Multiple Intelligences

“An intelligence is a computational capacity—a capacity to process a certain kind of information – that is founded on human biology and human psychology.”[1]

The neural connections in your brain make you predisposed to thinking and behaving in particular ways; your personality. Similarly, the structure of your connectome influences what triggers your feelings and gut reactions; your emotions. So it is not surprising that your unique wiring also affects your ability to take in and process information; your talents, abilities or intelligences.

In the 1970s Howard Gardner began to question the conventional definition of intelligence, as enshrined in IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and SAT (Scholastic Achievement Test) assessments. His research with talented people with brain damage, geniuses, protégés and those on the autism spectrum led him to conclude that there are multiple intelligences, each of which could be broadly mapped to distinct parts of the brain – “a neurally based computational system”.[2]

Each of us has, based on the connections in our brain, some capability in each of the intelligences. Our birth configuration conferred certain natural talents above others. However, I am a strong believer that our starting point does not determine our finishing point. Neuroplasticity means that it is possible for us to develop our capabilities. I am not suggesting that anyone can become the best in the world at anything they choose. However, as I shall discuss later in this chapter, natural talent is only one ingredient, and not the most important, in the recipe for success.

Below is an outline of the 8 intelligences that Gardner has identified.[3] As you read through, consider the extent to which you believe that you possess a particular intelligence. A simple score out of 10 will provide a good starting point. Then perhaps ask other people to score you. At this point, you may be thinking – isn’t there a simple questionnaire that I can do that will provide me with my scores for the different intelligences? Gardner’s view is that such tests suffer from 2 deficiencies:

“l) They don’t actually measure strengths—you would need performance tasks to determine how musically intelligent, or spatially intelligent, or interpersonally intelligent a person is;

2) The tests assume that the person has good intrapersonal intelligence—that is, he or she knows himself well. But many of us think that we know ourselves better than we really do. I doubt that anyone would score herself or himself low in the personal intelligences, but some of us must have lesser personal intelligence than others.”

However, he acknowledges that tests can provide some level of insight but cautions:

“If you use the purported MI questionnaires in the certain knowledge that they tell you nothing and are really only to begin the exploration of this subject then I think they are excellent, but beware of people suddenly acquiring ‘labels’ immediately after completing this type of hopelessly flawed instrument.”

The Intelligences

  • Musical Intelligence – the capacity to hear, recognize manipulate and, to some extent, reproduce musical patterns. Gardner suggests that child prodigies and the ability of autistic children to play instruments expertly support the view that musical intelligence is a discrete, independent intelligence.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence – ability to use parts of the body for creativity, expression and problem-solving. Typically professional dancers and athletes possess high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence – capacity to use logic and mathematics to solve problems. Pattern recognition and deductive reasoning are associated with this intelligence.
  • Linguistic Intelligence – ability to use and understand spoken and written language effectively, for example as a lawyer, writer or speaker.
  • Spatial Intelligence – ability to represent the three-dimensional space in one’s head. It encompasses recognition, use and interpretation of images and patterns, typified by pilots, architects and designers.
  • Naturalist Intelligence – the capacity to discriminate between living things, eg species, and a heightened sensitivity to other features of the natural world. Astronomers, biologists and chefs are likely possess this intelligence.
  • Spiritual & Existential – neither of these are yet accepted as an intelligence but are under serious consideration. They encompass the ability to pose, ponder and synthesise questions about life and its meaning.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”[4]

Personality influences how you use your intelligences. Thus someone with high linguistic intelligence may become a courtroom advocate or television pundit, if an extrovert, or a poet or copy editor, if an introvert.

The final 2 intelligences identified by Gardner,

  • Intrapersonal and
  • Interpersonal

we have already covered in Emotional Intelligence.

[1] Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice

[2] Howard Gardner, initially in Frames of Mind and later in Intelligence Reframed.

[3] Gardner’s ‘intelligences’ are not universally accepted, the main criticism being that they are too broad and are talents or traits rather than intelligences. The academic distinctions should not trouble us too greatly; they are simply a route to insight about yourself.

[4] Albert Einstein