The man himself answers all.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS—MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES AND
Almost every day, I receive questions about multiple intelligences theory. Some of the questions
concern the theory itself, though many more deal with recommended practices or with questionable
applications. The questions come from professors, teachers, parents, the usual sense, the questions
come from scientists, artists, people in business, retirees, professionals and amateurs; and they
emanate from many states and many lands. The questions used to arrive primarily by letter and
phone; now, of course, they arrive as well by e-mail. And whenever I speak publicly about the
theory, whether in person or on radio or television or YouTube, a new set of questions greets me
upon my return to the office.
I field questions about other topics as well. Sometimes these are answered at
www.goodworkproject.org or www.pz.harvard.edu (see the bottom of this page for further
Initially, I sought to answer each question individually. There were not that many; I learned from and
enjoyed the process. More recently, however, it has become impossible to answer all of the questions
individually, even with staff help. Routinely, I refer individuals to my writings or those of other
persons familiar with the theory. I have drafted generic letters that answer the most frequent
questions—for example, “Is there a test for multiple intelligences?” (Answer, “Not one that I
endorse”); and “Are there ‘multiple intelligence’ high schools?” (Answer, “Many, but each has been
developed by a group of practitioners, not by me”). When an interesting and novel question arises, I
sometimes write an answer of some length and then include it in a future publication.
In the pages that follow, I respond to questions raised frequently by those interested in the theory. I
also respond to some other frequently asked questions about my work. Some of these answers were
initially developed in conjunction with Joseph Walters and Margaux Wexberg, to whom I give
thanks. Others draw on material from my books Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice,
Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons and Intelligence Reframed.
In a Nutshell:
Q. Can you summarize “multiple intelligences’ (MI) theory briefly?
A. I developed MI theory in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In doing so, I drew on evidence from a
wide variety of sources, disciplines, and research tradition. I presented the theory for the first time in
1983, in my book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
The theory is a critique of the standard psychological view of intellect: that there is a single
intelligence, adequately measured by IQ or other short answer tests. Instead, on the basis of evidence
from disparate sources, I claim that human beings have a number of relatively discrete intellectual
capacities. IQ tests assess linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and sometimes spatial
intelligence; and they are a reasonably good predictor of who will do well in a 20th (note: NOT 21st)
century secular school.
But humans have several other significant intellectual capacities. In my original book, I described
musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal (social) intelligence, and
intrapersonal intelligence (understanding of self). A few years later, I added the naturalist
intelligence: the capacity to make consequential distinctions in the world of nature. I also have
speculated about two other possible intelligences: existential intelligence, the intelligence of ‘big
questions’; and pedagogical intelligence, the intelligence that allows human beings to convey
knowledge or skills to other persons.
For something to qualify as an intelligence, it has to satisfy the eight criteria laid out in chapter 4 of
Frames of Mind.
In comparing MI to traditional psychological view of intelligences, I find it useful to invoke the
metaphor of the computer. Belief in a singular intelligence implies that humans possess a single
general purpose computer, which can perform well (hi IQ), average (normal IQ) or poorly (low IQ).
Belief in multiple intelligences theory implies that human beings possess several relatively
independent computers; strength in one computer does not predict strength (or weakness) with other
computers. Put concretely, one might have high (or low) spatial intelligence and yet that does not
predict whether one will have high (or low) musical or interpersonal intelligence.
Q. What are the major scientific implications of the theory?
A. Two interesting implications. The intelligences constitute the human intellectual toolkit. Unless
grossly impaired, all human beings possess the capacity to develop the several intelligences. At any
one moment, we will have a unique profile, because of both genetic (heritability) and experiential
Identical twins will have similar cognitive profiles. But the profiles will not be identical; even though
the genetic constitution is the same, identical twins have different experiences (even in utero!) and
once born, they can be motivated to distinguish themselves from their genetic clone.
Q What are the major educational implications of the theory?
A. It is important to stress that MI theory began as a psychological theory, one that also drew on
brain and genetic knowledge in the early 1980s. I was surprised that the principal interest in the
theory came not from psychologists but from educators. And that has remained largely true until
Initially, I did not have strong ideas about how to apply MI theory to education. And indeed, no
scientific theory can be translated directly into educational applications because education is suffused
That said, I think that there are two principal educational implications: Individuation and
Pluralization. The first, individuation (also termed personalization), suggests that since human beings
have their own unique configuration of intelligences, we should take that into account when teaching,
mentoring or nurturing. As much as possible we should teach individuals in ways that they can learn
and we should assess them in a way that allows them to show what they have understood and to
apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar contexts.
Traditionally, individuation was possible only for families with means. Nowadays, with the easy
accessibility of powerful digital devices, it is possible to individualize education for everyone.
If you think that this description is a critique of standardized testing, you are correct!
As for pluralization, that is a call for teaching consequential materials in several ways. Whether you
are teaching the arts, the sciences, history, or math, you should decide which ideas are truly
important and then you should present them in multiple ways. If you can present the art works of
Michelangelo, or the laws of supply and demand, or the Pythagorean Theorem in several ways, you
achieve two important goals. First of all, you reach more students, because some students learn best
from reading, some from building something, some from acting out a story, etc. Second, you show
what it is like to be an expert—to understand something really well. Think about anything with
which you have a deep familiarity: your family, your neighborhood, your work, your hobby.
Presumably you can describe and convey it in several ways. Indeed, if you are limited to only one
way of conveying an important concept or topic, your own understanding is probably tenuous. We
teachers discover that sometimes our own mastery of a topic is tenuous, when a student asks us to
convey the knowledge in another way and we are stumped.
So much for the ‘nutshell.’ The rest of this Q and A is organized by topic and so you may want to
skim the headers so that you can be guided toward your own area of curiosity as expeditiously as
Q. I am confused by terminology. Is intelligence a product, a process, a content, a style or all of the
A. I wish that this were a simple matter. Fundamentally, an intelligence refers to a
biopsychological potential of our species to process certain kinds of information in certain
kinds of way. As such, it clearly involves processes that are carried out by dedicated neural
networks. No doubt each of the intelligences has its characteristic neural processes, with most of
them quite similar across human beings. Some of the processes might prove to be more customized
to an individual.
The intelligence itself is not a content, but it is geared to specific contents. That is, the linguistic
intelligence is activated when individuals encounter the sounds of language or when they wish to
communicate something verbally to another person. However, the linguistic intelligence is not
dedicated only to sound. It can be mobilized as well by visual information, when an individual
decodes written text; and in deaf individuals, linguistic intelligence is mobilized by signs (including
syntactically-arranged sets of signs) that are seen or felt. Indeed, the language areas of the brain
operate similarly, whether input comes through the eyes or through the ears.
From an evolutionary point of view, it seems probable that each intelligence evolved to deal with
certain kinds of contents in a predictable world. However, once such a capacity has emerged, there is
nothing that mandates that it must remain tied to the original inspiring content. As the term has it, the
capacity can be utilized for other purposes. I assume, for example, that mechanisms related to the
recognition of species in nature are now regularly used in recognizing commercial products (the so-
called naturalist intelligence is used in the cultural world). Also some of the most powerful human
systems—like written language—came about not directly through evolution but through the yoking
of visual-spatial and linguistic capacities which had evolved for different purposes.
