Thursday, 28 February 2013

Multiple intelligences theory and creativity

Howard Gardner has set out a radically different view of intelligence from the traditional view of a general IQ score. Instead of a single ability called intelligence, as proposed by Spearman (1904), Gardner believed that there are many 'intelligences'.

What’s more, they are all unrelated – ability in one is totally separate from ability in any other. You do best in tasks which relate to your strongest intelligence, but levels in other intelligences can increase with practice.

The seven multiple intelligences first set out (Gardiner, 1983) are Linguistic, Visual/spatial, Mathematical/logical, Bodily/kinaesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal. Later, an eighth intelligence was added – Naturalist Intelligence.


Gardner believes that it is wrong to view someone who is good at language or spatial reasoning as 'intelligent' and others who are good at music or sports as having a 'skill'.  He states that each should be viewed as an intelligence, equal in status.  Each has particular brain areas associated with it, and there is no reason other than prejudice and tradition to consider just some of these areas to be 'true' intelligence.

Gardner's 1983 book Frames of Minds states that there are seven intelligences, each one separate from the others.  By using written exams, traditional academic subjects tend to draw mainly on just one of these - linguistic intelligence - but there are others which are of equal importance and value.

The multiple intelligences theory suggests that we have
a range of separate types of intelligence. Image by Patrick Hoesly


Gardner argues that a high level of intelligence would be necessary for a creative task - the difference between being good at playing the piano, for example, and being able to compose.

As mentioned above, school exams tend to emphasise certain types of intelligence, most obviously linguistic intelligence. However, they don't even fully test this. Why is that people who succeed at language school are not always the same as those who become great writers, journalists or poets? Part of the explanation could be that written exams only draw on one aspect of verbal-linguistic intelligence. Any test which draws largely on memory will not make much use of the higher reaches of linguistic abilities - the creative, imaginative, playful and symbolic uses of language.

Links to real life

Compared to traditional theories of IQ, this comes closer to explaining why people who are good at school are not always the same ones who succeed in life - because school only focuses on some aspects of intelligence. Someone with a strong interpersonal intelligence, for example, would thrive at networking and conferences, and might therefore do much better than their grades would suggest.

One implication could be that school curriculum be built more closely around these key intelligences.  This would mean retaining current mathematics and language courses, but linking them more to creative and practical skills rather than memorisation.  Music and sports/dance would be similar, but other areas of the school timetable might look very different. There would be more emphasis on psychological and relationship-based learning, as well as nature-based learning - something that Harry Potter's school Hogwarts had under the name Herbology!

Harry Potter's schooling may have drawn on naturalist
intelligence. Image by Michael Vough.


So where does that leave the concept of genius - how can someone be super-bright in multiple intelligences? Rather than genius being a matter of high IQ, each intelligence has its own examples of geniuses; Mozart was a genius in musical intelligence, for example, and Picasso a genius in visual-spatial intelligence. Although it is sometimes said that the theory proves that 'everyone is good at something', in fact you could be average at all of the intelligences! On the positive side, Gardner also notes that intelligences can increase with practice.

It is worth remembering that any theory of intelligence abilities only explains some aspects of performance. Things like motivation and learning are not really covered - a person could have a lot of potential in any of the intelligences, but not make use of it.

This is part of the Creativity in Education Series of 
articles - every month on this blog -
click HERE for previous post.


Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

See also: Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences

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