For many years, researchers and others have used the standard IQ (intelligence quotient) test to measure an individual’s intelligence and the likelihood that they will succeed in life. That said, however, in the 1980s, psychologist Howard Gardner threw out a radical new approach to human intelligence.
Gardner proposed that the standard view of human intelligence had been wrong: There wasn’t just one type of intelligence (a view held by many at the time), but there were, in fact, many different types of human intelligences. Introduced in his “Frames of Mind,” Gardner called his approach to human intelligence “multiple intelligences,” and the idea has taken root in diverse subjects such as education and business. The multiple intelligences theory, however, has proponents as well as detractors to this day.
Defining the Multiple Intelligences
Initially, Gardner proposed six distinct intelligences but has subsequently gone on to propose more over the years. Some of Gardner’s multiple intelligences include:
• Logical-mathematical intelligence
Individuals who possess this intelligence are typically good at working with numbers. This includes mathematicians, engineers and computer programmers.
• Musical intelligence
Individuals who have “musical intelligence” are good at distinguishing among different musical tones and rhythms. He or she may remain interested in learning a musical instrument and may excel at playing it.
• Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
Those who possess the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence may find it easy and excel at mastering bodily movement. These individuals may be good at dancing and sports.
• Visual-spatial intelligence
Those individuals who visually and spatially inclined may find it easy to understand visual art, photography and the like. Moreover, these individuals may develop an interest in the arts.
• Interpersonal intelligence
These individuals remain good at what is colloquially called “people skills.” The interpersonal intelligence individuals may be good negotiators, and many find themselves in careers such as public relations and politics.
• Intrapersonal intelligence
Those who possess intrapersonal intelligence have a high level of self-awareness. These individuals may develop an interest in philosophy or writing.
Criticisms of Multiple Intelligences Theory
Multiple Intelligences Theory (MIT) promotes diversity and plurality, which is often times a good thing. That said, however, critics have pointed out problems with Gardner’s idea. To begin, little, if any, experimental evidence has been found support MIT. Because of this, perhaps MIT ought to be called the “Multiple Intelligences Hypothesis”—swapping “hypothesis” with “theory” underlines the reality that MIT has not been validated scientifically. What’s more, some argue that what Gardner calls “intelligences” are simply talents that individuals may or may not possess.
Also, critics of MIT point out that humans are much more similar than they are different. Humans, for example, appear to all be “wired” the same: Over millions of years, evolution and natural selection have seemed to produce the most complex organ that is known in the universe: the human brain. And although our brains have a great capacity to preform many different tasks, critics would argue that this capacity is not the same thing as possessing different intelligences. It may turn out that our one intelligence is enough to handle lots of capacities without the need for difference intelligences.
The Future of Multiple Intelligences
Whether multiple intelligences will be experimentally confirmed remains to be seen. Yet despite the criticisms of Gardner’s theory, MIT has produced enthusiasm among certain sectors, including the education community. Educators, especially K-12 teachers, have embraced MIT with much enthusiasm over the past few decades. In fact, an entire industry has emerged. Teachers can purchase a myriad of DVDs, books and other materials as well as attend seminars on the subject. Finally, schools have emerged throughout the United States that base their teaching approach on Howard Gardner’s ideas.
If MIT does turn out to be true, than it can have a profound impact on how humans learn. So far, though, if nothing else MIT has provided a useful framework for businesses and schools. Moreover, MIT has at least inspired individuals, especially educators, to find new ways to present information. Gardner’s ideas remain debatable, but they have also been popular and useful.