Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

In the history of differential psychology, intelligence was believed for many years to be a unitary concept, referring to the ability to solve problems. But Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences showed that this was not the case.
Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Written and verified by la psicóloga Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 24 March, 2021

When we consider the concept of intelligence, we usually think of the ability to solve problems, and to adapt to life, but is intelligence just that? Is there only one type of intelligence? The American psychologist Howard Gardner, in 1983, proved that this isn’t the case, thanks to his theory of multiple intelligences.

In this article, we’ll get to know the 8 types of intelligence proposed by Gardner. We’ll talk about what they consist of, what they’re for, and in which professions these different types of intelligence are most prominent.

“Intelligence never grows by imitation, it grows by experimentation. Intelligence grows by accepting challenges.”


Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences, devised by the American psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983, proposes eight types of intelligence. It’s one of the first theories to go beyond the general idea that there’s only one way to measure intelligence.

Thus, according to Gardner, human life requires the development of different types of intelligence. Gardner, along with his colleagues at Harvard University, realized that academic intelligence wasn’t a deciding factor in knowing how intelligent a person is.

In this sense, they realized that many people with very high academic qualifications had relationship problems or difficulties developing in other areas of their lives.

They saw how intelligence went beyond classical verbal or mathematical intelligence, and that there were more types of intelligence, related to functioning and adaptation to life, in addition to the ability to solve problems (as had been believed to date).

But what types of intelligence are we talking about? What does Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences propose? Let’s have a look.

8 types of intelligence

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was a real revolution in the field of differential psychology. In this theory, the psychologist defined 8 types of intelligence:

1. Linguistic intelligence

The theory of multiple intelligences includes academic intelligence.
Although the image of a university professor or the academic figure are the ones most associated with intelligence, this is not always the case.

We already knew that linguistic intelligence is part of the most classical idea of intelligence – intelligence of an academic nature. It’s one of the most used in this field. It has always been valued greatly, and is understood as the ability to master language and to be able to communicate with others.

This type of intelligence refers to an ability to communicate not only orally, but also through writing, non-verbal language (gestures, posture…), etc.

It could be said that people who communicate effectively and who master a language, making optimal use of it, are people with good linguistic intelligence. We’re talking here about journalists, writers, poets, politicians, etc.

2. Logical-mathematical intelligence

Another of the types of intelligence in Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is the logical-mathematical kind. Also highly valued in the academic field and from the classic idea of intelligence as a unitary factor, we’re referring here to the ability to reason logically and to solve mathematical or abstract problems.

Speed is a major factor in this type of intelligence, in the sense that the faster a person is when solving problems of this type efficiently, the more logical-mathematical intelligence they will have.

Relationship with IQ and professions

The classic IQ tests are based on this type of intelligence (and also on linguistic intelligence). What people are we talking about here? Scientists, mathematicians, engineers, economists…people who dedicate their time to working with numbers, and complex (and often abstract) problems.

It’s also true that it isn’t necessary to have one of these professions in order to have high logical-mathematical intelligence, as there are people who are involved in other fields and who can be very good at this. We’re talking here about an intelligence (like all others) that is partly innate and partly acquired (that is, it can be trained and improved).

3. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence refers to the ability to coordinate the mind with the rest of the body. According to Gardner, the author of the theory we’re dealing with, this type of intelligence allows fluid, harmonious, and precise control of the body.

It’s typical of dancers, choreographers, actors, athletes, and even plastic surgeons and creators. It’s a type of intelligence that enables people, in a rational way, to use their physical abilities and their body in general.

4. Naturalistic intelligence

Naturalistic intelligence refers to the ability to detect, differentiate, and categorize aspects related to the environment and nature. We’re speaking here about our interaction with animals, plants, and elements related to geography, climate, or nature.

It also includes the sensitivity to appreciate the beauty of nature, its nuances, and all its elements. According to Gardner, it’s an essential type of intelligence to ensure the survival of the species, and has been important in the history of evolution.

The author suggests that naturalistic intelligence was developed in order to use the resources offered by nature creatively. However, at present, this concept is used to refer to the ability to know and appreciate nature, but also to the ability to “exploit” environments where human constructions do exist.

