The Evolution of Creativity, Giftedness, and Multiple Intelligences: An Interview with Ellen Winner and Howard Gardner

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Ellen Winner is Professor of Psychology at Boston College, and Senior Research Associate at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard University in 1978. Her research focuses on learning and cognition in the arts in typical and gilled children. She is the author of over 100 articles and three books: Invented Worlds: The Psychology of the Arts (Harvard University Press, 1982); The Point of Words: Children's Understanding of Metaphor and Irony (Harvard University Press, 1988); and Gifted Children: Myths and Realities (BasicBooks, 1997), which has been translated into six languages and was awarded the Alpha Sigma Nu National Jesuit Book Award in Science. She received the Rudolf Arnheim Award for Outstanding Research by a Senior Scholar in Psychology and the Arts from the American Psychological Association. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (Division 10, Psychology and the Arts) and of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics. She is currently studying the kinds of thinking skills taught in the visual arts, and the effects of music training on children's brain and cognitive development.

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds positions as Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero. In 2004 he was named an Honorary Professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai. Among numerous honors, Gardner received a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1981. In 1990, he was the first American to receive the University of Louisville's Grawemeyer Award in Education and in 2000 he received a Fellowship from the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 2005, he was selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world. He has received honorary degrees from twenty colleges and universities, including institutions in Ireland, Italy, and Israel.

Henshon: What led you to the field of gifted education?

Winner: I am a cognitive development psychologist interested in how children develop in the arts. This interest led me to explore talent in the arts, which in turn led me to write a book about giftedness not only in the arts but also in other more traditionally studied areas such as verbal and mathematical abilities. In Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, I discuss what research has shown about the nature of gifted children, as well as the research on approaches to educating gifted children.

When I graduated from college with a degree in literature, I wanted to become a painter. I had been drawn to the visual arts as a child, and this remained a passion for me as I grew up. After college, where I studied literature, I went on to study painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I only stayed there for a year because I decided I was not good enough to make it as an artist. I decided instead to become a research psychologist and to study the psychology of the arts. The study of the arts has never been mainstream in psychology, but that never bothered me.

I first studied children's understanding and use of metaphor in language, growing out of my studies of literature I'm sure, and this drew me to the study of irony (the other major form of figurative language besides metaphor). My research on children's misunderstandings drew me to the study of children's understandings of other's minds, since the stumbling block for irony understanding is figuring out the speaker's true beliefs and communicative intentions. My study in irony understanding got me interested in children's understanding of other's minds. At the same time as I studied irony, I began to study how children develop in drawing. It was by way of my study of children's artistic development that I began to study gifted children. …