Speaking more loosely, we can describe certain products—for example maps, drawings, architectural
plans—as involving a particular intelligence: in this case, of course, spatial intelligence. However,
we must be aware that this characterization entails an inference on the part of an observer. It might be
that an individual could accomplish architectural plans or fashion a piece of sculpture using a
different (non-spatial) set of intelligences. Until such time as we can actually designate neural
circuitry as representing one or another intelligence “in action”, we cannot know for sure which
intelligence or intelligences are actually being invoked on a specific occasion.
Educators are prone to collapse the terms intelligence and style. For informal matters, that is no great
sin though – to be frank – it grates on me.
In actuality, style and intelligence are fundamentally different psychological constructs. Style refers
to the customary way in which an individual approaches a range of materials—for example, a playful
or a planful style. Intelligence refers to the computational power of a mental system: for example, a
person whose linguistic intelligence is strong is able readily to compute information that involves
Language. Whether a person likes to use a certain intelligence is not the same as strength in an
intelligence: I might love music but have only mediocre musical intelligence.
It is possible to integrate the notion of style with the notion of intelligence. Two people might have
comparable linguistic intelligence. Yet one might use his linguistic intelligence to become a
journalist or lawyer; while a person who is more introverted might become a poet instead.
Speak of styles, speak of intelligences, but don’t conflate the two if you can help it. For further
discussion of this point, see Chapter 6, myth #3, in my book Intelligence Reframed or Chapter 5 in
my book Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons.
Q. You use the word “domain” a lot. What is a domain and how does it relate to an intelligence?
A. I am glad you asked this question. A domain is a new construct, developed by my colleague David
Feldman. It refers to any organized activity in society, where individuals can be ranked in terms of
expertise. Any occupation, any art or craft or sport, is a domain. The domains in a society can be
thought of as the kinds of roles listed in the Yellow Pages of a physical or virtual phone book—
anything from Accounting to Zoology.
As I use it, the term intelligence refers to a set of human computational capacities. As humans, we
have the ability to ‘compute’ language, number, social relations, spatial relations etc. We cannot
directly see the intelligences. We observe them at work by observing individuals carrying out various
kinds of behaviors and tasks. When a person sings, we assume that she is using at least her musical
intelligence. When she dances, we assume that she is using at least her bodily and spatial
You can see, then, that we really only observe individuals working in domains. We infer the
intelligences on the basis of our best guess about the intelligences that are involved. But we cannot
know for sure. The aforementioned dancer might well be relying heavily on her linguistic or
intrapersonal intelligences—along with or instead of her bodily or spatial intelligences.
Through psychological and neurological research, it is possible to gather more compelling evidence
about which intelligences are being used in a behavior or task. More casual observation has to be
For more on domains and disciplines, see Intelligence Reframed, Chapter 6, Myth #2 or the various
discussions in Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons.
Q. Isn’t it odd to speak of skill in gym or on the playing field as an intelligence? And wouldn’t this
mean that individuals with physical defects are mentally retarded?
A. I don’t find it odd to speak of the bodily skill used by, say, an athlete, a dancer, or a surgeon as
embodying intelligence. The performances of these individuals are valued in many societies and they
involve an enormous amount of computation, practice, expertise. Snobbishness about use of the body
reflects the Cartesian split between mind/body and a concomitant degradation of processes that seem
less- or non-mental; however, contemporary neuroscience has sought to bridge this gap and to
document the cognition involved in action (and, for that matter, in emotion).
As for the issue of retardation, it is true that the loss of a certain physical capacity could cause an
individual to have problems in the bodily-kinesthetic area, just as loss of hearing or sight could cause
problems with, respectively, linguistic or spatial capacities. As in those cases, therapists are
challenged to substitute other systems, be they other bodily mechanisms or artificial prosthetics.
Indeed, computer scientists have already produced robots that carry out physical actions as well as
other kinds of prosthetics that can substitute for impaired sensory or motor capacities. We can even
monitor whether the appropriate regions of the brain are working, despite limitations on performance.
In the near future, individuals with such impairments may be able to use these devices in order to
carry out just those actions that unimpaired individuals execute with their bodies. The once notable
gap between physically impaired and unimpaired may disappear.
Through his organization, www.cast.org, my colleague David Rose has devised curricular materials
that allow seemingly impaired individuals to perform at normal or even above average levels. Instead
of speaking of individuals as impaired, he prefers to talk about curricula or even schools that are dis-
Should one use the term “intelligence” in such cases? It depends on the role played by the individual.
If the machine simply substitutes for the individual, then it is the machine, rather than the individual,
that is displaying intelligence. But if the individual herself is programming the machine, or making
consequential decisions that can be monitored through neuro-radiological means, then the individual
herself is exercising a particular intelligence: the computer is a tool in her hands.
Indeed, the same line of reasoning can be invoked with respect to music. Composition used to pre-
suppose instrumental and notational skills: now computers can substitute for both. The analyst must
locate the source of the intelligence: does it inhere in the programmer, the program, or the user of the
Q. How does intelligence relate to creativity?
A. Having studied intelligence, and proposed a pluralistic view of intelligence in the early1980s, I
then turned my attention to creativity. Not surprisingly, I ascertain that there are many forms of
creativity. Domains involving characteristic combinations of intelligences also exhibit characteristic
forms of creativity. So, for example, creativity in physics turns out to be quite different from
creativity in poetry or politics or psychology. Generalizations about creativity are destined to be
weak; the devil lies in the details about the creative domain in question. More generically,
psychologists agree that a creative product or discovery must be both novel and acceptable by
relevant audiences. We can distinguish the BIG C creativity of a Picasso or Einstein from the
ordinary Middle C or small c that characterizes most of our products or discoveries
A few more comments about creativity. First of all, one cannot be creative unless one has mastered a
domain—that process can take up to ten years. Second of all, creativity probably has more to do with
personality than with sheer intellectual power. Individuals who enjoy taking risks, who are not afraid
of failure, who are attracted by the unknown, who are uncomfortable with the status quo are the ones
who are likely to make creative discoveries. Finally, as stressed by my colleague Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi, creativity should not be viewed simply as a characteristic of an individual. Rather,
creativity emerges from the interaction of three entities: l) the individual, with his given talents,
personality, and motivation; 2) the domain—the discipline or craft in which the individual is
working; 3) the field—the set of individuals and social institutions that render judgments about
quality and originality.
I have written a great deal about creativity. See my books Creating Minds, Extraordinary Minds, and
Five Minds for the Future. See also chapter 8 of Intelligence Reframed, chapter 3 of Multiple
Intelligences: New Horizons and chapter 4 of Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice.
