Self-Aware of Our Multiple Intelligences

I believe that the brain has evolved over millions of years to be responsive
to different kinds of content in the world. Language content,
musical content, spatial content, numerical content, etc.

-Howard Gardner

Recently, I have been studying the work of Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences and also that of Daniel Goleman, who has researched what he calls our emotional intelligence. I have taken several assessments intended to offer insight into how well one has mastered each of the intelligences considered by these theorists. I found it a very helpful way to affirm what I already knew about myself, and also that it provided challenging new insights.

In this post, I offer a brief summary of Gardner’s work. Next week, I will look at Daniel Goleman’s explanation of emotional intelligence. After that, I will explore how are brains develop to help us to negotiate life’s challenges, looking specifically at how we utilize the different hemispheres of our brain (left/right brain dominance).

I also provide links to online articles where you can find more information, and to online assessments. I hope you find doing the assessments as much fun and as informative as I have.

Gardner’s theory in brief

In his groundbreaking book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York: Basic Books. 1983, 1993), Howard Gardner took on the traditional approach to human intelligence, which up until then viewed human intelligence as a singular characteristic measured only through the now familiar I.Q. test. Today, Gardner continues to argue that the traditional approach, which focuses primarily on intelligence expressed as an ability to work with words and numbers, is far too limited. Instead, Gardner originally proposed seven different human intelligences, and now is considering several more. His original seven intelligences deal not only with the capacity to engage in logical thinking using words and numbers, but also things like spatial perception, movement, rhythm, and emotion.

I have known for a long time that I always get tripped up by anything that has to do with numbers. If I need to include them in a document, for example by citing a date for a meeting, or have to add up numbers in a budget, more times that not I get it wrong, no matter how many times I try to check my work. It did not surprise me at all, therefore, that when I took a self-assessment for multiple intelligences, I scored zero on logical-mathematical intelligence.

When I shared this result with a friend, she said, “But you always seem so logical in your thinking.” Having taken the assessment, I realized her comment was true, but because of my strength in a different intelligence. One of my highest scores was on “spatial-visual” intelligence. Aware of that, I replied, “Perhaps what looks like logical thinking really comes from my ability to see the patterns, and how they intersect. I can see the way the various pieces make up the whole picture.”

It also did not surprise me that my highest score was in musical intelligence. Once when I was working alone at the office typing away at the computer with music playing loudly in the background, a co-worker came in and said to me, “Music is your first love, isn’t it?”

Intelligence defined

To support his theory of multiple intelligences, Gardner (1999) defines intelligence as:

 a biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or to create products that are of value in a culture (pp. 33-34).

For Gardner, each type of intelligence may or may not activate, depending on opportunities available in the culture and environment in which we develop. In other words, each of us may differ quite markedly in the types of intelligence in which we excel, because we experienced different cultural and environmental factors as we grew up. For me, the most important point in this definition is that intelligence resides in us as a “potential.” That means, even if a particular intelligence was not evoked and developed early in our life, there still exists the possibility for growth in that area. Gardner’s idea of intelligence “potential” means that if we presently score well in one or more intelligences, but come out less strong in others, we may be able to strengthen our weaker intelligences by creating opportunities to practice that form of intelligence.

Howard Gardner

A further implication of Gardner’s theory is that those differences in intelligence impact which way we most readily learn something new. This latter point has had profound implications for education, which is one of the arenas in which Gardner’s work immediately had a major influence.

Gardner also notes that definitions previous to his theory focused only on the ability to solve problems. They completely ignored the capacity to create (33). Essentially, that is why the label “smart” previously was applied only to people who were good at word problems or mathematical puzzles, and not to athletes, musicians, dancers, designers, entrepreneurs, and a host of other people who are good at what they do, only in different ways. To take all of these people into account, Gardner identified seven different forms of intelligence:

  • Linguistic intelligence (sensitivity to spoken and written language, ideas)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (numbers, logic, reasoning)
  • Spatial intelligence (images, spatial perception, meanings)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (physical agility, body movement control)
  • Musical intelligence (awareness of sound, rhythm, patterns)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (understanding of people, their feelings, relationships)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (understanding of self, own needs, capacities)

As one of my colleagues recently noted, using Gardner’s theory allows us to move away from saying, “Timmy is smart,” only because he’s good at math, to saying, “In which way is Timmy smart?” when he is not so good at math, but perhaps excels at something else.

More information on Gardner’s work, including the additional intelligences he presently is considering, can be  found on a Web site which offers free articles on many topics.  If you would like to access the page on multiple intelligences, please click on the link below.

Self-Assessment on Multiple Intelligences

If you want to skip reading more about it and go right to several versions of a free assessment to indicate your intelligence strengths, click on the links below.

free Multiple Intelligences test (based on Howard Gardner’s model) – in MSExcel self-calculating format.

Manual versions:

free Multiple Intelligences testmanual test in MSExcel

free Multiple Intelligences testmanual test in pdf format

Gardner, H. Retrieved from Quotations. “Howard Gardner quotes”. Quotations Online 1 Mar. 2011. 30 Apr. 2011 <http://einstein/quotes/Howard_Gardner/&gt;

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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