Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

The concept of multiple intelligences is a theory proposed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner. When you hear the word intelligence, the concept of IQ testing may immediately come to mind. Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential; something we are born with, something that can be measured, and a capacity that is difficult to change.

In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged, including Gardner's suggestion that multiple different types of intelligence may exist.

Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell

Theory of Multiple Intelligences

This theory suggests that traditional psychometric views of intelligence are too limited. Gardner first outlined his theory in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, where he suggested that all people have different kinds of "intelligences."

Gardner proposed that there are eight intelligences, and has suggested the possible addition of a ninth known as "existentialist intelligence."

In order to capture the full range of abilities and talents that people possess, Gardner theorizes that people do not have just an intellectual capacity, but have many kinds of intelligence, including musical, interpersonal, spatial-visual, and linguistic intelligences.

While a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, he or she most likely possesses a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical, and naturalistic intelligence.

Criticism

Gardner’s theory has come under criticism from both psychologists and educators. These critics argue that Gardner’s definition of intelligence is too broad and that his eight different "intelligences" simply represent talents, personality traits, and abilities. Gardner’s theory also suffers from a lack of supporting empirical research.

Despite this, the theory of multiple intelligences enjoys considerable popularity with educators. Many teachers utilize multiple intelligences in their teaching philosophies and work to integrate Gardner’s theory into the classroom.

Gardner has cautioned that multiple intelligences should not be conflated with learning styles. (It is also important to stress that evidence has found that matching instruction to a learner's perceived style has no benefits in terms of learning outcomes or educational attainment.)

There is a lack of evidence to demonstrate that learning according to your "intelligence" produces better educational outcomes. However, you may find that learning more about multiple intelligences can give you a better understanding of your strengths and preferences.

1

Visual-Spatial Intelligence

People who are strong in visual-spatial intelligence are good at visualizing things. These individuals are often good with directions as well as maps, charts, videos, and pictures.

Strengths

Visual and spatial judgment

Characteristics

People with visual-spatial intelligence:

  • Read and write for enjoyment
  • Are good at putting puzzles together
  • Interpret pictures, graphs, and charts well
  • Enjoy drawing, painting, and the visual arts
  • Recognize patterns easily

Potential Career Choices

If you're strong in visual-spatial intelligence, good career choices for you are: 

  • Architect
  • Artist
  • Engineer
2

Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence

People who are strong in linguistic-verbal intelligence are able to use words well, both when writing and speaking. These individuals are typically very good at writing stories, memorizing information, and reading.

Strengths

Words, language, and writing

Characteristics

People with linguistic-verbal intelligence:

  • Remember written and spoken information
  • Enjoy reading and writing
  • Debate or give persuasive speeches
  • Are able to explain things well
  • Use humor when telling stories

Potential Career Choices

If you're strong in linguistic-verbal intelligence, good career choices for you are:

  • Writer/journalist
  • Lawyer
  • Teacher
3

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

People who are strong in logical-mathematical intelligence are good at reasoning, recognizing patterns, and logically analyzing problems. These individuals tend to think conceptually about numbers, relationships, and patterns.

Strengths

Analyzing problems and mathematical operations

Characteristics 

People with logical-mathematical intelligence:

  • Have excellent problem-solving skills
  • Enjoy thinking about abstract ideas
  • Like conducting scientific experiments
  • Can solve complex computations

Potential Career Choices

If you're strong in logical-mathematical intelligence, good career choices for you are:

  • Scientist
  • Mathematician
  • Computer programmer
  • Engineer
  • Accountant
4

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

Those who have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are said to be good at body movement, performing actions, and physical control. People who are strong in this area tend to have excellent hand-eye coordination and dexterity.

Strengths

Physical movement, motor control

Characteristics

People with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence:

  • Are skilled at dancing and sports
  • Enjoy creating things with his or her hands
  • Have excellent physical coordination
  • Remember by doing, rather than hearing or seeing

Potential Career Choices

If you're strong in bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, good career choices for you are:

  • Dancer
  • Builder
  • Sculptor
  • Actor
5

Musical Intelligence

People who have strong musical intelligence are good at thinking in patterns, rhythms, and sounds. They have a strong appreciation for music and are often good at musical composition and performance.

Strengths

Rhythm and music

Characteristics

People with musical intelligence:

  • Enjoy singing and playing musical instruments
  • Recognize musical patterns and tones easily
  • Remember songs and melodies
  • Have a rich understanding of musical structure, rhythm, and notes

Potential Career Choices

If you're strong in musical intelligence, good career choices for you are:

  • Musician
  • Composer
  • Singer
  • Music teacher
  • Conductor
6

Interpersonal Intelligence

Those who have strong interpersonal intelligence are good at understanding and interacting with other people. These individuals are skilled at assessing the emotions, motivations, desires, and intentions of those around them.

