation of the value of the theory in the classroom.

The MI theory has many implications, among which the following four are stressed. First, because individuals possess different degrees of varying intelligence, it is important to identify dominant intelligences early and try to enhance these intelligences. Yet teaching for all types of intelligence is important because students need help developing the intelligences in which they demonstrate weaknesses. Second, dominant intelligences also represent dominant learning modalities, and teaching should match the pattern of dominant abilities. Thus schools should offer education that is centered on individuals and their profiles of intelligence. Third, because many intelligences exist, there should be many assessments, not only those that traditionally focus on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. Fourth, of importance is the realization that different cultures differentially treat various intelligences. Thus what might be viewed as preferred intelligence in one culture might not be such in another culture.

Sternbergs theory of triarchic intelligence was developed at the same time as Gardners theory of multiple intelligences. Being a part of the same quest against traditional narrow definitions of intelligence, Sternberg defined intelligence as mental activity central to ones life in real-world environments and aimed at adaptation to, selection, and shaping of these environments; thus the main premise is that this mental activity is relevant to success in real life. Correspondingly, in the late 1990s Sternberg changed the name of the theory to the theory of successful intelligence. As per its original name, the theory consists of three parts: analytical (also referred to as componential), practical (also referred to as contextual), and creative (also referred to as experiential). Analytical intelligence is evoked while analyzing, evaluating, criticizing, reasoning, and judging. Practical intelligence is used while implying, implementing, and using. Creative intelligence is manifested while discovering, inventing, dealing with novelty, and creating. Based on the prediction of the theory, intelligent people are expected to identify their strengths and weaknesses and make the most of their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. Individuals are not restricted to excelling in only one of the three intelligences; both integrated and uneven profiles of intelligences are possible. This theory has also been widely accepted by both educators and psychologists. Unlike the MI theory, Sternbergs theory has a large body of empirical research associated with it. From a practical point of view, it has influenced U.S.-based practices of college admission, pedagogies across all levels of schooling, and the identification of gifted and talented students. Although the theory has numerous critics, over the years of its existence it has strengthened its empirical and theoretical grounds.

Intellectually, the theory of emotional intelligence is associated with Gardners (through intra- and interpersonal intelligences) and Sternbergs (through practical intelligence) theories. Emotional intelligence is typically referred to as an ability, capacity, or skill to perceive and register, judge and assess, and manage and act on the emotions of self and others, yet there is currently no consensus definition for this term. The roots of the theory are in the use of the term social intelligence by the American psychologist Edward Thorndike, who used this term to refer to the skill of getting along with other people. The term emotional intelligence is associated with the PhD dissertation work of Wayne Payne (1986). The field of emotional intelligence is relatively new, and a number of psychologists and educators are continuing to work on the definition, assessment, and predictive power of this concept.

SEE ALSO Creativity; Cultural Relativism; Intelligence; Intelligence, Social; IQ Controversy; Personality


Gardner, Howard. 1993. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.

Goleman, Daniel. 1995. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam.

Salovey, Peter, and Jack D. Mayer. 1990. Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality 9: 185211.

Sternberg, Robert J. 1996. Successful Intelligence. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Elena L. Grigorenko

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Multiple Intelligences Theory

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