Gardner argued that people are intelligent in different ways.
IQ tests work better for some people than others – and this is not simply for the obvious reason that some people are "smarter". If you're good with words and logic, then the typical IQ test probably works well for you.
But what if words and logic aren't your strong skills, but you're still extremely good at what you do? Here, traditional IQ scores do not seem to be reflecting your true intelligence.
The study of intelligence began in Paris in the late 1890s with Alfred Binet, who developed a test designed to identify children with special educational needs.
His approach of quantifying intelligence was then readily accepted in the United States and worldwide. Schools began testing children and adopting curricula that would help students improve their IQs. Getting into the right college or university is still often dependent on IQ, and on tests like the SAT (Scholastic Achievement Test) that are derived from IQ tests.
In the 1970s, Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University, started questioning the traditional definition of intelligence on which such tests were based. Gardner worked with talented children and adults who had brain damage. He found that people had many other gifts and talents that weren't necessarily reflected in the traditional ideals of intelligence. He used a variety of sources – including neurophysiological research and studies with autistic people, geniuses, and protégés – to support his model that various parts of the brain provide different types of intelligence.
In 1983, Gardner published the book "Frames of Mind," which outlined seven different types of intelligence. Ten years later, he added an eighth type. This multiple intelligences (MI) theory became a popular model for understanding the many ways in which human intelligence exists.
The multiple intelligences theory (MI theory) claims that all humans have eight intelligences, to a lesser or greater extent, and that we each have a different intelligence profile. This profile is based on our genetics and our experiences, and it makes us unique from others. The intelligences are as follows:
As interest in Gardner's multiple intelligences increased, interest in testing for the various intelligence types developed too. Gardner and his colleagues looked at this issue and concluded that it was too difficult to create a valid test. To do so, he argued, you would have to include several performance measures. As an example, Gardner said, "Spatial intelligence would be a product of one's performances in such activities as finding one's way around an unfamiliar terrain, playing chess, reading blueprints, and remembering the arrangement of objects in a recently vacated room."
Gardner criticized the tests for two key reasons:
While the idea of multiple intelligences seems intuitively attractive, a key criticism is that no valid measurement tool is available. This has made MI difficult to prove. It is therefore accused of being ambiguous and subjective, instead of objective. To further complicate the issue, proposed assessments are complex and expensive to design.
Some people believe that the eight intelligences are not necessarily distinct, but that they're simply subsets of a general intelligence (often known as "g") – although the existence of general intelligence is, itself, the subject of controversy. Some also argue that Gardner's intelligences are better understood as cognitive styles, or ways of thinking, rather than distinct types of intelligence.
So if this is Gardner's theory, how do we use it?
Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has created a new understanding of intelligence. It also emphasizes the importance of understanding what intelligence really is, and it's forced us to question the way we perceive intelligence.
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