Strengths

Understanding and relating to other people

Characteristics

People with interpersonal intelligence:

  • Communicate well verbally
  • Are skilled at nonverbal communication
  • See situations from different perspectives
  • Create positive relationships with others
  • Resolve conflicts in group settings

Potential Career Choices

If you're strong in interpersonal intelligence, good career choices for you are:

  • Psychologist
  • Philosopher
  • Counselor
  • Salesperson
  • Politician
7

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Individuals who are strong in intrapersonal intelligence are good at being aware of their own emotional states, feelings, and motivations. They tend to enjoy self-reflection and analysis, including daydreaming, exploring relationships with others, and assessing their personal strengths.

Strengths

Introspection and self-reflection

Characteristics

People with intrapersonal intelligence:

  • Analyze their strengths and weaknesses well
  • Enjoy analyzing theories and ideas
  • Have excellent self-awareness
  • Understand the basis for his or her own motivations and feelings

Potential Career Choices

If you're strong in intrapersonal intelligence, good career choices for you are:

  • Philosopher
  • Writer
  • Theorist
  • Scientist
8

Naturalistic Intelligence

Naturalistic is the most recent addition to Gardner’s theory and has been met with more resistance than his original seven intelligences. According to Gardner, individuals who are high in this type of intelligence are more in tune with nature and are often interested in nurturing, exploring the environment, and learning about other species. These individuals are said to be highly aware of even subtle changes to their environments.

Strengths

Finding patterns and relationships to nature

Characteristics

People with naturalistic intelligence:

  • Are interested in subjects such as botany, biology, and zoology
  • Categorize and catalog information easily
  • Enjoy camping, gardening, hiking, and exploring the outdoors
  • Dislikes learning unfamiliar topics that have no connection to nature

Potential Career Choices

If you're strong in naturalistic intelligence, good career choices for you are:

  • Biologist
  • Conservationist
  • Gardener
  • Farmer
9

Existential Intelligence

Existential intelligence is the ninth type of intelligence suggested as an addition to Gardner's original theory. He described existential intelligence as an ability to delve into deeper questions about life and existence. People with this type of intelligence contemplate the "big" questions about topics such as the meaning of life and how actions can serve larger goals.

Strengths

An ability to see the big picture

Characteristics

People with existential intelligence:

  • Have a long-term outlook
  • Consider how current actions influence future outcomes
  • Interest in questions about the meaning of life and death
  • Strong interest and concern for others
  • The ability to see situations from an outside perspective

Potential Career Choices

If you have a strong sense of existential intelligence, you might enjoy a career as a:

  • Philosopher
  • Theologian
  • Pastoral counselor
  • Pastor

A Word From Verywell

The theory of multiple intelligences is important because it allows us to think about different types of mental strengths and abilities. Learning more about which types of intelligence you lean towards may help you learn to recognize your own preferences. However, it shouldn't be used as a tool to label and should not be confused with learning styles.

Instead of trying to match what you learn to your perceived type of intelligence, focus on learning new things via various modalities and formats to strengthen encoding and reinforce learning.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cerruti C. Building a functional multiple intelligences theory to advance educational neuroscience.Front Psychol. 2013;4:950. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00950

  3. The Washington Post. Howard Gardner: 'Multiple intelligences' are not 'learning styles.'

  4. Husmann PR, O'Loughlin VD. Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students' study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning styles. Anat Sci Educ. 2019;12(1):6-19. doi:10.1002/ase.1777

  5. Levine SC, Ratliff KR, Huttenlocher J, Cannon J. Early puzzle play: a predictor of preschoolers' spatial transformation skill.Dev Psychol. 2012;48(2):530-42. doi:10.1037/a0025913

  6. Singh Y, Makharia A, Sharma A, Agrawal K, Varma G, Yadav T. A study on different forms of intelligence in Indian school-going children.Ind Psychiatry J. 2017;26(1):71-76. doi:10.4103/ipj.ipj_61_16

  7. Sternberg RJ. Intelligence.Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2012;14(1):19-27.

Additional Reading
  • Gardner H. On the Three Faces of Intelligence. Daedalus.Winter 2002;131(1):139-142.

  • Gardner H. A Multiplicity of Intelligences. Published 2004.
  • Gardner H. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books; 1983.
  • Gardner H. Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books; 1999.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.