Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

 When you hear the word intelligence, the concept of IQ testing may immediately come to mind. Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential; something we are born with, something that can be measured and a capacity that is difficult to change. In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged. One such conception is the theory of multiple intelligences proposed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner.

This theory suggests that traditional psychometric views of intelligence are too limited. Gardner first outlined his theory in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, where he suggested that all people have different kinds of "intelligences." Gardner proposed that there are eight intelligences, and has suggested the possible addition of a ninth known as "existentialist intelligence".

In order to capture the full range of abilities and talents that people possess, Gardner suggests that people do not have just an intellectual capacity, but have many intelligences including musical, interpersonal, spatial-visual and linguistic intelligences.

While a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, they most likely possess a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical and naturalistic intelligence.

Gardner’s theory has come under criticism from both psychologists and educators. These critics argue that Gardner’s definition of intelligence is too broad and that his eight different "intelligences" simply represent talents, personality traits, and abilities. Gardner’s theory also suffers from a lack of supporting empirical research.

Despite this, the theory of multiple intelligences enjoys considerable popularity with educators. Many teachers utilize multiple intelligences in their teaching philosophy and work to integrate Gardner’s theory into the classroom.

Learn more about the multiple intelligences can help you better understand your own strengths. Continue reading to learn more about the major characteristics of each type of intelligence, and if you still aren't sure, this quiz can help you figure it out!

Visual-Spatial Intelligence

Strengths: Visual and Spatial Judgment

People who are strong in visual-spatial intelligence are good at visualizing things. These individuals are often good with directions as well as maps, charts, videos, and pictures.

Characteristics of Visual-Spatial Intelligence

  • Enjoy reading and writing
  • Good at putting puzzles together
  • Good at interpreting pictures, graphs, and charts
  • Enjoys drawing, painting and the visual arts
  • Recognizes patterns easily

Potential Career Choices

  • Architect
  • Artist
  • Engineer

Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence

Strengths: Words, Language, and Writing

People who are strong in linguistic-verbal intelligence are able to use words well, both when writing and speaking. These individuals are typically very good at writing stories, memorizing information and reading.

Characteristics of Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence

  • Good at remembering written and spoken information
  • Enjoys reading and writing
  • Good at debating or giving persuasive speeches
  • Able to explain things well
  • Often uses humor when telling stories

Potential Career Choices

  • Writer/Journalist
  • Lawyer
  • Teacher

Logical - Mathematical Intelligence

Strengths: Analyzing Problems and Mathematical Operations

People who are strong in logical-mathematical intelligence are good at reasoning, recognizing patterns and logically analyze problems. These individuals tend to think conceptually about numbers, relationships, and patterns.

Characteristics of Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

  • Excellent problem-solving skills
  • Enjoys thinking about abstract ideas
  • Likes conducting scientific experiments
  • Good and solving complex computations

Potential Career Choices

  • Scientist
  • Mathematician
  • Computer programmer
  • Engineer
  • Accountant

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

Strengths: Physical Movement, Motor Control

Those who have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are said to be good at body movement, performing actions and physical control. People who are strong in this area tend to have excellent hand-eye coordination and dexterity.

Characteristics of Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

  • Good at dancing and sports
  • Enjoy creating things with their hands
  • Excellent physical coordination
  • Tends to remember by doing, rather than hearing or seeing

Potential Career Choices

  • Dancer
  • Builder
  • Sculptor
  • Actor

Musical Intelligence

Strengths: Rhythm and Music

People who have strong musical intelligence are good and thinking in patterns, rhythms, and sounds. They have a strong appreciation for music and are often good at musical composition and performance.

Characteristics of Musical Intelligence

  • Enjoy singing and playing musical instruments
  • Recognizes musical patterns and tones easily
  • Good at remembering songs and melodies
  • Rich understanding of musical structure, rhythm, and notes

Potential Career Choices

  • Musician
  • Composer
  • Singer
  • Music Teacher
  • Conductor

Interpersonal Intelligence

Strengths: Understanding and Relating to Other People

Those who have strong interpersonal intelligence are good understanding and interacting with other people. These individuals are skilled at assessing the emotions, motivations, desires, and intentions of those around them.

Characteristics of Interpersonal Intelligence

  • Good at communicating verbally
  • Skilled at nonverbal communication
  • See situations from different perspectives
  • Create positive relationships with others
  • Good at resolving conflict in groups

Potential Career Choices

  • Psychologist
  • Philosopher
  • Counselor
  • Sales person
  • Politician

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Strengths: Introspection and Self-Reflection

Individuals who are strong in intrapersonal intelligence are good at being aware of their own emotional states, feelings, and motivations. They tend to enjoy self-reflection and analysis, including daydreaming, exploring relationships with others and assessing their personal strengths.

Characteristics of Intrapersonal Intelligence

  • Good at analyzing their strengths and weaknesses
  • Enjoys analyzing theories and ideas
  • Excellent self-awareness
  • Clearly understands the basis for their own motivations and feelings

Potential Career Choices

  • Philosopher
  • Writer
  • Theorist
  • Scientist

Naturalistic Intelligence

Strengths: Finding Patters and Relationships to Nature

Naturalistic is the most recent addition to Gardner’s theory and has been met with more resistance than his original seven intelligences. According to Gardner, individuals who are high in this type of intelligence are more in tune with nature and are often interested in nurturing, exploring the environment and learning about other species. These individuals are said to be highly aware of even subtle changes to their environments.

Characteristics of Naturalistic Intelligence

  • Interested in subjects such as botany, biology, and zoology
  • Good at categorizing and cataloging information easily
  • May enjoy camping, gardening, hiking and exploring the outdoors
  • Doesn’t enjoy learning unfamiliar topics that have no connection to nature

Potential Career Choices

  • Biologist
  • Conservationist
  • Gardener
  • Farmer


Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (2004). A Multiplicity of Intelligences.

Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (2001). The Three Faces of Intelligence.

Waterhouse, L. (2006a). Multiple Intelligences, the Mozart Effect, and Emotional Intelligence: A critical review. Educational Psychologist, 41(4), Fall 2006, pp. 207-225.

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