Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory


In his famous book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences’, Howard Gardner came out strongly to analyze human intelligence. To achieve this, Gardner used psychometric testing as the main method of inquiry. He set out to explain that intelligence is not one single entity, but rather there are several different forms of intelligence that exist in each person, and are expressed differently and to varying degrees in different individuals (Frames, 12). Gardner’s theory was based on two important foundations; first was his involvement in neurobiological work relating to the organization of the brain, where he worked with brain-damaged patients and gifted children with some form of brain impairment. The second foundation revolves around culture and its influence in the development of the different forms of intelligence.

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In the course of his work, Gardner used certain criteria to develop and support his theory of Multiple Intelligence. The potential isolation by brain damage can create autonomy in the way a particular kind of intelligence functions apart from others. This is a great way of showing uniqueness and separation. He used the existence of idiot savants and prodigies to demonstrate that certain forms of intelligence can be highly developed in certain people to an exceptional level, and this demonstrates uniqueness. Different individuals process and express their intelligence in different ways and at different rates. Even if an individual has some form of intelligence that is naturally gifted, the intelligence will still have a developmental line that grows in proficiency (Frames 117).

Gardner also demonstrated that the different forms of intelligence could be isolated and studied, and there are ways through which the relative levels of intelligence in people can be compared with one another. He also said that the all the types of intelligence have ways of symbolic expression and transmission, for example musical intelligence is demonstrated through melodic sound while linguistic intelligence is expressed through spoken and written word. In ‘Frames of mind’, Gardner proposed seven types of intelligence namely: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence (Frames 45). In his later works, he has added an eighth one called ‘naturalist’ intelligence (Multiple Intelligences 24).

In the third part of this book, Gardner looks at how education systems of different cultures help in nurturing and developing the different forms of intelligence. The implication is that different cultures put more emphasis on different types of intelligence that are considered more useful in their set up, and therefore such intelligences grow and are manifested better than the others. Educationists the world over have embraced Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligence and have sought to derive practical applications from it. Educationists are looking to come up with teaching programs and methods that explore the different forms of intelligence as shown by different children in a classroom setting (Disciplined Mind 67). Pedagogical applications of this theory touch on the teaching methods that use multimodal delivery and the use of more authentic assessment methods apart from the traditional form of educational testing (Multiple Intelligences 133). In many places, schools are now adopting curriculums that are organized to develop each of the intelligences. Gardner is pushing for the adoption of learning through construction, rather than the widely used teaching through instruction, as the best way to develop these intelligences in different students.

The aim of this paper is to explore and elaborate on a few assumptions that Gardner made while coming up with his Multiple Intelligence theory and the subsequent postulates and hypotheses that arise from those assumptions. Furthermore, the paper will follow a line of inquiry about one of his assumptions and propose a testing method to prove his claims.


From his work with brain injury patients, Gardner discovered how fascinating the human mind worked. From his studies, he realized that intelligence is manifested in different ways, and that the existing definition of intelligence was very limited. He set out to expand the definition of the word “intelligence” to encompass other abilities, and to push for better ways of testing intelligence rather than the existing methods. In developing his theory of Multiple Intelligence, Gardner defined intelligence as “a bio-psychological potential that is ours by virtue of our species membership” (Multiple Intelligences 6). The way in which this potential is expressed will be influenced by cultural, motivational and experiential factors throughout the life of an individual. Gardner wants us to understand about multiple intelligences, not just through human cognitive development, but also through the important role that culture plays in the development of the same. Gardner says that one of the reasons why he wrote ‘Frames of Mind’ was to “inspire educationally oriented anthropologists to develop a model of how intellectual competencies may be fostered in various cultural settings” (Frames 10).

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Assumptions and postulates

In developing his theory of Multiple Intelligence, Howard Gardner made some assumptions about intelligence in general. First of all, he assumed that intelligence is a product of biology and culture. The role of biology or genetics in determining intelligence had long been widely accepted, and it was widely believed that some people are born intelligent while others are not. Gardner, however, postulates that everyone is born the different types of intelligence, but in varying degrees (Frames 63). He also says that every normal individual will develop all of these intelligences to varying extents. So how comes people have different levels of intelligence, and some are more ‘intelligent’ in certain fields than others? Gardner says the answer lies in the culture that an individual is brought up in. He believes that the cultural set up will “activate” different intelligences that are needed to exist and add value to that particular culture (Frames 244). Individuals will develop certain intelligences to higher levels if they need those particular ‘intelligences’ in order to fit in the environment that they are brought up.

Intelligence is dependent on the diversity of cultures, and what is valued in one culture may not be that important in another culture. In any cultural set up, only those intelligences that are highly valued will be given special emphasis so that they grow and are strongly expressed in the individual. In the modern cultural set up, educational settings like schools play a significant role in shaping individuals. Education, as a component of culture, influences the intellectual development of an individual right from childhood. The culture will determine whether the individual develops and implements multiple intelligences effectively or not. Gardner believes that a combination of genetic (biology) and environmental (culture) factors have more influence in the development of intelligences than inherited traits alone (Multiple Intelligences 12). In essence, it is the interaction between biological factors and the opportunity to learn in a certain cultural setting that will foster the development of multiple intelligences.