Q. Is Multiple Intelligences really a theory? Could it be confirmed or disconfirmed by experiment?
A. The term “theory” oscillates between two quite different meanings. Among physical scientists, the
term is reserved for an explicit set of propositions which are linked conceptually and whose
individual and joint validity can be assessed through systematic experimentation (Think of physics a
la Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein). Among lay persons, the term is used promiscuously, to refer to
any set of ideas put forth orally or in writing—as the man on the corner says, “I’ve got a theory about
Multiple Intelligences falls somewhere in between these two uses. There is no systematic set of
propositions which could be voted up or down by a board of scientists. On the other hand, the theory
is not simply a set of notions that I dreamed up one day. Rather, I offer a definition, a set of criteria
for what counts as an intelligence, data that speak to the plausibility of each individual intelligence,
and methods for revising the formulation. The criteria are laid out in chapter 4 of Frames of Mind
In many sciences, theories occupy this intermediary status. Certainly, theories in the social sciences
attempt to be as systematic as possible yet they are rarely proved or disproved in a decisive way. And
broad theories in the natural sciences, like evolution or plate tectonics, are similarly immune from a
single, simple test. Rather, they gain or lose plausibility on the basis of an accumulation of many
findings over a long period of time.
This is how I think about MI theory. I’ve put forth a candidate set of intelligences that are said to
have their own characteristic processes and to be reasonably independent of one another. Over time,
the particular intelligences nominated, and their degree of dependence or independence of one
another, will be more firmly established.
Individuals in search of a decisive “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote on any theory of intelligence
are naive. Still, it is important to indicate the kinds of consideration that will lend greater or lesser
plausibility to the theory. Suppose that it was discovered that a certain region of the brain in fact
subserved more than one intelligence; or that individuals who were strong in one intelligence were
invariably impaired in another intelligence; or that symbol systems that were ostensibly associated
with one intelligence actually drew on the same cognitive processes as another intelligence. Each of
these lines of evidence would cast doubt on the validity of the overall theory, though, following
appropriate revision, there might continue to be some validity to the theory. We do not reject Piaget’s
overall theory of cognitive development or Freud’s theory of unconsciousness processes just because
some of its specific claims have been undermined by subsequent research.
Q. How does MI theory relate to the psychometricians’ notion of ‘g’ or general intelligence?
A. MI theory questions not the existence but the province and explanatory power of g. ‘g’ is a
statistical outcome and its strength varies to some extent on the assumptions that are built into the
factorial model being employed. We do not really understand what is measured by ‘g’—it could be
anything from sheer intellect to motivation to skill in following instructions to the ability to shift
facilely from one kind of problem to another.
I am uncomfortable with the assumption inherent in ‘g’: that an individual who has a high ‘g’ could
be equally accomplished in any intellectual area. In fact MI theory is an extended argument against
this all-purpose view of intellect. For additional discussion see Intelligence Reframed, Chapter 6,
Q. Are the origins of our variations in intelligence biological or cultural? Do particular cultures tend
to evidence particular strengths?
A. The extent to which intelligences develop is a joint product of biological (genetic potential), the
emphasis a culture places on an activity, the excellence of the instruction, and the motivation of the
individual. Any individual can strengthen an intelligence if she is well motivated; if her ambient
culture values that intelligence; if there are ample human and artifactual resources (i.e. texts,
computer programs, apps) on which she can draw.
Q. What is the status of existential/spiritual intelligence and of pedagogical intelligence?
A. At present I am not gathering empirical data about these and other candidate intelligences. I and
others are free to talk or write about these intelligences more informally. There is no foolproof way
of determining what is or is not an intelligence. And while I devised the criteria, in principle anyone
can apply them. In the past, much of my time was spent in trying to explain why the evidence does
not support the postulation of other candidate intelligences—e.g. religious intelligence, moral
intelligence, humor intelligence, etc. For a discussion of issue see chapter 4 of Intelligence Reframed.
Q. Could one construct a set of tests for each of the intelligences?
A. Almost always, this question comes up—as Jean Piaget famously quipped, it is “the American
At one time, I thought it would be possible to create a set of tests of each intelligence—an
intelligence-fair version, to be sure—and then simply to determine the correlation between the scores
on the several tests. I now believe that this would be an extremely difficult feat to accomplish.
Indeed, I think it could only be accomplished if one were to develop several measures for each
intelligence, and then make sure that individuals were comfortable in dealing with the materials and
methods through which each intelligence were measured. And so, for example, spatial intelligence
would be a product of one’s performances in such activities as finding one’s way around an
unfamiliar terrain, playing chess, reading blueprints, and remembering the arrangement of objects in
a recently vacated room.
Were such a measurement of intelligence to be done, the findings would be of scientific interest—at
least to me! However, one reason why I have moved away from the creation of such measures is that
they may lead to new forms of labeling and stigmatization. As I have argued, the intelligences should
be mobilized to help individuals learn important content and not used as a way of categorizing
individuals. To use the language of one of my critics, I do not want to inspire the creation of a new
set of “losers.”
As you may know, many other people have devised MI tests. The best known is probably the
MIDAS test, developed by Branton Shearer. These tests typically give a rough-and-ready sense of
people’s interests and preferences. They suffer from two deficiencies: l) They don’t actually measure
strengths—you would need performance tasks to determine how musically intelligent, or spatially
intelligent, or interpersonally intelligent a person is; 2) The tests assume that the person has good
intrapersonal intelligence—that is, he or she knows himself well. But many of us think that we know
ourselves better than we really do. I doubt that anyone would score herself or himself low in the
personal intelligences, but some of us must have lesser personal intelligence than others.
I should add that in recent years, Shearer has begun to accumulate evidence that performance on the
MIDAS correlates with abilities in certain areas, as determined by other indexes. Such findings
suggest that, in addition to being a reliable measure, the measure also has some validity.
It is perfectly fine for a person to use the MIDAS or other measurements to learn about the idea of
multiple intelligences. Indeed, people—both young and old—often find it interesting and
illuminating to think about their own and/or other person’s intellectual profile. And yet, I must stress,
we can only learn about a person’s intelligences if we actually measure how well they perform on
tasks that presumably draw on specific intelligences.
If you want to see the multiple intelligences in action, I can suggest three venues. First of all,
classrooms that have been developed using the materials of Project Spectrum
(http://www.pz.harvard.edu/research/Spectrum.htm). This Project, initially developed to assess the
intelligences in a preschool classroom, consists of many attractive games which provide a rough-and-
ready measure of the intelligences of young users.
Second, is a theme park in Denmark called Explorama (http://www.danfossuniverse.com/).
Explorama consists of several dozen games which individuals across the age spectrum can play. In
the process of playing these games, individuals gain insight to the intelligences where they are strong
and the intelligences which they should exercise more often. Also, one has the opportunity to predict
how one will fare at the various play stations—this turns out to be a measure of intrapersonal
Third, the application Makey Makey (http://www.makeymakey.com/) gives individuals the
opportunity to create experiences which draw on the several intelligences. Informed observers can
watch users at work and infer the nature of their intellectual profiles.
Q. Does the brain evidence continue to support your theory?
A. In brain sciences, a decade is a long time, and the theory of multiple intelligences was developed
three decades ago. We now know much more about the functioning and development of the nervous
system. I find the neurological evidence to be amazingly supportive of the general thrust of MI
theory. The evidence supports the particular intelligences that I described and provides elegant
evidence of the fine structure of such capacities as linguistic, mathematical, and musical processing.
It is sometimes said that the brain is a very flexible organ, subject to the events of early experience,
and that that fact calls into question the theory of multiple intelligences. This remark is not pertinent.
