The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Part I)

Most of us consider intelligence governed by a single general ability, which, on first look, seems a logical method: we club together a person’s intelligence based their general education, overall competence, and social interaction levels. Most standardised tests – such as IQ, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and numerous others – assess our intelligence based on a limited range of our capabilities. Imagine how well the Beethoven would have done these tests. We are in no doubt of his genius; for the man who produced his magnum opus while deaf, a singular, narrow definition of intelligent does not suffice and there does exist an alternative: Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s recent Theory of Multiple Intelligences distinguishes intelligence as being sensory ‘modalities’. Specifically, a set of eight modalities, or abilities, for a particular behaviour to be deemed intelligent; these eight abilities are: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, inter- and intra-personal, and naturalistic. To Gardner, everyone has a unique mixture of these eight abilities, leading to a redefinition of intelligence [1]:

a. “The ability to create an effective product or offer a service valued in a culture;

b. A set of skills enabling a person to resolve various life issues;

c. The potential to gather new knowledge to resolve problems.” (Gardner, 1999)

The Modalities

  1. Musicality: related to an understanding of music, rhythms, sounds, and tones, high musical-rhythmic intelligence have good pitch or, in some cases, perfect pitch, exhibiting excellent auditory skills to re-create a musical note with minimal reference. These individuals sing, play musical instruments, and even compose based on their innate understanding of melody, meter, rhythm, pitch, tone, or timbre.
  2. Visual-spatial: found abundantly in proficient architects, this relates to spatial judgement and the ability to cerebrally visualise two- and three-dimensional spaces and is one of the most fundamental modalities.
  3. Verbal-linguistic: an ease with words and languages enables individuals with a high verbal-linguistic capability to effortlessly read, richly chronicle, and memorise dates and words. This modality is one of the most commonly assessed ‘intelligences’.
  4. Logical-mathematical: Another central and commonly assessed intelligence, this relates to abstractions, critical thinking, logic, numbers, and reasoning; individuals with high capability in this field understand the why behind fundamental classifications and concepts.
  5. Bodily-Kinaesthetic: Together known as the fine- and gross-motor skills, this area of intelligence relates to control of bodily motions and the ability to handle objects with dexterity. A sense of timing, a clear visualisation of a corporal action’s goal, and being able to coach responses are visible typically in actors, athletes, builders, dancers, musicians, and soldiers. Most importantly, this intelligence cannot be simulated virtually.
  6. Interpersonal: Otherwise known as social skills, this area of intelligence deals with communication and interaction with others. Individuals with high interpersonal intelligence display enhanced sensitivity towards the emotions, feelings, moods, motivations, and temperaments of others, along with being able to cooperate well with others. Enthusiastically debating and discussing, these individuals are efficient communicators and empathise easily with others.
  7. Intrapersonal: A frequently misunderstood and rare intelligence, this feature concerns the capacity to self-reflect or be introspective. Highly introspective individuals display a deep understanding of the self, strengths, weaknesses, uniqueness, and the ability to foresee their own emotions and reactions.
  8. Naturalistic: concerning the relation of an individual to his, or her, surroundings, this intelligence translates to effortless classification of nature – animals, plants, rock forms, mountain types, and so on. An eagerness to a “sensitive, ethical, and holistic understanding” of the ecology and its myriad complexities is prevalent in highly naturalistic individuals [2].

Further Reading

[1] Gardner, H. (1999) Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, New York: Basic Books. 292 pages. [Useful review of Gardner’s theory and discussion of issues and additions].

[2] Morris, M. (2004). “Ch. 8. The Eight One: Naturalistic Intelligence”, in Kincheloe, Joe L., Multiple Intelligences Reconsidered, Peter Lang, pp. 159


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