Multiple Intelligence

Howard gardner’s multiple intelligences

Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theories model,

The Multiple Intelligences concepts and VAK (or VARK or VACT) learning styles models offer relatively simple and accessible methods to understand and explain people’s preferred ways to learn and develop. Occasionally well-intentioned people will write that the use of such models and tests is wrong because it ‘pigeon-holes’ people, and ignores the point that we are all a mixture of styles and preferences, and not just one single type, which is true. Please remember that over-reliance on, or extreme interpretation of, any methodology or tool can be counter-productive.

In the case of the Multiple Intelligences model, and arguably to greater extent VAK (because VAK is such a simple model), remember that these concepts and tools are aids to understanding overall personality, preferences and strengths – which will almost always be a mixture in each individual person.

Therefore, as with any methodology or tool, use Multiple Intelligences concepts, VAK and other learning styles ideas with care and interpretation according to the needs of the situation.

On this point, the Kolb Learning Styles page offers additional notes on the use of Learning Styles in young people’s education.


multiple intelligences theory

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory was first published in Howard Gardner’s book, Frames Of Mind (1983), and quickly became established as a classical model by which to understand and teach many aspects of human intelligence, learning style, personality and behaviour – in education and industry. Howard Gardner initially developed his ideas and theory on multiple intelligences as a contribution to psychology, however Gardner’s theory was soon embraced by education, teaching and training communities, for whom the appeal was immediate and irresistible – a sure sign that Gardner had created a classic reference work and learning model.

Howard Gardner was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania USA in 1943 to German Jewish immigrant parents, and entered Harvard in 1961, where, after Gardner’s shift from history into social relations (which included psychology, sociology, and anthropology) he met his early mentor Erik Erikson. Later Gardner was also influenced by psychologists Jeane Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and philosopher Nelson Goodman, with whom Gardner co-founded ‘Project Zero’ in 1967 (focusing on studies of artistic thought and creativity). Project Zero’s 1970’s ‘Project on Human Potential’, whose heady aim was to address ‘the state of scientific knowledge concerning human potential and its realization’, seems to have been the platform from which Gardner’s multiple intelligences ideas grew, and were subsequently published in Gardner’s Frames Of Mind 1983 book. A wonderful example of ‘thinking big’ if ever there was one.

At the time I write/revise this summary (2005-2012) Howard Gardner is the (John H and Elisabeth A) Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; he serves as adjunct Professor at Harvard University, Boston University School of Medicine, and remains senior director of Harvard Project Zero. Gardner has received honorary degrees from at least twenty foreign institutions, and has written over twenty highly regarded books on the human mind, learning and behaviour. How ironic then that Gardner, who has contributed so much to the understanding of people and behaviour, was born (according to his brief auto-biographical paper ‘One Way To Make Social Scientist’, 2003), cross-eyed, myopic, colour-blind and unable to recognise faces. There’s hope for us all.

Since establishing his original multiple intelligences model, Howard Gardner has continued to develop his thinking and theory, so you will see references to more than the seven intelligences nowadays. Gardner most recently refers to their being eight or nine intelligences.

This article chiefly focuses on the original seven intelligences model.

howard gardner’s multiple intelligences theory

This simple grid diagram illustrates Howard Gardner’s model of the seven Multiple Intelligences at a glance.

intelligence type capability and perception
Linguistic words and language
Logical-Mathematical logic and numbers
Musical music, sound, rhythm
Bodily-Kinesthetic body movement control
Spatial-Visual images and space
Interpersonal other people’s feelings
Intrapersonal self-awareness

Free multiple intelligences tests based on Howard Gardner’s seven-intelligences model are available below in MSExcel self-calculating format, manual versions in MSExcel and pdf, and manual test versions for young people.


Gardner said that multiple intelligences were not limited to the original seven, and he has since considered the existence and definitions of other possible intelligences in his later work. Despite this, Gardner seems to have stopped short of adding to the seven (some might argue, with the exception of Naturalist Intelligence) with any clearly and fully detailed additional intelligence definitions. This is not because there are no more intelligences – it is because of the difficulty of adequately and satisfactorily defining them, since the additional intelligences are rather more complex than those already evidenced and defined.