The fact of “neural plasticity” is independent of the issue of different intelligences. A multiple
intelligences theory demands that linguistic processing occurs via a different set of neural
mechanisms than does spatial or interpersonal processing. The fact that the processing may occur in
somewhat different regions of the brain across individuals, by virtue of their early experience, is
interesting to know but not relevant to the identification of intelligences per se.
Indeed, suppose that, in one person, musical processing occurred in region A and spatial processing
in Region B. Suppose, further, that these representations were reversed in another person. MI theory
would not thereby be affected. Even if musical intelligences were represented in regions A, B, and C,
in one person, and regions D, E, and F, in a second person, that still would not affect the theory. If,
however, musical and spatial processing were identically represented in a population of persons, that
fact would suggest that we are dealing with one intelligence, and not with two separate intelligences.
For an update of brain evidence about multiple intelligences, see DAVIS ET AL. Starting in 2013 I
will be presenting pertinent research on the website (OASIS).
Q. What do other scholars think of MI theory?
A. As can be anticipated, there is a wide spectrum of opinion, both within psychology and across the
biological and behavioral sciences. Those involved in standard psychometrics are almost always
critical of the theory; among those psychologists who are not psychometricians, there is openness to
the expansion of the concept and measurement of intelligence. Still, psychologists like neat measures
of their constructs and there is frustration that the “new” intelligences are not as readily measured as
the standard ones (See the response to the question on assessment). Also, psychologists really think
of intelligence as ‘scholastic capacity’ while I am trying to expand the notion of intelligence to
extend to all manner of human cognitive capacities.
Scholars are not known for responding generously to new theories, and so I have not been surprised
at the considerable criticism leveled at MI theory. Perhaps a more reliable index of reception is the
extent to which the theory is cited in scholarly articles and textbooks. Over the years, the theory has
been mentioned in innumerable articles and in most texts that touch on issues of intelligence. These
references are generally respectful.
Most gratifying has been the response by scholars in the “harder” sciences (such as biology) on the
one hand, and in more distant fields (such as the arts and humanities) on the other. The idea of
multiple intelligences has considerable appeal across the disciplines, and my particular choice of
intelligences is often endorsed. If one wanted to critique the theory, one could point out that these
individuals are not expert in the psychology of intelligence. If one wanted to praise the theory, one
could point out that these scholars have less of an ax to grind.
Q. Is a rapprochement possible between MI and other theories of intelligence?
A. Certainly, to some extent. Aspects of the theory are compatible with propositions put forth by
other theorists. I am comfortable with the biocultural approach defended by Stephen Ceci; the
emphasis on media and symbol systems adopted by David Olson; the cultural sensitivity emphasized
by Patricia Greenfield; the multi-factorial stance of earlier scholars like L. L. Thurstone. More
broadly speaking, the modular approach put forth by psychologists like Steven Pinker, Leda
Cosmides and John Tooby, linguists like Noam Chomsky, and anthropologists like Stephen Mithen is
quite consonant with the recognition of distinct intelligences.
Recently, the most widely discussed approach to intelligence is the “triarchic” model put forth by
Robert Sternberg. Sternberg and I agree more on our criticism of standard intelligence theory than on
the directions that new theoretical work should follow. That is, we reject the focus on a single
scholastic intelligence that is measured by a certain kind of short answer test. Sternberg proposes
three different facets of intelligence—which he labels the componential, the experiential, and the
contextual; and he has gone on to devise various measures for each.
Along with most other theorists in this area, Sternberg does not attend to the particular contents with
which intelligence operates. That is, it is immaterial to his theory whether the individual is processing
words or pictures or bodily information or material from the personal or natural world. Rather, more
sympathetic to a “horizontal” view of mind, he assumes that the same components will operate, in
essentially the same way, irrespective of the kind of material that is being processed. Here our
intuitions and claims differ fundamentally.
I applaud Sternberg’s effort to develop new measures of intelligence as well as his courage in
working with college admissions offices at elite colleges and universities. Such measures cannot but
help broaden our notions of human capacities. I wish, however, that his new measures were more
adventurous. In my view, Sternberg adheres too closely to the kinds of linguistic and logical items
that have traditionally dominated intelligence testing; and I suspect his new measures will end up
correlating quite highly with standard tests and with one another. In these emphases, Sternberg
reveals that he is much more of a psychologist and a psychometrician than I am. And this may
explain why his work has been of greater interest to psychologists, while mine has captured the
interest of educators and the lay public.
The Structure of Intelligences and their Combination:
Q. Need the intelligences be entirely independent?
A. The theory is simpler, both conceptually and biologically, if the various intelligences are totally
independent of one another. Yet there is no necessity that each intelligence be wholly independent of
the others; and it may turn out empirically that certain intelligences are more closely tied together
than are others, at least in particular cultural settings or on certain kinds of tasks or test.
The independence of intelligences makes a good working hypothesis. It can only be tested by using
appropriate measures in different cultural settings (see Assessment, above). Otherwise we might
prematurely jump to the conclusion that two intelligences are tied together, when in fact the apparent
correlation is an artifact of a particular measure in a particular culture. The reason for underscoring
independence is to alert individuals to the possibility that strength in one area does not necessarily
signal strength in other areas—and the same goes, of course, for weakness. At a practical level,
individuals will show pairs of strengths and weaknesses. Life is interesting, however, because these
couples are not predictable…no more predictable than the romantic attraction (or aversion) between
Q. How do you know that the intelligences represent the right-sized unit of analysis? Can’t each of
the intelligences be broken down indefinitely, for example?
A. I question the notion that there is a single, uniquely correct unit of analysis in an area as complex
as intelligence. For certain purposes—for example, determining whether a retarded person is capable
of benefiting from schooling—a single measure like IQ might suffice. On the other hand, if one
wants to model what is involved in particular musical tasks, like performing or composing, it is
evident that a single construct of “musical intelligence” is far too gross. Presumably everyone
studying at Julliard has high musical intelligence; still the details of their profiles may be quite
different from one another.
In writing about the multiple intelligences, I have always noted that each intelligence is itself
comprised of constituent units. There are several musical, linguistic, and spatial subintelligences; and
for certain analytic or training purposes, it may be important to dissect intelligence at this level of
I justify my small set of intelligences on the basis of parsimony and usefulness. If I were to write
about dozens of subintelligences, I might well be more accurate in a scientific sense. Yet this move
would cause the construct to be unwieldy for educational uses or for rough-and-ready self-
knowledge. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that the subintelligences often work together and
support one another; and for that reason, too, it makes sense to speak of 8 or 9 intelligences, rather
than 1 or 100.
Q. What about the often noted connection between mathematical and musical intelligences?
A. There is no doubt that individuals who are mathematically talented often show an interest in
music. I think that this linkage occurs because mathematicians are interested in patterns, and music
offers itself as a goldmine of harmonic, metric, and compositional patterns. Interest, however, is not
the same as skill or talent; a mathematician’s interest in music does not predict that she will
necessarily play well or be an acute critic of the performances of others.