When writing ‘Frames of Mind’, Gardner also makes the assumption that all individuals possess the seven, now eight, intelligences that he outlined. He writes; “we all have these intelligences—that’s what makes us human beings, cognitively speaking” (Frames xii). In pushing his theory of multiple intelligences, he states that the genetic makeup and experiences of every individual is different, and this is what leads to the differences in the degree of manifestation of particular intelligences. Gardner is in agreement with Piaget that as a child grows through his or her early years on to adolescence and adulthood, he or she continues to develop the different intelligences in stages or sequences. In going through these stages and sequences, some individuals are going to move faster than others and may even skip certain stages of the development path. The children who skip through several stages of this developmental path can be seen to be more gifted or prodigious than the rest (Disciplined Mind 235). Gardner also stresses that domain should not be confused with intelligence, since different intelligences work in different domains. Multiple intelligences can also be seen to work in different domains. Gardner was able to observe how the different intelligences are used in the domains during his work with brain injury patients and those considered prodigies (Frames 309).


Hypothesis 1: The genetic and experiential make-up of an individual will determine his intelligence: Gardner based his theory in the relationship between biology and culture. He believes that the genetic makeup of a normal individual imparts in him or her potential for all the types of intelligence. The cultural influences are then responsible for the development of these multiple intelligences in the individual. He believes that each person possess all the intelligences, it is only the degree to which they are developed and applied that differs between people. There are several ways of studying the genetic makeup and predisposition of people. When it comes to culture, the question is: What is the role of culture in the development of multiple intelligences? If every individual is born with all the intelligences, why are there differences in their developments and usage? Are there situations in human development that cause certain intelligences to develop more than others? Are there specific aspects of culture, like the education system, that can enhance the development of intelligences in children? All these questions explore the relationship between biology and culture in determining intelligences. As Gardner put it, human beings are “as much creatures of our culture as we are creatures of our brains” (Multiple Intelligences 56).

Hypothesis 2: The culture will determine which intelligences are necessary and will lead to their development: Each cultural setting will determine which intelligences are necessary or highly valued, and will consequently emphasize their development. The question is, does focusing on one type of intelligence in a particular culture lead to better development and greater strength in that particular intelligence? Moreover, by neglecting other intelligences, does a particular culture hinder or slow their development? If this is the case, what role can schools play in the development of the different intelligences in their students?

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Hypothesis 3: Multiple intelligences continue to develop as the child advances in age: In order to study this hypothesis, the researchers have to come up with well-defined criteria for determining the continued progression of intelligence development. Gardner suggests the use of an inventory to be given to students, parents and teachers to help pick out which intelligences are considered strengths for each individual child (Multiple Intelligences 246). The researchers can also look at the grades, test scores and other forms of assessment used for children in situations where multiple intelligence activities are part of the learning process.

Hypothesis 4: Normal individuals develop all the intelligences: First of all, the researchers must come up with practical ways of measuring the existence, and levels, of all the 8 forms of intelligence in normal individuals. If this is the case, are there ways through which specific intelligences can be strengthened and enhanced in children? What role can the education system play in nurturing and developing these intelligences in children? Is it possible to develop and enhance several intelligences in one individual to exceptional levels? Since the genetic makeup gives every normal individual, the potential to develop all forms of intelligence then the cultural influence will have a major role to play in the development of these intelligences in the individual. Schools, as an important part of culture, are well positioned to play this role of enhancement of the different intelligences. If the children are taught in the right way and in the right atmosphere, it will give them a great opportunity to develop the different intelligences to significant levels.

Line of inquiry

With the above hypotheses, researchers can develop a line of inquiry into the role that culture, through the education system, can play in the development and usage of multiple intelligences in children. The researchers will have to look at those children who are considered gifted or prodigious and compare them with normal children. This calls for the definition of “gifted” and “prodigious” children, and for the researchers to look at different cultures for such examples. Gardner defines a prodigy as “precocious experts; they excel at precisely those activities that more ordinary adults can carry out” (Multiple Intelligences 116). The researchers will also have to compare how different cultural settings treat or value a prodigy in order to understand how their individual experiences have influenced their intelligences.

The researchers may have to follow those children classified as “gifted” or “prodigious” over a period of time to observe if there are any stages or special sequences in their developmental progression, and what influence they have on multiple intelligences. Schools are well positioned to play an important role in shaping the learning experience of these gifted and prodigious children (Disciplined Mind 45). How do schools in different cultural set ups identify the gifted and prodigious children and how do they handle them and help them develop within the school set up? Which specific aspects of their educational experience contribute to the faster development of their advanced intelligences? The answers to these questions are very important since gifted and prodigious children form an important aspect of Gardner’s theory. By studying these children, the researchers will get a chance to look at how the combination of genetics and experience plays an important role in the development sequence of the different intelligences.