Not surprisingly, commentators and theorists continually debate and interpret potential additions to the model, and this is why you might see more than seven intelligences listed in recent interpretations of Gardner’s model. As mentioned above, Naturalist Intelligence seems most popularly considered worthy of inclusion of the potential additional ‘Gardner’ intelligences.


gardner’s suggested possible additional intelligences

intelligence type capability and perception
Naturalist natural environment
Spiritual/Existential religion and ‘ultimate issues’
Moral ethics, humanity, value of life


If you think about the items above it’s easy to see why Gardner and his followers have found it quite difficult to augment the original seven intelligences. The original seven are relatively cut and dried; the seven intelligences are measurable, we know what they are, what they mean, and we can evidence or illustrate them. However the potential additional human capabilities, perceptions and attunements, are highly subjective and complex, and arguably contain many overlapping aspects. Also, the fact that these additional intelligences could be deemed a measure of good or bad poses extra questions as to their inclusion in what is otherwise a model which has hitherto made no such judgement (good or bad, that is – it’s a long sentence…).


gardner’s multiple intelligences – detail

The more detailed diagram below expands the detail for the original seven intelligences shown above, and also suggests ideas for applying the model and underpinning theories, so as to optimise learning and training, design accelerated learning methods, and to assess training and learning suitability and effectiveness.

intelligence type description typical roles related tasks, activities or tests preferred learning style clues
1 Linguistic words and language, written and spoken; retention, interpretation and explanation of ideas and information via language, understands relationship between communication and meaning writers, lawyers, journalists, speakers, trainers, copy-writers, english teachers, poets, editors, linguists, translators, PR consultants, media consultants, TV and radio presenters, voice-over artistes write a set of instructions; speak on a subject; edit a written piece or work; write a speech; commentate on an event; apply positive or negative ‘spin’ to a story words and language
2 Logical-Mathematical logical thinking, detecting patterns, scientific reasoning and deduction; analyse problems, perform mathematical calculations, understands relationship between cause and effect towards a tangible outcome or result scientists, engineers, computer experts, accountants, statisticians, researchers, analysts, traders, bankers bookmakers, insurance brokers, negotiators, deal-makers, trouble-shooters, directors perform a mental arithmetic calculation; create a process to measure something difficult; analyse how a machine works; create a process; devise a strategy to achieve an aim; assess the value of a business or a proposition numbers and logic
3 Musical musical ability, awareness, appreciation and use of sound; recognition of tonal and rhythmic patterns, understands relationship between sound and feeling musicians, singers, composers, DJ’s, music producers, piano tuners, acoustic engineers, entertainers, party-planners, environment and noise advisors, voice coaches perform a musical piece; sing a song; review a musical work; coach someone to play a musical instrument; specify mood music for telephone systems and receptions music, sounds, rhythm
4 Bodily-Kinesthetic body movement control, manual dexterity, physical agility and balance; eye and body coordination dancers, demonstrators, actors, athletes, divers, sports-people, soldiers, fire-fighters, PTI’s, performance artistes; ergonomists, osteopaths, fishermen, drivers, crafts-people; gardeners, chefs, acupuncturists, healers, adventurers juggle; demonstrate a sports technique; flip a beer-mat; create a mime to explain something; toss a pancake; fly a kite; coach workplace posture, assess work-station ergonomics physical experience and movement, touch and feel
5 Spatial-Visual visual and spatial perception; interpretation and creation of visual images; pictorial imagination and expression; understands relationship between images and meanings, and between space and effect artists, designers, cartoonists, story-boarders, architects, photographers, sculptors, town-planners, visionaries, inventors, engineers, cosmetics and beauty consultants design a costume; interpret a painting; create a room layout; create a corporate logo; design a building; pack a suitcase or the boot of a car pictures, shapes, images, 3D space
6 Interpersonal perception of other people’s feelings; ability to relate to others; interpretation of behaviour and communications; understands the relationships between people and their situations, including other people therapists, HR professionals, mediators, leaders, counsellors, politicians, eductors, sales-people, clergy, psychologists, teachers, doctors, healers, organisers, carers, advertising professionals, coaches and mentors; (there is clear association between this type of intelligence and what is now termed ‘Emotional Intelligence’ or EQ) interpret moods from facial expressions; demonstrate feelings through body language; affect the feelings of others in a planned way; coach or counsel another person human contact, communications, cooperation, teamwork
7 Intrapersonal self-awareness, personal cognisance, personal objectivity, the capability to understand oneself, one’s relationship to others and the world, and one’s own need for, and reaction to change arguably anyone (see note below) who is self-aware and involved in the process of changing personal thoughts, beliefs and behaviour in relation to their situation, other people, their purpose and aims – in this respect there is a similarity to Maslow’s Self-Actualisation level, and again there is clear association between this type of intelligence and what is now termed ‘Emotional Intelligence’ or EQ consider and decide one’s own aims and personal changes required to achieve them (not necessarily reveal this to others); consider one’s own‘Johari Window’, and decide options for development; consider and decide one’s own position in relation to theEmotional Intelligence model self-reflection, self-discovery