Of equal importance, the imputed link rarely works the other way. We do not expect of randomly
chosen musicians that they will be interested, let alone skilled, in mathematics. There may also be a
bias in the kind of music at issue. Those involved in classical music are far more likely to be oriented
toward science and mathematics than those involved in jazz, rock, rap, and other popular forms.
These observed correlations and lack of correlation suggests another factor at work. In certain
families and perhaps also certain ethnic groups, there is a strong emphasis placed on scholastic and
artistic accomplishment. Youngsters are expected to do well in school and also to perform creditably
on an instrument—typically piano or string. These twin goals yield a population with many
youngsters who stand out in math and music. There may be other common underlying factors, such
as willingness to drill regularly, an inclination toward precision in dealing with marks on a piece of
paper, and a desire to attain high standards. One would have to sample a wide variety of skills—from
being punctual to writing cogent essays—before jumping to the conclusion that a privileged
connection exists between musical and mathematical intelligence.
Q. What about capacities that cut across the different intelligences, such as memory?
A. I am skeptical about the existence of so-called horizontal faculties—faculties like memory or
attention or perception that are alleged to operate equivalently across all kinds of content. In my view
one of the most important discoveries in the cognitive and brain sciences is that the mind is better
viewed in a vertical way: as a set of faculties geared to particular contents in the external world and
in human experience.
Looking more specifically at memory, considerable neuropsychological evidence documents
different kinds of memory: immediate memory, short term memory, long term memory, semantic (or
generic) memory, and episodic memory (memory for particular events), procedural memory
(knowing how) and propositional memory (knowing that). These memories reflect different
psychological processes and are served by different neural centers. There is convincing
neuropsychological evidence that linguistic memory can be separated from musical memory,
memory for shapes, faces, bodily movements and the like. The notion of a single unitary memory
falls apart under closer inspection.
It is instructive to consider what one means in speaking of “memory”. Usually this statement means
that the person in question has a good linguistic memory—he or she can remember names, dates,
definitions. We generally do not have a clue about whether such a person is equally facile at
remembering visual patterns, musical patterns, bodily movements, or the way that he or other persons
felt at a recent social event. Each of these skills may have its own mnemonic process, quite unrelated
to the others. Even when individuals remember the same episode, they may have coded very different
forms of information about that event.
Q. How can diverse and independent intelligences function effectively without a leader or executive?
A. A theory that does not posit an executive function has certain advantages over one that does. Such
a theory is simpler; it also avoids the specter of infinite regression—the question of who or what is in
charge of the executive? Nor does effective work require an executive. Many groups—be they
artistic or athletic—perform well without a designated leaders; and an increasing number of work
teams are organized heterarchically rather than hierarchically. Complexity theory documents how
well organized entities can arise naturally without the need for a ‘master plan.’
The question of an executive—what I have sometimes called a “Central Intelligences Agency”—
needs to be considered on the theoretical and practical planes. On the theoretical plane, the question
is whether behavior is better modeled as the result of some kind of executive function. That executive
function could be “smart”—intentionally making well-motivated decisions—or “dumb”—simply a
traffic cop that ensures that two antagonistic processes are not going off simultaneously.
Considerable evidence suggests that such executive functions are handled by structures in the frontal
lobe. The “modeler” must then decide whether to consider this a separate intelligence, or an emergent
from other intelligences, such as the intrapersonal intelligence. At present, I lean toward the latter
At a practical level, we need to ask how individuals can best organize their activities and their lives.
Here there are vast and interesting individual differences. Some individuals are quite reflective and
“meta-cognitive”: they are immersed in self-conscious planning, and this planning can be of
considerable aid in accomplishing goals. Other individuals are more intuitive: they know what they
want to do and they just accomplish their business when they find themselves in the appropriate
context. It is said that Dante and Shakespeare had minds so fine that they were never violated by a
thought. If this statement has meaning, it suggests that neither craftsman devoted much time to
obsessing about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it; he just waited until he was prepared to
commence his creations, and then did his job as well as he could.
Ultimately, I have no objection if individuals find it useful to invoke some kind of an executive
function. Indeed, one could readily see the executive function as the high point of intrapersonal
intelligence. For modeling purposes, I find it useful to see whether one can explain human behavior
in the absence of such hierarchical considerations; or whether the hierarchy can emerge naturally, as
part of everyday functioning, rather than by invoking a separate executive intelligence.
For further discussion of this important issue, I recommend a paper that Seana Moran co-authored
with me, “Hill, Skill, and Will”: Executive function from a multiple intelligence perspective.
Q. What of a general capacity called “critical thinking?” Isn’t this important in today’s society?
Shouldn’t we have courses that help youngsters to develop such a faculty?
A. As with the executive function, I am not irredeemably opposed to the notion of critical thinking.
Indeed, I would like myself, my children, my students, and my friends to think critically, and
anything that can aid in that process should be encouraged.
I doubt, however, that there is a particular species of thinking called “critical thinking.” As I’ve
suggested with reference to memory and other putative “cross-the-board” capacities, closer analysis
calls their existence into question. Particular domains seem to entail their own individual and often
idiosyncratic forms of thinking and critique. Musicians, historians, taxonomic biologists,
choreographers, computer programmers, and literary critics all value critical thinking. But the kind of
thinking required to analyze a fugue is simply of a different order from that involved in observing
and categorizing different species, or editing a poem, or debugging a program, or creating and
revising a new dance. There is little reason to think that training of critical thinking in one of these
domains is of the same order as training of critical thinking in another domain; nor would I expect
appreciable “savings” or “transfer” when one broaches a new domain. That is because each of these
domains exhibits its own particular objects, moves, and logic of implications.
To be sure there may be certain habits of thought that are useful across domains. One can get
purchase from so-called “weak moves” like taking one’s time, considering alternatives,
brainstorming, eliciting critical feedback from sympathetic peers, putting work aside for when she
hits a snag, and so forth. Such habits of mind ought to be cultivated early and widely. But even these
habits must be practiced explicitly in every domain where they are applicable; indeed, they are called
“weak” precisely because they do not in themselves get you very far. It is unrealistic to expect that
the individual who takes her time in, say, investing in the stock market will necessarily do so when
completing her homework or falling in love.
For these reasons, I do not place much stock in courses that feature critical thinking per se. I much
prefer that critical thinking be featured in each and every course or activity where it could prove
valuable. Courses that help individuals to draw on these lessons can be helpful; courses that are
expected to substitute for, or render unnecessary, the modeling of critical thinking in particular
domains strike me as a waste of time. Ultimately, the surest road to critical thought “across the
board” is a regimen where critical thinking is inculcated in one discipline and domain after another.
And then it is up to the individual to determine which ‘moves’ can be applied in several domains and
which seem restricted to one sphere of practice.
