The Theory of Multiple Intelligence (MI)

miIn 1983,  Howard Gardner proposed a new theory and definition of intelligence, which has become known as the theory of multiple intelligence. This theory is cited because it tries to address some of the fundamental issues associated with the nature of intelligence:

Is intelligence a single faculty or multiple, independent faculties?

Certainly, what neuroscience is beginning to learn about the structure of the physical brain, in conjunction with its evolutionary staged development, might well  turn out to support aspects of MI theory, but such conclusions still need further research. However, the MI theory gives us a starting point for discussion.

Outline of the Theory

To qualify as an `intelligence faculty`, a series of criteria were established, drawn from the biological sciences, logical analysis, developmental psychology, experimental psychology and psychometric:

  • Isolation by brain damage
    This means that a faculty can be isolated from another. This criterion comes from work in neuropsychology in which stroke patients retain an intelligence faculty despite damage to other cognitive abilities, such as speech.
  • A place in evolutionary history
    An intelligence faculty has to have played a role in  our evolutionary survival. For example, early humans had to be able to navigate their environment using a spatial ability. Therefore, the environment created a selection criteria for this ability.

  • The presence of core operations
    As an example, linguistic intelligence consists of core operations, such as recognition and discrimination of phonemes, command of syntax and acquisition of word meanings. Whereas, in musical intelligence, the core operations are pitch, rhythm, timbre, and harmony.

  • The susceptibility to encoding
    These encoding systems are developed as a function of an intelligence faculty, e.g. written and spoken language, mathematical systems, logical equations, maps, charts and drawings etc.
  • The existence of savants, prodigies and other exceptional people
    The existence of these people allows researchers to observe the nature of a particular intelligence in contrast to other average or impaired abilities. One example of this type of highlighted intelligence is the autistic person who excels at numerical calculations or musical performance.

  • Support from experimental psychology and psychometric findings
    Observing subjects who are asked to carry out two activities simultaneously can help determine if those activities rely on the same mental capacities or different ones. For example, a person engaged in a crossword puzzle is unlikely to be able to carry on a conversation effectively, because both tasks demand the attention of linguistic intelligence, which creates interference. Whereas, when this conflict is absent, a person is able to walk and converse at the same time suggesting that two different and independent intelligence faculties are engaged.

From the preceding criteria, MI theory provides a rationale for seven intelligence faculties:

  • Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to detect patterns, think logically, reason deductively and carry out mathematical operations.

  • Linguistic intelligence involves the mastery of spoken and written language to express oneself or remember things.

These first two forms of intelligence are typical of the abilities that contribute to strong performance in traditional school environments and underpin high scores on most IQ measures or tests of achievement.

  • Spatial intelligence involves the potential for recognising and manipulating the patterns of both wide spaces such as those negotiated by pilots or navigators, and confined spaces such as those encountered by sculptors, architects or championship chess players.

  • Musical intelligence consists of the capacity to recognise and compose musical pitches, tones, rhythms, and patterns and to use them for performance or composition.

  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence involves the use of parts of the body or the whole body to solve problems or create products. Athletes, dancers, surgeons and craftspeople are likely to have highly developed capacity in this area.

The last two intelligences are the personal intelligences:

  • Interpersonal intelligence indicates a person's ability to recognise the intentions, feelings and motivations of others. People who possess and develop this quality are likely to work well with others and may choose fields like sales, teaching, counselling or politics in order to use them.

  • Intrapersonal intelligence is described as the ability to understand oneself and use that information to regulate one's own life.

According to MI theory each of these intelligence faculties has a specific set of abilities that can be observed and measured. However, today, aspects of this theory are often consider in terms of Big Five personality traits.