Roles and intrapersonal intelligence: Given that a ‘role’ tends to imply external style/skills, engagement, etc., the intrapersonal ability is less liable to define or suggest a certain role or range of roles than any of the other characteristics. That said, there is a clear correlation between intrapersonal ability/potential and introverted non-judgemental roles/working styles. Intrapersonal capability might also be seen as the opposite of ego and self-projection. Self-awareness is a prerequisite for self-discipline and self-improvement. Intrapersonal capacity enables an emotionally mature (‘grown-up’) response to external and internal stimuli. The intrapersonal characteristic might therefore be found among (but most definitely not extending to all) counsellors, helpers, translators, teachers, actors, poets, writers, musicians, artists, and also any other role to which people can bringemotional maturity, which commonly manifests as adaptability, flexibility, facilitation, reflection, and other ‘grown-up’ behaviours. There are also associations between intrapersonal capacity and Erikson’s generative‘ perspective, and to an extent Maslow’s self-actualization, that is to say: both of these ‘life-stages’ surely demand a reasonably strong level of self-awareness, without which adapting one’s personal life, outlook and responses to one’s environment is not easy at all.

(If you are using a test to help people identify and develop unique personal potential, especially for young people, try using the test in conjunction with the Fantasticat idea, or similar ways to focus on individual potential, rather than the more narrow imposed measures found typically in young people’s education systems. Many young people (and older people too..) mistakenly form a dim view of their capabilities and potential according to typical academic measures in schools, which remain largely oriented towards university and higher education expectations. The spectrum of human capability, and the potential to be valued and productive in life, are much broader than this, which are central aspects of multiple intelligence theory. Encouraging people to think beyond traditional academic measures of value and talent is a vital early step to enabling better self-esteem and bigger personal belief, confidence and aspiration.)


is this test scientifically validated or normed?..

This free Multiple Intelligences testing instrument has not been scientifically validated or normed.

If your research or study requires the use of a scientifically validated instrument then this instrument may not be suitable for your work. However, where you have reason/flexibility to justify the use of a free ‘non-scientifically-validated’ instrument, the following details about this test (and its various versions) might be of help to you in deciding whether to use it:

This instrument is a simple directly reflective assessment tool which works in a single dimension. That is, the results are produced directly from the inputs (the scored answers to the statement questions). There are no complex computations or correlations or scaling. As such it less prone to distortion or confusion than a more complicated testing methodology might be, especially one involving convoluted formulae or scales on several dimensions. The instrument in its various versions has been downloaded and used tens of thousands of times by teachers, trainers, managers, academics, and researchers all around the world since 2005, and (to my knowledge) has not generated any complaint or criticism about its reliability and suitability for purpose. Additionally, this webpage featuring the instrument download links has been highly ranked (top five or so in Google’s listings for keywords such as ‘multiple intelligence tests’) for several years and remains so, with zero advertising and promotion, which is perhaps a virtual validation of sorts.

That said, I repeat, the instrument has not been scientifically validated, and where you are definitely required to use an instrument that has been scientifically validated or normed, then this free tool is probably not the right one for you.

gardner’s multiple intelligences – principles and interpretation

Howard Gardner asserts certain principles relating to his multiple intelligence theory, which are explained and interpreted here, along with implications and examples:

The multiple intelligences theory represented/represents a definition of human nature, from a cognitive perspective, ie., how we perceive; how we are aware of things.

This provides absolutely pivotal and inescapable indication as to people’s preferred learning styles, as well as their behavioural and working styles, and their natural strengths. The types of intelligence that a person possesses (Gardner suggests most of us are strong in three types) indicates not only a persons capabilities, but also the manner or method in which they prefer to learn and develop their strengths – and also to develop their weaknesses.

So for example:

  • A person who is strong musically and weak numerically will be more likely to develop numerical and logical skills through music, and not by being bombarded by numbers alone.
  • A person who is weak spatially and strong numerically, will be more likely to develop spatial ability if it is explained and developed by using numbers and logic, and not by asking them to pack a suitcase in front of an audience.
  • A person who is weak bodily and physically and strong numerically might best be encouraged to increase their physical activity by encouraging them to learn about the mathematical and scientific relationships between exercise, diet and health, rather than forcing them to box or play rugby.

The pressure of possible failure and being forced to act and think unnaturally, have a significant negative influence on learning effectiveness. Happy relaxed people learn more readily than unhappy stressful people.

A person’s strength is also a learning channel. A person’s weakness is not a great learning channel. Simple huh?