I often encounter the greatest resistance to this perspective when I speak to mathematicians or
logicians. To these individuals, thinking is thinking wherever you encounter it; if one knows how to
be logical, one should be able to apply logic everywhere. (And if you don’t, life is hopeless!) No
doubt mathematics and logic merit our admiration precisely because those domains strive for the
greatest generality for the propositions and patterns that they feature. However, neither in their
practice nor in their person do such individuals epitomize what they believe. Often these individuals
prove to be quite impractical or illogical in their own personal lives. Or, equally suspect, they seek to
apply logical approaches in areas where they are manifestly inappropriate, such as in pursuing a love
relation; in dealing with a difficult student, child, or colleague; or even, as we have seen with
reference to both Vietnam and the Middle East, when foreign policy is set in light of Rand
Corporation-style algorithms. Psycho-logic turns out to be quite a different affair from mathematical
Q. Is there an artistic intelligence?
A. Strictly speaking, there is no artistic intelligence. Rather, intelligences function artistically—or
nonartistically—to the extent that they exploit certain properties of a symbol system. Should an
individual use language in an ordinary expository way, as I am doing here, he is not using the
linguistic intelligence in an aesthetic way. If, however, language is used metaphorically,
expressively, or in a such a way as to call attention to its formal or sound properties, then it is being
used artistically. By the same token, “spatial intelligence” can be exploited aesthetically by a sculptor
or painter, non-aesthetically by a geometer or a surgeon. Even music intelligence can function non-
aesthetically, as when bugle calls in the armed services are used to summon individuals to a meal or
the raising or lowering of the flag; and each year many patterns designed by mathematicians for
mathematical purposes have ended up on display in art galleries. One can look at the compositions of
Escher as examples of mathematics, art, or psychological puzzles.
Whether an intelligence is deployed for aesthetic purposes represents a decision made by an
individual and/or her culture. An individual can decide to use linguistic intelligence in the manner of
a lawyer, a salesperson, a poet, or an orator. However, cultures also highlight or thwart artistic uses
of intelligences. In some cultures, almost everyone writes poetry, dances, or plays an instrument; in
contrast, Plato sought to eliminate poetry from his Republic while Stalin scrutinized every poem as if
it were a diplomatic note.
Of course, informally, it is perfectly all right to speak of artistic intelligences. I do this myself,
particularly as a shorthand for those intelligences that are frequently mobilized for artistic ends. In
this context it is worth noting that multiple intelligences ideas have grown comfortably in schools
which highlight the arts; and “MI” ideas seem an uncomfortable stretch in schools where the arts
have been minimalized or marginalized. See the book by Mindy Kornhaber and colleagues, called
Q. Is there an emotional intelligence?
A. “Emotional Intelligence” is not my term. That term was popularized by Daniel Goleman in his
book Emotional Intelligence.
In addition to Emotional Intelligence, Goleman also speaks about Social Intelligence. Social
Intelligence is certainly similar to my interpersonal intelligence, and there are similarities
between emotional and intrapersonal intelligence. Intrapersonal intelligence involves
understanding of yourself and that is certainly part of being emotionally intelligent.
I am a fan of Goleman’s writings but there is one major difference between our approaches.
When Goleman writes about emotional intelligence, he focuses on the kind of emotional
knowledge which he values. So, too, with social intelligence. In contrast, I make a sharp
distinction between description and prescription. When I talk about an intelligence, I am simply
talking about computational power, not how that power is used.
Two examples are Goethe, the poet, and Goebbels, the propagandist. Both had plenty of
linguistic intelligence in German. Goethe used it to write great works of art; Goebbels to
engender hatred. In the social-emotional-personal realm, both Nelson Mandela and Slobodan
Milosevic had plenty of knowledge on how to influence other persons. Mandela used his
interpersonal intelligence to help unite a divided nation, while Milosevic used his interpersonal
intelligence to foment hatred
Q. In today’s society, the ability to navigate computers, and especially the internet, is becoming
increasingly more important. Do you think there might be a technological intelligence?
A. Although a technological intelligence makes sense, I am conservative in adding new intelligences.
Instead, I believe what is exhibited as ‘technological intelligence’ is instead a combination of spatial
bodily-kinesthetic and logical-mathematical intelligences. Digital intelligence is basically logical-
mathematical intelligence with a ‘dollop’ of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
Stephen Mithen, a British anthropologist, does believe that humans stand out because of our
technological / tool-making intellectual capacities. In addition, my colleague, neurologist
Antonio Battro, published a book, in Spanish, on digital intelligence. The book is titled Hacia
una Inteligencia Digital and can be found at http://www.byd.com.ar/publi15.htm. So the idea of
digital intelligence does have some currency in the world of scholarship.
Q. Are intelligences the same in quality or quantity across groups? For instance, do men exhibit
profiles of intelligence that differ from women? And how about different racial or ethnic groups?
A. This is a potentially explosive question. I suspect that if intelligence-fair tests were developed,
they would elicit differences across gender and other readily identifiable groups. Even should such
differences be found, however, it is unclear how to interpret them. Women might perform worse than
men on spatial tasks in the West; but if there existed an environment where spatial orientation were
important for survival, then such differences might disappear or even by reversed. Apparently, this
erasure of gender differences happens among the Eskimos. By the same token, the gender difference
regularly found in mathematics scores on standardized tests in the West is reduced in Asian
populations, where, indeed, Asian women often score better than do Western men.
Additionally, there exists the intriguing question of whether men and women use their intelligences
in identical ways. In lower mammals, there is evidence that spatial orientation is mediated by
landmarks for females and by body position for males; there are suggestions that a similar difference
may be found in human beings. And there is the question of whether men and women prioritize
intelligences in the same way. Carol Gilligan’s pioneering work on moral judgments suggests that
women play a higher premium on interpersonal considerations, while men are more likely to draw on
In my own work, I have elected not to pursue this question. So often, apparent group differences
have been exploited for politically dubious ends—as happened once with Multiple Intelligence
Theory. (A state in Australia issued documents claiming that people of different ethnic and racial
backgrounds had different profiles of intelligence. I am glad to say that the educational program in
question was cancelled). I prefer not to provide additional ammunition for such efforts. Indeed this
experience stimulated me to begin to study good work in the professions.
In any event, should investigations demonstrate replicable differences among groups, I would regard
these differences as starting points for imaginative efforts at remediation, rather than proof of
inherent limitations within a group.
Q. Does the theory of multiple intelligences apply to other species and to artificial intelligence?
A. This is an intriguing subject. I’ve suggested that my list of intelligences is one way of
characterizing human intellect. However, it also offers a set of categories which be applied to other
entities that might be deemed intelligent.
One could conduct an inventory of intelligences and then apply them to other organisms. Such an
inventory might reveal that rodents have considerable spatial intelligence, that primates have superior
bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, and that birds exhibit musical intelligence. Perhaps some species—
like bats or dolphins or elephants or pigeons—exhibit intelligences that are unknown or not
developed in human beings. And certain intelligences—like intrapersonal or existential—may be the
exclusive purview of human beings. In A Year at the Races (2004) the novelist Jane Smiley has
applied MI theory to an analysis of the intelligences of horses.
We already know that highly intelligent computer programs have been created. There are programs
that compose music, carry out complex calculations, defeat chess champions in mind-to-mind
combat. Whether computers can also develop personal intelligences is a subject of considerable
dispute. Many experts in artificial intelligence believe that it is just a matter of time before computers
exhibit intelligence about human entities. I personally feel that this is a category error. One cannot
have conceptions of persons in the absence of membership in a community with certain values and in
the absence of the certitude of death; and it seems to me an undue stretch to attribute such a status to
computers. However, in some years, both humans and computers (or some new amalgam) may
chuckle at my ignorance.
