Multiple Intelligences: A Different Way to Understand How We Learn

Updated on March 9, 2020
JC Scull profile image

JC Scull lived abroad working in international market development and taught international business relations and strategies in China.



Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner's 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences separates human intelligence into different abilities rather that a single general aptness as it was previously believed. He originally identified eight intelligences which will be detailed in this article.

The theory of multiple intelligences is valuable when assessing and developing methods of pedagogy. It is also an important tool in understanding how you and your children learn.

At the end of the article, the reader will find websites that offer tests based on this theory. Please note some of the tests are free, others attempt to charge your for the results.

Note: The author also wrote an article about a 14-year old girl who took the test and the results she got. The reader is welcome to peruse it here:


Most IQ tests contain different types of questions. They range from mathematical and verbal analogies, spatial pattern driven questions, questions that have to do with the ability to classify, do visual recognition, spatial positioning, and reach logical conclusions.

While these categories seem to be objective areas with which to measure intellectual performance, most people define intelligence in their own image. Doctors define intelligence in ways that describe a good doctors. For police officers intelligence has to do with being a good bloodhound cop. The same goes with engineers, artists, mathematicians, carpenters, car mechanics even athletes. How many times have we heard: “She is such a smart tennis player.”

David Brenner, the stand-up comedian of the 70’s and 80’s used to have a gag where he would describe what it was to be Jewish. In it he would say: “You know, I grew up in a typical Jewish household. My mother was so Jewish she used to hold a hammer on her left hand and a book on her right. She would look at me and say: ‘David, let me tell you something. You see this hammer? This hammer is bad. Bad hammer…bad hammer. You see this book…this book is good. Good book.” Did Mrs. Brenner want her son David to be smart or to be successful in his future career?

Based on newly conducted research the indications are that while being book smart might make you more money when you enter the job market, or be more prestigious, it does not necessarily point to being more intelligent. In fact there are groups of psychologist who persistently disagree on the definition of intelligence. The main reason for this seems to be that the term intelligence is quite fungible, possessing many interchangeable dimensions as well as different meanings to a wide variety of people.

This is not to say that we should veer off from the abstract or metaphysical meaning of the term intelligence as it is indeed an important definition. However a more accurate description of the term intelligent or possessing intelligence is to describe people who are able to acquire useful knowledge allowing them to solve significant problems by using logic, intuition, creativity, innovation and wisdom. Experts will affirm the fact that learning how to learn is far more important than memorizing facts and figures.

Multiple Intelligences Explained

Howard Earl Gardner and Multiple Intelligences

In the last three decades additional theories relating to intelligence has emerged. In 1983, developmental psychologist Howard Earl Gardner of Harvard University wrote Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, in which he makes the claim that humans have several different ways of processing information each of which relatively independent of any of the others. This notion is a radical departure from the then established notion that all methods of processing information were connected or interrelated.

The theory of multiple intelligences as explained by Gardner postulates that there are eight abilities or types of intelligences that humans have. Most persons will possess one of these intelligences as dominant with other abilities or types of intelligences added to the mix. Non-cognitive abilities or personality traits are typically an addition to the dominant and non-dominant abilities.

Gardner identified eight intelligences which shine a completely different light on our ability to learn, remember, perform and understand. These intelligences are:

1. Musical-rhythmic and harmonic. This mode of intelligence has to do with the ability to process or work with sounds, rhythms, tones and music. People with this intelligence have good pitch, perhaps even perfect or absolute pitch. They are able to sing, play musical instruments, are sensitive to rhythm, pitch, tone, melody and are even able to compose music.

2. Visual-spatial. People with this type of intelligence are able to visualize with the mind’s eye, and think in terms of physical space. Architects, carpenters, sailors, pilots, race car drivers are typical professions that require visual-spatial capabilities. The usage of graphics, charts, photographs, drawing, 3-D modeling or sculpture, multimedia and television are typical tools used within this group.

3. Verbal-linguistic. People within this mode are able to use words and languages effectively. They typically have a talent for reading, writing, creating fictional stories and memorizing words and their meanings. They like word games and are good at creating poetry. They have highly developed auditory skills and think in words.

4. Logical-mathematical. These people are good at reasoning and calculating. They use logic, abstractions, reasoning, numbers and critical thinking as well as deductive and inductive reasoning in order to learn and solve problems. They use fluid intelligence or fluid reasoning in order to solve problems independent of any knowledge from the past. They are able to analyze and solve novel problems by identifying patterns and relationships germane to the query they are seeking to decipher.

