The theory of multiple intelligences began in the United States in the 1980s. It was proposed by American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner's theory proposed the plurality of intelligence, suggesting that there are several distinct types. Thus the theory, also known as MI, sees intelligence as multifaceted structure as opposed to a single entity. Gardner took into account people who displayed extraordinary abilities. His theory was backed by neuropsychological evidence that supports the existence of areas of the brain that specialize in processing particular types of information.
Intelligence quotia (IQ) had traditionally been accepted as the benchmark for assessing intelligence, with tests focusing on logical and linguistic intelligence (mainly reading and writing). The emergence of the MI theory meant that intelligence may be measured in other ways. The theory allows for a broader scope when defining intelligence, giving consideration to the variety of ways in which humans think, learn and adapt to their environments. Established definitions of IQ on the other hand, were considered too narrow.
Gardner categorized eight primary types of intelligence:
- Linguistic — dealing with spoken or written words
- Musical — concerning rhythm, music, and hearing
- Logical, mathematical — the ability to reason inductively or deductively and deal with abstractions and numbers
- Spatial — in relation to vision and spatial awareness
- Bodily-kinesthetic — dealing with movement and doing
- Interpersonal — interacting with others
- Intrapersonal — the relationship with oneself
- Naturalistic — concerning nature, nurturing, and classification
Another form of intelligence that has gained credibility is that of "emotional intelligence", or "EQ." There are varying definitions of EQ but it is said to be related to the way in which cognition is connected to emotion; the reasoning that takes into account the emotions.
It is believed that the MI theory may have ramifications in terms of possible cultural or economic discrepancies when using traditional methods of assessing intelligence. Instead of a "one-size-fits-all" approach, the MI theory is more culturally responsive. Detractors of the MI theory argue that that Gardner has no foundation on which to base his theory other than his own intuition and observations. Eminent psychologist George Miller said that Gardner's theory was down to "hunch and opinion." Linda Susanne Gottfredson (nee Howarth) also disputed the validity of MI. The former professor of educational psychology at the University of Delaware pointed out that thousands of studies support the importance of IQ for school and job performance, and that IQ also correlates with life outcomes.
Despite this, due to its humanistic approach to acknowledging the contributions of each and every individual it has received widespread approval. MI encourages equitable educational experiences that are geared towards the strengths, weakness and styles of all individuals; it is respectful of multicultural perspective. Due to this, the theory has been widely accepted in educational communities. It may be said to have shaped curricula in schools and colleges around the world, which welcome the assumption that all students are gifted in some way, if not in terms of traditional academic achievement. One such school is New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, which applied the theory in 1988. School principle Thomas Hoerr has written numerous papers on MI and the book Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School. The school has hosted conferences on the subject that attracted worldwide interest. The application of multiple intelligences in teaching means that students may be more involved in their education rather than taking a passive role. The nature of MI means that teachers must engage with learners, with students being taught and assessed in a way that is suited to their individual requirements.
While this approach may allow students to realize their full potential, it also creates pedagogical connundrum. Assessment based on multiple intelligences may be too broad and it has been observed that focus must be applied to a "dominant" intelligence to avoid too complicated a scenario in the classroom. It requires educators to find a balance between traditional methods of learning and assessment, and giving students the freedom to explore their capabilities using other means.