Intelligence and the Life Course:
Q. What happens to multiple intelligences during later life?
A. In many ways, the multiple intelligences seem a particular gift of childhood. When we observe
children, we can readily see them making use of their several intelligences. Indeed, one of the
reasons for my enthusiasm about children’s museums is their evident cultivation of a plethora of
intelligences. Nowadays, the children’s museum simply has a better fit with the minds of children
than does the average school.
It could be that multiple intelligences decline in importance as well as in visibility. But I believe that
quite the opposite is true. As individuals become older, our intelligences simply become internalized.
We continue to think differently from one another—indeed, differences in modes of mental
representation are likely to increase throughout active life. These differences are simply less manifest
to outside observers.
Consider, for example, what happens in the average high school or college classroom. The teacher
lectures, the students remain in the seats, either taking notes or looking vaguely bored. One might
easily infer that actually no processing is going on, or that all the process is linguistic in nature.
However, once it comes to representing disciplinary skills or contents, the individual is free to make
use of whatever representational capacities she has at her disposal. A lecture on physics might be
represented in language, in logical propositions, in graphic form, through some kind of kinetic
imagery (that is how Einstein thought about physics) or even in some kind of musical format (the
Greeks stressed the parallels between musical and mathematical forces). Individuals may also take all
kinds of notes and use disparate aids to study and recall.
The recesses of our mind remain private. No one can tell the mind exactly what to do. As I see it, the
challenge to the mind is somehow to make sense of experience, be it experience on the street or in
the classroom. The mind makes maximal uses of the resources at its disposal—and those resources
consist in our several intelligences. It is the particular province of intrapersonal intelligence to
understand one’s own ways of thinking and learning and to mobilize them for learning throughout
Q. I’ve heard it said that there is no proof that MI schools work. What’s the evidence on that?
A. In terms of claims, “soft” data and “hard” data, there is much evidence that schools influenced by
multiple intelligences theory are effective schools. The testimonials from satisfied administrators,
parents, students, and teachers are legion. And many of the classes and schools claim that students
are more likely to come to school, to like school, to complete school, and to do well in various
But there are problems with this evidence. It is almost entirely based on self-reports. We would not
expect individuals who did not like MI theory to spend much time reporting their failures. We would
expect individuals who like MI theory to chronicle its positive effects. Even if these claims could be
independently substantiated, however, we would not know for sure just which effects are due to MI
theory. Schools are incredibly complex institutions, located in incredibly complex environments.
When numbers or performances go up or down, it is easy to attribute these “highs” or “lows” to one’s
favorite hero or villain. But absent the kind of controlled studies that are almost impossible to mount
outside of medical settings, it is simply not possible to prove that it was MI that did the trick.
For these reasons, I have been reluctant to claim that MI is a proved changer of schools. I had
thought that I might be admired for this reticence; but instead my silence has been perceived in many
quarters as a sign that MI does not work, or that I disapprove of what is being done in MI schools.
Recently, however, we have an important new resource. Mindy Kornhaber and her colleagues
undertook the SUMIT project (Schools Using Multiple Intelligences Theory). The research team
studied a set of forty-two schools that had been using MI theory for at least three years. The results
from these schools were very encouraging. 78% of the schools reported positive standardized test
outcomes, and 5/8 of these attributed the improvement to practices inspired by MI theory. 78% of the
schools reported improved performances by students with learning difficulties. 80% of the schools
reported improvement in parent participation, and 3/4 of these attributed the increase to MI theory.
Finally, 81% of the schools reported improvement in student discipline, and 2/3 of these attributed
the improvement to MI theory. Even if these figures show a positive spin, they are based on hard
data; and it is not possible for an impartial party to dismiss these results. I strongly recommend the
book Multiple Intelligences, by Kornhaber, Fierros, and Veenema, published in 2004.
In 2009, Jie-Qi Chen, Seana Moran and I published a collection called Multiple intelligences around
the world. In the book, 42 scholars from 15 countries on five continents reported their “MI
experiences”. The contributions different greatly from one author to the next, while all were
informative. Anyone who is considering the adoption of MI in an institution in their home land
would do well to consult this resource.
Q. How might your multiple intelligences have a positive impact on public schools in the U.S. and
A. Briefly, my theory can reinforce the idea that individuals have many talents that can be of use to
society; that a single measure (like a high stake test) is inappropriate for determining graduation,
access to college, etc.; and that important materials can be taught in many ways, thereby activating a
range of intelligences. Please see the discussion of educational implications of the theory in the
opening “In a Nutshell” section of this FAQ.
Q. Do you think we should be able to freely choose what courses we take? Or do you favor a uniform
curriculum for all students? In other words, should I be able to decide to take four humanities courses
and zero classes in the sciences, or should somebody tell me I have to take two science courses and
two in the humanities?
A. In general at the secondary level, everyone should study some history, science, mathematics, and
the arts. It is not important to me which science is taught—I am much more interested in students
learning to think scientifically. Similarly, it does not matter that much which history students learn,
though they certainly ought to be acquainted with their own country. What matters is that the student
acquires some sense of how historical studies are carried out; what kinds of evidence are used; how
history differs from literature on the one hand, and from science, on the other; why each generation
rewrites history and there can never be a definitive history.
For more on disciplinary study, see my 1999 book The Disciplined Mind and my 2011 book Truth,
Beauty and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the virtues in the era of truthiness and twitter.
Q. You prefer depth over breadth. Do you think students might not learn enough with this approach,
and graduate with major gaps in their knowledge? For example, if a history class were to focus
deeply on World War I, and thus not have time to cover Vietnam?
A. Your point has some validity. However, to follow your example, it is more important that students
learn how to think like a historian, and how historians handle data and draw conclusions. This can
only come from in depth study of a manageable number of topics. If the teaching of history were well
coordinated throughout K-12, we could certainly learn about all the topics that you mention. The
problem now is that a student might study the American Revolution four times and never learn about
the French or Russian revolutions at all.
Q. You have written that “cultural education is better left to after school or weekend options.” Do
you have suggestions as to how to handle this aspect of education?
A. The best way to learn about diversity of cultures is to spend actual time with individuals from
different backgrounds, and to see adults from different backgrounds work together with one another
productively. Reading and lecturing have little meaning, apart from this face to face contact and
Q. You once said that most students do not want to continue with school after the age of 15 or 16 and
that society would be better served if they did something productive in the real world. Do you
suggest that we should just do away with high schools? Since this is probably too radical, do you
think there should be less time spent in the classroom and more time spent in the “real world?”
Should students spend time as apprentices or interns gaining experience instead of listening to a
A. I love school and indeed I have never left. I am delighted at those who like to learn in an academic
way. But that is not for everyone, and it is certainly not for every 16 year old. I am much more
interested in youngsters being productive and learning something well than remaining in school when
they want to be elsewhere. When they are ready to return to school and to learn what you learn best
in school—whether they are 17 or 70—that is the time to return.
Q. Can you recommend techniques for teachers to identify their students’ strengths?
A. If you want to get to know your students intelligences during the first weeks of school, I have two
l. Take them to a children’s museum a few times (or some other kind of rich experience like a
playground with many kinds of games) and watch them carefully. (If it is possible, go to
Danfoss Universe in Denmark or to a comparable theme park or Exploratorium). This will
complement what you observe in class.
