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What is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences?

By Brian Marchetti
Updated May 23, 2024
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The theory of multiple intelligences attempts to define human intelligence in a more accurate sense and questions the scientific validity of current methods that measure intelligence. In a general sense, the theory proposes that humans achieve understanding through a wide range of abilities. A student’s lack of understanding pf a certain concept does not necessarily mean that other students possess more intelligence. The theory contends that the student may learn from a different method, excel in other areas, or may be attempting to understand the concept at a deeper level.

The theory was first proposed by American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983. Originally, Gardner maintained that there were seven types of intelligence, but added another in 1999. Originally, Gardner maintained that there were seven types of intelligence, including spatial, linguistic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, and musical. In 1999, he added naturalistic to this list to make eight. According to multiple intelligences theory, humans are born with different types of intelligences that exist independently of each other. This contradicts previous held notions that maintain the human mind is a tabula rasa, or blank slate, at birth.

Traditional theories of education maintaining intelligence as a single entity assumed that humans could learn anything as long as it was presented in the appropriate manner. This ideology led schools to develop education and testing for only logical and linguistic intelligence. While most students achieve success through this method, many others do not. Proponents of the theory of multiple intelligences use a variety exercises and method styles that attempt to reach out to all students in an attempt to utilize their abilities.

Many teachers felt the theory of multiple intelligences simply validated a long-held assumption. The implementation of the theory is applied in a wide variety of ways. Some schools had teachers work multiple intelligences theory into their daily classroom activities, such as by offering several ways for students to express what they have learned — through a project, a paper or a presentation, for example. On teacher even based the entire school curriculum around the theory of multiple intelligences. A Harvard University study of 41 US schools using the theory showed that the schools generally had well-disciplined students that produced high-quality work.

The theory is not without its detractors. Many critics, usually from within the scientific and psychological communities, have pointed out that multiple intelligences theory has never been tested or subjected to peer review. Many who study intelligence maintain the theory is based more in opinion than fact. Despite its criticisms, multiple intelligences theory remains popular in Western classrooms and is starting to gain momentum throughout the world.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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