5. Bodily-kinesthetic. The dimensions of this intelligence are control of one’s bodily motions, the capacity to handle objects skillfully, a heighten sense of timing, and the ability to train responses and reflex reactions. People with high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are good at physical activities such as sports, dance, acting, police activity, and using tools in order to make things, wage war. They communicate well through body language and learn through physical activity, hands-on learning, role-playing and by the usage of equipment and real objects.

6. Interpersonal. People with high interpersonal intelligence are highly sensitive to other people’s moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations. Their ability to work and cooperate in a group is highly developed. People in this group make good leaders or followers. They also make good salespeople, politicians, teachers, lecturers, counselors and social workers. They are also thought to have high emotional intelligence.

7. Intrapersonal. This group of people have highly developed introspective and self-reflective capabilities. This intelligence has to do with having a deep understanding of the self which includes understanding one’s own strengths, weaknesses, reactions and emotions. These are typically introspective people who tend to shy away from others. They have wisdom, intuition, motivation and a strong will as well as confidence and opinions. They can be creative, good at maintaining diaries and often solve problems through introspection and meditation.

8. Naturalistic. The intelligence of the naturalist has to do with the ability to recognize flora and fauna as well as consequential distinctions in the natural world in order to productively hunt, fish, farm and nurture plant and animal life. People with naturalistic intelligence excel in biological sciences, geology, botany and even cooking sciences. This group has a deep understanding of the complexities of the world often including how humans fit within a greater ecosphere.

Howard Gardner and Ellen Winner Discuss Intelligences and Arts Education

The implications of Howard Earl Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences are profound, especially as they relate to pedagogical endeavors. As Gardner asserts, this theory challenges “an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn the same material in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning.”

It is important for teaching institutions to think of all the intelligences as of equal importance, structuring material in such way that each of these abilities are engaged. It also has implications for the testing industry, for the test takers and for the people assess and evaluate the meaning of the tests required by the institutions of learning.

For those of us who have either struggled with IQ tests, LSAT’s, GRE’s, etc., or who have at any time doubted our level of intelligence it is refreshing to learn that things are a little more complicated than just being able to solve a Sudoku or a crossword puzzle. Your talents might just not be compatible with these mind benders.

Which is your most dominant intelligence? Simplest way to find out is to take one of the many free online tests available. The following are some of the websites you can visit that will help you understand yourself better.


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    • JC Scull profile imageAUTHOR

      JC Scull 

      7 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

      Thank you for your comment Devika. I am very glad you enjoyed the article.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      This is interesting and I had tested myself online, impressive results. A unique idea for a hub and I learned a lot from here about the was to view intelligence. I realized that smartness is from within

    • JC Scull profile imageAUTHOR

      JC Scull 

      7 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

      Thank you Lorna! Your comment carries a lot of weight since you are a professional.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      7 months ago

      I studied Gardner's Theory which I personally agree with. Having studied medicine and psychology I am able to see both sides of the coin. Medicine for the most part is theory based and has to be memorised to a certain extent. However, Gardner's Theory allows for a much broader spectrum and shows how intelligence tests should make allowances for this. An interesting and thought provoking article JC.

    • JC Scull profile imageAUTHOR

      JC Scull 

      7 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

      Thank you John!

      Thank you MG!

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh 

      7 months ago from Singapore

      Intelligence is god-given or developed? I don't know but people who are hyper-intelligent do end up with a kink. The reason is to do something outlandish to gather attention.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      A very informative article, JC. I haven't done the online tests but I am confident I fit in the categories of 3 and 7. thank you for sharing.

    • JC Scull profile imageAUTHOR

      JC Scull 

      7 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

      I don't want to be in the company of Hitler or Charles Manson, so I think I'll just stay dumb. Thanks for your comment.

    • ValKaras profile image

      Val Karas 

      7 months ago from Canada

      JC -- "You might not know" it, but there are also certain negative aspects of intelligence. Like, Hitler was known to be very intelligent, and so was Charles Manson -- not to forget those sociopaths who are, almost by definition, quite intelligent.

      And then, of course, it's a well covered theme in textbooks of psychology, mentioning different ways of measuring it, and ascribing it to different vocations, talents, skills, and abilities.

      The word "intelligence" has been used for monkeys and geniuses, so let's cherry pick in what context we want to see it.

      I like your article, you picked well, and elaborated well.


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