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.


Armstrong, T. (1994). Multiple intelligences: Seven ways to approach curriculum. Expanded Academic ASAP [on-line database]. Original Publication: Educational Leadership, 52 (3).

Blythe, T., & Gardner, H. (1990). A school for all intelligences. Educational Leadership, 47 (7), 33-37.

Campbell, L., Campbell, B., & Dickinson, D. (1992). Teaching and learning through multiple intelligences. Stanwood, WA: New Horizons for Learning.

Checkley, K. (1997). The first seven ... and the eighth: A conversation with Howard Gardner. Expanded Academic ASAP [on-line database]. Original Publication: Education, 116.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1995a). Multiple intelligences as a catalyst. English Journal, 84 (8), 16-18.

Gardner, H. (1995b). Reflections on multiple intelligences: Myths and messages. Expanded Academic ASAP [on-line database]. Original Publication: Phi Delta Kappan, 77 (3).

Gardner, H., & Hatch, T. (1990). Multiple intelligences go to school: Educational implications of the theory of multiple intelligences (Tech. Rep. No. 4). New York: Center for Technology in Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 324 366).

Gray, J. H., & Viens, J. T. (1994). The theory of multiple intelligences: Understanding cognitive diversity in school. Expanded Academic ASAP [on-line database]. Original Publication: National Forum, 74 (1).

Meyer, M. (1997). The GREENing of learning: using the eighth intelligence. Wilson Select [on-line database]. Original Publication: Educational Leadership, 55.

Moll, A. (n.d.). Kentucky Department of Education. Multiple intelligences self profile [WWW]. URL: http://www.kde.state.ky.us/MI/misurvey.html (Accessed September 29, 1998).

Reiff, J. C. (1996). Bridging home and school through multiple intelligences. Expanded Academic ASAP [on-line database]. Original Publication: Childhood Education, 72 (3).

Smagorinsky, P. (1991). Expressions: Multiple intelligences in the English class. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Smagorinsky, P. (1995b). Multiple intelligences in the English class: An overview. English Journal, 84 (8), 19-26.

Torff, B. (1996). How are you smart?: Multiple intelligences and classroom practices. The NAMTA Journal, 21 (2), 31-43.

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 http://www.thewritingtutor.biz/articles for more articles, http://www.thewritingtutor.biz/writing _editing_service for professional writing/editing services, or TheWritingTutor.biz 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.

In The News:

Importance of Psychological Autopsy  Legal Desire News Network
Are All Childhoods Traumatic?  Psychology Today
Survival of the (Too) Fittest  Psychology Today
What Happens As We Are Dying?  Psychology Today
Sheila Youngson obituary  The Guardian
Habit and hassle: psychological barriers to sustainable behaviour  USAPP American Politics and Policy (blog)
The Dehumanizing Mind  Psychology Today

Serial Killers

Countess Erszebet Bathory was a breathtakingly beautiful, unusually well-educated woman,... Read More

The Psychology of Torture

There is one place in which one's privacy, intimacy, integrity... Read More

Balancing Brain Lobes - Mutras

When does consciousness exist? Will the sentient robots being created... Read More

What are the 4 Brainwave Patterns and How Do They Effect Your Health

WHAT ARE BRAINWAVES?Every moment of your life your brain is... Read More

Narcissistic Personality Disorder - Who is a Malignant Narcissist?

QUESTION Number 1 - Who is a Narcissist?Dear Dr. Vaknin,I... Read More

The Mind, Information, and Attitude

Information is flowing to us at a great rate. The... Read More

Short Story: The Next Level of Humanity

"Hey Mac, have you ever been thinking of someone and... Read More

Nature VS Nurture - Theories of Personality in 21st Century

Nature vs Nurture theories have wasted a lot of energy... Read More

Solution Focus Process: Solution Talk vs. Problem Talk Pt 2

It is crucial that interviewing with helpee progress toward solutions.... Read More

What is the Addictions Recovery Measurement System?

As I climbed 15-feet on a wooden ladder to the... Read More

Establishing Trust in Grief Management Groups

Trust is the basis of all human relationships. Trust can... Read More

Dredging the Truth

To seek and find truth requires that we communicate within... Read More

Key Solution Focus Interviewing Skills

There are several key Solution Focus interviewing skills that are... Read More

Is China Testing Bio Weapons on Its Own People?

Well the conspiracy theorists are out in full force I... Read More

Why Does It Seem That There Are More Children With ADHD Than Ever Before?

Even though the percentage of people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity... Read More

Animal Cruelty: The Key to Serial Minds

What makes a common person a Serial Killer? According to... Read More

Behavioral Manifestations of Alzheimer?s Dementia

Alzheimer's Dementia has a combination of cognitive and behavioral manifestations.... Read More

What Causes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

The most recent models that attempt to describe what is... Read More

Waking Up in the Middle of a Good Dream

When the brain is asleep and in REM dream mode... Read More

Traumas as Social Interactions

("He" in this text - to mean "He" or "She").We... Read More

On Dis-ease

We are all terminally ill. It is a matter of... Read More

Its Never Too Late

First of all, a bit of background: A high school... Read More

Self Hypnosis or Shelf Hypnosis?

Self hypnosis is usually thought of as a person listening... Read More

Eating Disorders and the Narcissist

Patients suffering from eating disorders binge on food and sometimes... Read More

The Diagnosis Myth

Although I risk dissension by doing so, I must say... Read More