2. Give a small questionnaire about their strengths to the students themselves and their
parents and, if possible, last year’s teacher. To the extent that all three report the same
strengths and weaknesses, you are on pretty safe ground. I don’t trust self-reports unless they
Q. How can I teach multiple intelligence in a creative and innovative way to a group of new
A. See the writings of Tom Hoerr at the New City School in St Louis.
Q. Do you have scholarship or grant funding available for visitors or external projects?
A. Unfortunately, my office does not have access to any grant or scholarship funding for education or
research projects, whether at Harvard or elsewhere.
Q. We were wondering what you might say to an adolescent who tends to get high grades and seems
ambitious, but who is doubting himself/herself because of poor SAT and IQ test scores.
A. SATs measure a certain blend of linguistic and logical intelligence. Your SAT score has a tiny bit
of predictive power about college success in the first year of college, but your class rank and school
grades are a much better predictor. There are ways to ‘prep’ for the SAT and you should avail
yourself of those opportunities. The far more important questions are: What do you want to do with
your life? Are you learning the kinds of things that will allow you to be successful, productive, and
make a contribution to society? While no one should ignore ‘selection instruments’ like the SAT, you
should not permit them to obscure these far more important questions. If you are learning and making
progress toward your life goals, then you should not worry too much about your scores on one
instrument. If you are not learning and not making progress toward your life goal, neither a high SAT
score nor a high IQ will do you much good.
Q. What role does MI theory play in promoting the implementation of the American curriculum
A. At present, the American curriculum standards have no close link to MI theory. Of course, I regret
this. But individuals who are charged with implementing the curriculum standards sometimes
embrace the MI ideas. They then try to teach important disciplinary understandings and concepts by
drawing on several of the intelligences (see Chapters 7-9 of my book The Disciplined Mind for
examples of how to do this); they also try to build on students’ individual strengths, using those
strengths either as a privileged way to teach to the standards, or as ways of building up the students’
confidence and sense of efficacy so they are more willing to take on difficult materials.
Q. Can MI approaches aid in the teaching of foreign languages?
A Over the years a number of foreign language teachers have approached me about how to use “MI”
ideas in the teaching of foreign languages. My original assessment was that the actual contribution of
MI to foreign language teaching, or bilingual education, would be modest–compared, say, to its role
in the teaching of history or geography or biology. But here are a few ways in which it might be
1. Youngsters probably learn languages best in different ways. I, for example, love to learn
from the written text; many, perhaps most others, prefer to learn through human interactions,
watching videotapes, etc.
2. We all learn the best when we are motivated by the topic and like the setting in which the
learning takes place. Especially given the new technologies, it should be possible to “custom-
fit” the educational approach to the student.
3. This is probably the most important point but it is the most difficult to explain succinctly.
Every language has certain distinctive features which are non-intuitive to those who do not
speak the language. For example, the various subjunctives in Spanish don’t make intuitive
sense to me; Latin cases are difficult for those who don’t mark cases in their native language,
etc. There are many ways in which to convey these concepts, which are important within a
language, and multiple intelligence approaches can be quite helpful. I work out these ideas in
Chapters 7-9 of my book The Disciplined Mind.
4. More generally, the most up-to-date publication about MI theory is Intelligence Reframed,
which contains a large bibliography. Several articles mentioned there are relevant to the
debate of teaching foreign languages. Here are a few other resources that address this topic:
Haley, M. (2003). Learner-Centered Instruction and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences
With Second Language Learners. Powerpoint presentation. firstname.lastname@example.org; 703-993-8710
Savas, P. (2003). “Multiple Intelligences and Second Language Acquisition: Connections.”
(Unpublished paper. Contact author at email@example.com)
Zengin, Bugra. Doctoral student at Ataturk University, Erzurum, Turkey. Contact:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Ongoing work on MI and Second Language Acquisition.
Torresan, P. “The theory of multiple intelligences and language teaching” (Perugia, Italy:
Guerra Edizioni, 2010). Contact: Paolo Torresan (email@example.com). Available at:
Q. How might technology be used to support the use of MI?
A. For discussion of technology and education, see related papers available for download on the
‘papers’ page of this website.
Q. Do you know of any research regarding MI Theory and adult education?
A. For information about the use of MI at the college level, see Multiple Intelligences, Howard
Gardner and New Methods in College Teaching: Papers From the fifth annual Urban Conference:
Pedagogical Innovations in Higher Education, C. Coreil, editor. For information about adult
education, see Multiple Intelligences and Adult Literary: A Sourcebook for Practitioners, by Julie
Viens and Silja Kallenbach.
The End of Intelligences and Good Work:
Q How come you have been working since the middle 1990s on “Good Work”?
A. As I mentioned above, I was shaken by educational interventions in the name of MI which seemed
to me to be ill conceived and perhaps harmful. One should not claim that MI can be detected by
looking at fingerprints! Nor should one claim that different racial or ethnic groups have different
profiles of intelligences.
Initially I took the position of most academics—that it was my job to develop and publish ideas and
findings but that I had no responsibility for what happened to these ‘memes’ afterwards. But then I
realized that if I did not take responsibility for how my ideas were interpreted or applied, I could not
expect anyone else to do so.
This realization, along with other factors, convinced me to devote my research to the question—what
makes a responsible professional? Of course, I was thinking about a professional researcher or
educator, but soon my colleagues and I were looking at wide range of professions; (See
www.goodworkproject.org and the many references mentioned there).
For years, I did not see a strong connection between my earlier work on MI and my more recent
studies of GoodWork. But in 2005, I visited the Philippines and learned of an MI International
School founded and directed by Mary Jo Abaquin. Not only do the students in this school try to
apply their intelligences to praiseworthy ends. But Abaquin also initiated an award program, in
which she honored well-known figures who used their intelligences for benevolent, pro-social ends.
Ever since learning about these initiatives in the Philippines, I have spoken and written about the
importance of mobilizing intelligences not primarily for self-aggrandizement, or even for success,
but rather for the greater good of the community.
In this context, I like to cite both Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American philosopher, and the Civil
Rights leader, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Both men said that while intellect is important, character
is more important. And while I am and will continue to be known as the “MI” man, I think that the
study and promotion of Good Work and Good Citizenship is more important.
For more information about Howard Gardner and Multiple Intelligences, try visiting our links
page. Gardner’s three principal books about Multiple Intelligences are Frames of Min
(editions 1983/1993/2004/2011), Intelligence Reframed (1999) and Multiple Intelligences: New
A list of all of Dr. Gardner’s books is available on the website, as well as downloadable versions
of selected research papers.
Biographical information is also available for download.
Information source and credits to
For information about the GoodWork Project, please visit www.goodworkproject.org.
For information about the Interdisciplinarity Project, see the papers available on the
GoodWork Project website.
For information about Project Zero, please visit: www.pz.harvard.edu.
For information about the Harvard Graduate School of Education, please visit:
See the appearances page for information about requesting a speaking engagement, and for a
list of upcoming public events featuring Dr. Gardner