Individual Differences


Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

Last updated:
15 Dec 2006

Overview of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

Gardner's Approach to Intelligence

Gardner's Five Signs of an Intelligence

Gardner's Seven Intelligences

Strengths of Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory

Weaknesses of Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory

More about Gardner's Multiple Intelligences...


Overview of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

Gardner continues in the tradition of Thurstone's proposal that there is no g (general intelligence) but rather multiple, distinct intelligences.  Gardner proposes seven intelligences (although he does not limit the possible number)

  1. Linguistic intelligence
  2. Musical intelligence
  3. Logical- mathematical intelligence
  4. Spatial intelligence
  5. Bodily-Kinaesthetic intelligence
  6. Interpersonal intelligence
  7. Interpersonal intelligence

Additional 'candidate' intelligences are:

  • Naturalistic intelligence (ability to discern patterns in nature - e.g. Darwin)
  • Spiritual Intelligence - recognition of the spiritual
  • Existential intelligence - concern with 'ultimate issues'
  • Gardner's approach to intelligence

    Howard Gardner (1983, 1993, 1999) believes that we have multiple intelligences, rather than a general intelligence that underlies performance in all tasks (g).

    In arguing that there are distinct and separate components to intelligence Gardner offers nothing particularly new. However, what is new about Gardner's work is that he does not attempt to support his approach purely through statistical reanalysis of data (e.g. as Thurstone did), but instead he has looked at various "signs" to inform his theory of what constitutes intelligence.

    Gardner's multiple intelligence theory is supported by the current anti-g Zeitgeist. He also suggests that different cultures highlight certain intelligences & minimize others.

    Gardner's Five Signs of an Intelligence

    Gardner has examined a variety of sources in order to formulate his theory of intelligence: intelligence tests, cognition experiments, neuropsychological research, child prodigies and idiot savantes.

    As a result, Gardner has proposed five "signs" or criteria that he uses to identify whether an intelligence qualifies as being distinct and autonomous from other intelligences:

    1. Neuropsychological evidence: isolation by brain damage:

         One criterion was whether an intelligence could be isolated neuropsychologically. Gardner argues that people have multiple intelligences because they have multiple neural modules. Each module, he believes, has its own way of operating and its own memory systems. Brain damage may sometimes impair one intellectual skill whilst other skills remain at least partially intact after brain damage. For example, brain-injured musicians may have impaired speech, yet retain the ability to play music (aphasia without amusia (Hodges, 1996; Sergent, 1993).

    2. The existence of individuals with exceptional talent:

         Selective competence (such as idiot savants, prodigies), like selective deficits, suggests autonomy of that particular competence. In other words, the presence of extraordinary intelligence in one area suggests a distinct form of intelligence. If Mozart could write music before he could even read, then the neural systems involved in musical intelligence must be separate from those involved in language processing.

    3. A distinct developmental history:

         Another source of evidence for an intelligence is a characteristic developmental trajectory leading from basic and universal manifestations to one or more expert end-states.  For example, spoken language develops quickly and to great competence in normal people.  In contrast, while all normal individuals can count small quantities, few progress to an understanding of higher mathematics even with formal schooling. (Torff & Gardner, 1999).

    4. Experimental evidence:

         e.g. individuals performing two different tasks at once indicate that some intelligences (or is it just abilities) operate autonomously.

    5. Psychometric support:

         e.g. factor analysis shows different factors in intelligence. FA generally supports the existence of two big group factors: verbal and spatial (Torff & Gardner, 1999).

    Gardner's Seven Intelligences

    Gardner concludes that the cumulative evidence points to seven (or possibly eight) distinct intelligences. The first three are somewhat similar to previous components of intelligence identified by other approaches; whereas the second four/five are more novel. He believes these develop differently in different people due to both heredity and training. He believes that all need to be measured to provide a truly global assessment of intelligence.

    1. Linguistic Intelligence: involved in reading, writing, listening and talking

    2. Logical-Mathematic Intelligence: involved in solving logical puzzles, deriving proofs, performing calculations

    3. Spatial Intelligence: involved in moving from one location to another or determining one's orientation in space

    4. Musical Intelligence: involved in playing, composing, singing and conducting. Furthermore, Gardner believes that auto mechanics and cardiologists may have this kind of intelligence in abundance as they make diagnoses on the careful listening to patterns of sounds.

    5. Bodily-Kinaesthetic Intelligence: involved in using one's body (or parts of it) to perform skilful and purposeful movements (dancers, athletes and surgeons)

    6. Intrapersonal Intelligence: involved in understanding oneself and having insight into one's own thoughts, actions and emotions (self-understanding).

    7. Interpersonal functioning: involved in understanding of others and one's relations to others. Being high in social skills (psychologists, teachers and politicians are supposed to be high in this type of intelligence).

    8. The eighth intelligence was proposed by Gardner in 1999 and he calls it Naturalistic Intelligence. This intelligence involves the ability to understand and work effectively in the natural world. This is exemplified by biologists and zoologists.

    Strengths of Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory

    • helps to explain the variety of individual differences in different types of mental performance
    • based in developmental, clinical, case study and educational evidence

    Criticisms of Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory

    • narrow intelligences may meet criteria, e.g. 20 to 30 intelligences may also have been convincing
    • are these intelligences or just 'abilities'?  (and what is the difference?) - musical, bodily-kinaesthetic, intra and interpersonal are a source of some controversy
    • doesn't explain why some people are more intelligent than others
    • these 'intelligences' are not all essential for successful adaptation (one of the common definitions of intelligence)
    • ultimately there is not really much HARD scientific evidence.


    Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

    Wikipedia.  Theory of multiple intelligences.