5. Interpersonal intelligence

Another of the types of intelligence proposed by Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is the interpersonal type. This type of intelligence allows us to relate appropriately and obtain benefits and personal satisfaction from those relationships.

It enables us to notice things or values in others that go beyond our mere senses, and it helps us to interpret people’s words or gestures effectively. In addition, this is highly influenced by empathy. It’s a very valuable and useful type of intelligence that enables us to relate and live effectively in society, make friends, and have more intimate, deep, and lasting relationships, etc.

On the other hand, it helps us to detect and understand people’s circumstances and problems, a very important skill in professions such as psychology. Other professions where this intelligence is important are law, teaching, and pedagogy.

“The first way to estimate someone’s intelligence is to observe the people around them.”


6. Intrapersonal intelligence

This type of intelligence sounds similar to the previous one, but, in reality, it’s different. In this case, we’re talking about the ability to understand and control our internal (emotional) world.

This involves properly regulating one’s own emotions, understanding oneself, and being able to carry out introspective processes that can help us develop our own personal growth.

Because of this, it has a lot to do with emotional intelligence. People who have good emotional intelligence know themselves better, listen to and understand other people, and are capable of reflecting on everything that happens to them (both internally and externally).

In this sense, they’re able to healthily manage their life experiences, and to integrate them appropriately into their life story.

7. Musical intelligence

The theory of multiple intelligences includes musical intelligence.
Musical intelligence requires a lot of preparation and work, but there are some people with more facility for it than others.

Musical intelligence allows us to perceive, discriminate, transform, and express ourselves through different musical forms. It includes skills such as singing, playing an instrument perfectly, conducting an orchestra, composing, performing etc.

It is, like other types of intelligence in this theory, one that nourishes itself with sensitivity, and the ability to appreciate details, in this case in the musical field. It’s typical of musicians but also of dancers, and of people who work in this field (for example, music teachers).

“Music takes you to a magical world where you are free to be and to feel.”


8. Spatial intelligence

Spatial intelligence, also known as visual-spatial intelligence, is the ability to observe the world and objects from different perspectives. We could think of chess players here, and also professionals in the visual arts such as painters, sculptors, architects, and designers.

Even taxi drivers enjoy great intelligence of this type, since they have to learn so many streets, routes etc. As such, we can relate it, in a certain way, to visual memory.

People with good spatial intelligence have a great ability to devise or create mental maps and images, as well as to draw and identify all sorts of details.

They also have a highly developed personal sense for aesthetics (and many times, for beauty). They can be very creative people as well, and we can name photographers and publicists among this type of people.

Multiple intelligences and their importance in life

We all have each of the types of intelligence described, but we don’t have them all to the same extent or degree. Thus, we can be very “good” in one type of intelligence and have deficiencies in others.

Multiple intelligences are important insofar as they allow us to live in society, understand ourselves, relate to others, adapt to the environment, solve problems etc.

All of them are essential for life, although depending on our work environment (or the one we invest more time in), the importance of each type of intelligence will be greater or lesser.

“True intelligence requires fabulous imagination.”

-Ian Mcewan-

Environment and genetics

These types of intelligence feed on the environment and genetics. What do we mean by this? That intelligence is influenced considerably by genetics (in fact, more so than personality ), but that a person’s surroundings also have an impact.

Many people can be intelligent in any of these areas, but it’s also possible to continue enhancing it through experience and learning. And, on the contrary, people who are slightly deficient in some areas can also train and improve themselves, even though the genetic or hereditary factors will continue to exert their effect.

  • Gardner, Howard (1983): Multiple intelligences. Nueva York: Basic Books.
  • Gardner, H. (1991) The Unschooled Mind: How children think and how schools should teach, New York: Basic Books.
  • Gardner, Howard (1999): Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. Nueva York: Basic Books, 2000.
  • Gardner, H. (2003). La inteligencia reformulada: Las inteligencias múltiples en el siglo XXI. Editorial Paidós.
  • Nikolova, K.; y Taneva-Shopova, S. (2007): «Multiple intelligences theory and educational practice», artículo publicado en la revista Annual Assesn, 26 (2). págs. 105-109; Zlatarov University, 2007.

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