When you add in what we know about personal belief and confidence it all begins to make even more sense. Develop people through their strengths and we not only stimulate their development – we also make them happy (because everyone enjoys working in their strength areas) – and we also grow their confidence and lift their belief (because they see they are doing well, and they get told they are doing well too).

Developing a person’s strengths will increase their response to the learning experience, which helps them to develop their weaknesses as well as their strengths.

Having illustrated that sensible use of a person’s natural strengths and types of intelligence is a good thing it’s important to point out that intelligence in itself is not a measure of good or bad, nor of happy or sad.

The different intelligences – in Gardner’s context (and normally in most other interpretations and definitions of the term) – are not a measure or reflection of emotion type. Intelligences are emotionally neutral. No type of intelligence is in itself an expression of happiness or sadness; nor an expression of feeling good or good or bad.

In the same way, the multiple intelligences are morally neutral too. No type of intelligence is intrinsically right or wrong. In other words intelligences are amoral, that is, neither moral nor immoral – irrespective of a person’s blend of intelligences.

Intelligences are separate to the good or bad purposes to which people apply whatever intelligences they possess and use. Intelligences are not in themselves good or bad.

The types of intelligences that a person possesses are in themselves no indication or reflection – whatsoever – of whether the person is good or bad; happy or sad, right or wrong.

People possess a set of intelligences – not just one type and level of intelligence. This was a primary driver of Gardner’s thinking; the fact, or assertion, that intelligence is not a single scalable aspect of a person’s style and capability. Historically, and amazingly a perception that still persists among many people and institutions and systems today, intelligence was/is thought to be measurable on a single scale: a person could be judged – supposedly – to have a high or low or average intelligence; or a person would be considered ‘intelligent or ‘unintelligent’. Gardener has demonstrated that this notion is ridiculous.

Intelligence is a mixture of several abilities (Gardner explains seven intelligences, and alludes to others) that are all of great value in life. But nobody’s good at them all. In life we need people who collectively are good at different things. A well-balanced world, and well-balanced organisations and teams, are necessarily comprised of people who possess different mixtures of intelligences. This gives the group a fuller collective capability than a group of identically able specialists.

Incredibly many schools, teachers, and entire education systems, persist in the view that a child is either intelligent or not, and moreover that the ‘intelligent’ kids are ‘good’ and the ‘unintelligent’ kids are ‘bad’. Worse still many children grow up being told that they are not intelligent and are therefore not of great worth; (the “you’ll never amount to anything” syndrome is everywhere).

Schools aren’t the only organisations which, despite all that Gardner has taught us, commonly still apply their own criteria (for example IQ – ‘Intelligence Quotient’ – tests) to judge ‘intelligence’, and then label the candidate either worthy or not. Adult people in work in organisations and business are routinely judged by inappropriate criteria, and then written off as being worthless by the employer. This type of faulty assessment is common during recruitment, ongoing management, and matters of career development and performance review.

The fact is that we are all intelligent in different ways.

The most brilliant scientific professor may well have exceptional intelligence in a number of areas (probably Logical-Mathematical, and one or two others) but will also be less able in other intelligences, and could well be inept in some.

By the same token a person who struggles with language and numbers might easily be an excellent sportsman, or musician, or artist.

A hopeless academic, who is tone-deaf and can’t add up, could easily possess remarkable interpersonal skills.

Many very successful business-people were judged to be failures at school. They were of course judged according to a very narrow definition of what constitutes intelligence.

Many very successful and fulfilled people in life were also judged to be failures at school – brilliant scientists, leaders, writers, entertainers, sports-people, soldiers, humanitarians, healers, religious and political leaders – all sorts of happy, fulfilled remarkable people – they too were judged according to a very narrow definition of what constitutes intelligence.

Each one of us has a unique and different mix of intelligence types, and commonly the people with the least ‘conventional’ intelligence (as measured using old-fashioned narrow criteria), actually possess enormous talent – often under-valued, unknown and under-developed.

Gardner, and others of course, pointed out that managing people and organising a unique mixture of intelligence types is a hugely challenging affair.

It starts however with the recognition that people have abilities and potential that extend far beyond traditional methods of assessment, and actually far beyond Gardner’s seven intelligences, which after all are only a starting point.

Gardner was one of the first to teach us that we should not judge and develop people (especially children, young people, and people at the beginnings of their careers) according to an arbitrary and narrow definition of intelligence. We must instead rediscover and promote the vast range of capabilities that have a value in life and organisations, and then set about valuing people for who they are, what they can be, and helping them to grow and fulfil their potential.