Research study design

Having said that biology and culture directly influence intelligence, the question remains; how can the education system be improved to enhance the continued development of multiple intelligences? Within the cultural set up, there are both formal and informal educational experiences and settings. In studying the educational setting, one may consider the learning methods used in the classroom set up. Research questions include:

  1. How can the Multiple Intelligence Theory be applied in improving learning methods in the classroom set up?
  2. Are the students with strength in certain intelligences likely to enhance them when taught using improved learning methods tailored to their strengths?
  3. In what ways do improved learning methods reflect the differences associated with multiple intelligences?

In order to answer all these questions, a qualitative research study is required. For this study, I would propose the use of focus group discussions (FGDs) to understand the perceptions, attitudes and practices of the students, teachers and parents. The students, teachers and parents would be placed into their respective groups. Each group would have a moderator and assistant moderator from the team of researchers. The moderator is supposed to lead the discussion, maintain the flow of conversation and take a few notes of the important highlights he would want to go over later. The assistant moderator actively takes comprehensive notes, does the tape recording, manages time, handles the logistics and deals with any unexpected interruptions. When conducting focus group discussions, the researchers should have an open mind devoid of any preconceptions about what the participants might say or not say. The moderator should also be keen not to exhibit any biases during the discussions. There are differences in race/ethnicity, educational levels and social economic status that can elicit unforeseen biases during the discussions. The researchers should prepare a facilitation guide to be followed and stick to it while conducting the discussions.

A focus group discussion requires a physical space that would make the participants feel welcome and comfortable. This usually requires a private, neutral place that is easily accessible and free of distractions. The researchers will determine suitable locations to be used for students, teachers and parents respectively. The participants are arranged in a circle, and if there are any logistics like refreshments, they are kept away from the circle to avoid any distractions.

It is important that researchers convey to the participants that their opinions and input are highly valued, and that the researchers stand to learn a lot from them. This is a way of empowering the participants and making them feel a sense of purpose. It also helps in eliminating nay barriers that may arise between the researchers and the participants. The facilitator ought to be warm but neutral when reacting to any comments during the discussions. The facilitator’s reactions should be aimed at seeking more information, clarifications or acknowledging what has been said. It is important to ask one question at a time, even if the questions are related. The facilitator should repeat the key phrases from the question after every 2 or 3 participants to help the rest stay focused on the question so that they answer appropriately when their turn comes. The moderators should also give the participants some time in case they have to think briefly before answering the question posed to them.

The answers and notes from the discussion groups will then be analyzed by the team of researchers and processed accordingly, as guided by the research questions. The findings of this study may be useful in determining ways of improving the learning methods in the classroom to enhance the development of the different intelligences in children. In fact, the end result might lead to a serious overhaul of the current learning methods (Multiple Intelligences 301). The results of the study will also be used to further explain and explore multiple intelligences. If the students are made to learn in a way that they understand best, the results will be very successful. The theory of Multiple Intelligence can be successfully applied to any school curriculum if the set up is designed properly.


Howard Gardner has continued his line of research and now focuses on finding ways through which his intelligence studies can be applied in the educational system (Disciplined Mind 8). Education forms one of the pillars of any cultural set up. The potential benefits of this theory to the improvement of educational systems around the world have not been fully realized. The learning methods form an integral part of any educational system, and will have a major influence on the development of multiple intelligences.

Annotated Bibliography

Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books, 1983. Print.

In this book, Howard Gardner introduces his theory of Multiple Intelligences and outlines the basis on which the theory was formed. He reviews his earlier work on intelligence and introduces several assumptions that he has made as regards the biological and cultural relationships to intelligence. He has given detailed explanations for the different types of intelligences that he proposed, and how cultural influences play a critical role in intelligence development. He has given duly acknowledged the works of other scholars that fit in with his Multiple Intelligence theory, and analyzed the criticisms leveled against his work on the same subject. This book provides a good opportunity to understand the different intelligences and how they apply in different societies.

Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books, 1993. Print.

In this book, Gardner first recaps his theory of Multiple Intelligence, and explains the different types of intelligences from his earlier work. He has also extensively talked about “giftedness” and “creativity” in relation to his theory. In the second part of this book, Gardner now gives a projection of how a school can apply his theories, and proceeds to analyze four projects that put his theory into practice. He is heavily critical of formal testing methods that target a unitary conception of intelligence, and gives suggestions on how various topics can be taught in schools in different ways that target the multiple intelligences.

Gardner, Howard. The Disciplined Mind: Beyond Facts and Standardized Tests, the K-12 Education That Every Child Deserves. New York: Penguin, 2000. Print.

In this book, Gardner follows up on his earlier work on trying to improve the learning methods that are applied in the classrooms using his theory of Multiple Intelligence. He proposes that K-12 education should be aimed at helping students understand the three classical principles of beauty, goodness and truth. He wants a system that emphasizes on the strong points of traditional humane education, while getting the students sufficiently prepared for future challenges.

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