Activity 3

Gardner’s Critique of Traditional Theories of Intelligence

In 1983, in a book called Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner proposed a new view of intelligence, the theory of multiple intelligences, which has been absorbed into school curricula and assessment practices all over the world in the years since.

Gardner says that our traditional focus on mathematical and linguistic intelligence has been far too narrow. Numeracy and literacy have been regarded as the two core curriculum areas since the beginning of the 20th century and intelligence testing has reflected this.

Gardner believes that the concept of intelligence needs to be expanded. Intelligence is not ‘unitary'; it's a collection of multiple intelligences, each one a system in its own right (as opposed to merely separate aspects of one larger system). Gardner associates each intelligence with a particular area of the brain and maintains that each one is valued by at least one culture.

REFLECT: Gardner defines intelligence as "the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural settings". How useful do you find this definition of intelligence?

Intelligence has traditionally been viewed almost in a biological way, as an innate, cognitive ability, a faculty of the brain almost like an organ of the body. Gardner proposes that intelligence cannot be described as a fixed quantity, but rather can be trained and increased. He argued that we all tend towards certain intelligences which give us preferred learning styles. Here is a summary of the characteristics of people who possess each of the intelligences which he identifies:

Verbal-linguistic intelligence: ability to understand, absorb, manipulate and use words

Visual-spatial intelligence: ability to perceive, create and recreate images and pictures, to absorb and make sense of visual data

Logical-mathematical intelligence
: ability to sequence items, put them into logical order and identify patterns, understand symbols including number

Kinesthetic intelligence: ability to perform and think through physical activity, have highly developed tactile sense and respond to physical activity

Musical intelligence: ability to appreciate and respond to sound and music, have a feel for rhythm and melody and absorb data through musical modes

Intrapersonal intelligence: ability to understand own feelings and emotions, work best on their own, inclined to internalise and reflect on ideas and information

Interpersonal intelligence: ability to relate well to other people, feel comfortable in social contexts and learn through group activity, for example, discussing ideas with others and being a member of a team

This was his original list. He's now added an eighth "naturalistic intelligence", as possessed by someone like Darwin - who had the ability to classify the environment.

More recently, and somewhat controversially, Gardner has suggested there is possibly an existential intelligence - the ability to deal with existential questions: Why are we here? What will happen to us in the future?

In Gardner's model, individuals have a profile of intelligences in which some capacities are more developed than others. Gardner argues that although individuals may have clear strengths and preferences, each intelligence can be developed through appropriate experience.