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What is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences? Part 1: Biological Basis

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is based on the premise that each individual's intelligence is composed of multiple "intelligences," each of which has its own independent operating system within the brain. These intelligences include: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.

The verbal-linguistic intelligence is the use of both written and spoken language for the purpose of communication. Those possessing the verbal-linguistic intelligence are sensitive to the meanings, sounds, and rhythms of words. They love reading, poetry, tongue twisters, puns, humor, puzzles, and riddles.

The logical-mathematical intelligence is the use of abstract relationships presented in terms of either numbers or symbols. It also includes the use of logic and analysis in the sense of logically organizing an essay or analyzing poetry. Those possessing the logical-mathematical intelligence enjoy number games, problem solving, pattern games, and experimenting. They also do well with writing that involves exposition, argumentation, definition, classification, and analysis.

The spatial intelligence is the manipulation of objects within a given space, whether that space is the size of a piece of paper, a room, a building, or a town. Those possessing the spatial intelligence respond to visual cues and they like to invent and design.

The bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to use the body effectively to solve problems. Those possessing the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence enjoy dramatics, role-playing, dancing, and physical expression.

The musical intelligence is the ability to make use of the relationship between pitch, rhythm, and timbre. Those possessing the musical intelligence enjoy playing instruments, singing, and drumming, and they like the sounds of the human voice, environmental sounds, and instrumental sounds. It has been described as hearing patterns.

The interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand the thoughts, beliefs, and intents of others and the ability to respond appropriately. Those possessing the interpersonal intelligence are social and are in tune with the feelings of others. They make excellent leaders, can help their peers, and work cooperatively with others.

The intrapersonal intelligence is a sense of self-awareness used to guide individual behavior. Those possessing the intrapersonal intelligence like to work independently. They are self-motivated and self-aware.

The naturalist intelligence is an understanding of the natural world and the ability to use that understanding productively. Those possessing the naturalist intelligence can recognize and classify elements from the natural world (e.g. farming or biological science).

The exact combination of intelligences varies from person to person. For example, one person might be strong in the verbal-linguistic and interpersonal intelligences with secondary strengths in the intrapersonal, spatial, and musical intelligences and weaknesses in the logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, and naturalist intelligences. Another person could have an entirely different combination of intelligences. Each person's makeup of intelligences is very similar to DNA; no one has exactly the same combination of intelligences.

Gardner's criteria for selecting these particular abilities as intelligences include: independence from other intelligences (within the brain); having a central set of information-processing operations; having a distinct developmental history; having roots in evolutionary history; and having a cultural basis. When Gardner says that intelligences are independent, he is referring to separate sections of the brain that control each intelligence and have distinct methods of processing information. According to an article by Tina Blythe and Gardner, each intelligence has its own "distinct mode of thinking."

Gardner's research with brain-injured adults and with autistic children has indicated that the human brain has separate areas that control separate functions. For example, Gardner described a woman who suffered a brain injury and lost the ability to speak, yet she maintained her ability to sing. This example shows that the verbal-linguistic intelligence functions separately from the musical intelligence.

Gardner makes a distinction between the isolation of each intelligence within the structure of the human brain and the isolation of the intelligences when called upon to complete real-world operations. Intelligences do not work independently of one another in a real-world setting. According to the theory, most tasks require the simultaneous use of several intelligences in order to be completed successfully. Bruce Torff offers the example of a chess player who must use logic and spatial skills to plan ahead and figure out moves and must also use interpersonal skills to figure out the opponent's defense and plan of action. The intelligences are separate entities which operate in conjunction with each other to create the whole of each individual's ability.


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Michele R. Acosta is a writer, a former English teacher, and the mother of three boys. She spends her time writing and teaching others to write. Visit for more articles, for professional writing/editing services, or for other writing and educational resources for young authors, teachers, and parents.

Copyright (c) 2004-2005 The Writing Tutor & Michele R. Acosta. All rights reserved.


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