If one watched the NBA Finals in 1998, even if not a Chicago Bulls fan, one would have to be amazed to witness the graceful maneuvers of Michael Jordan in the air above the basketball rim. In the same context, to hear the brilliant vocal performance of Luciano Pavarotti may move one to ask if, in fact, it does require a special and distinct intelligence to master such demanding demonstrations of human brilliance. Or what of the complex interpersonal skills needed by a therapist to successfully establish rapport and assist individuals to make helpful and lasting change? For years, especially in the education circles, most believed such talents were the periphery of true intelligence.

Howard Gardner, a Harvard University professor and author of Frames of Mind, believes each performance mentioned above requires a unique and distinct intelligence. When Jordan evades defensive players while skillfully controlling the ball, and leaps just at the right moment to both draw a foul on the opponent and score a goal, demonstrates what Gardner terms bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. When Pavarotti thunderously exhorts a musical score from an Italian Opera, he draws upon musical intelligence. A therapist likewise taps into interpersonal intelligence to fulfill the requirements of that profession. There are four other distinct intelligences of which Gardner argues to be unique and separate: logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, and inter/intrapersonal. Logical-mathematical intelligence is sensitivity to, and capacity to discern, logical or numerical patterns; ability to handle long chains of reasoning. This intelligence would be demanded of a mathematician or scientist. Conversely, a poet or journalist would require high linguistic intelligence: sensitivity to the sounds, rhythms, and meanings of words; sensitivity to the different functions of language. Spatial intelligence requires the capacity to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately and to perform transformations on one’s initial perceptions. Explorers such as Christopher Columbus would have required high spatial intelligence to navigate uncharted waters. Finally, a unique and separate intelligence termed inter/intrapersonal enables one to have knowledge of one’s own strengths, weaknesses, desires, and intelligences – a blessing to any therapist who may have clients with such distinct intelligence.

In researching multiple intelligence, I came across dozens of articles, book chapters, and similar text associated with Gardner’s concepts of multiple intelligence (MI). The basic concepts of MI theory is confined within Frames of Mind (1983). According to many researchers such as H. Morgan, Professor of Early Childhood at West Georgia College, the theory that multiple factors contribute to what is generally considered intelligence is not new (Morgan, 1996). As early as the 18th century Christian Wolff wrote of a facultas appetiva and a facultas cognoseitiva – a faculty for willing and a faculty for knowing.

Later, German philosophers added a third faculty for feeling. In 1939, Louis Thurstone of the University of Chicago had published evidence for seven independent mental abilities – verbal comprehension, word fluency, numerical fluency, spatial visualization, associative memory, speed of perception and reason (Miller, 1983). C.P. Snow’s observation that intellectual life had become organized into two mutually uncomprehending groups, with literary intellectuals at one pole and physical scientists at the other, likewise caused a stir in 1959. Some intellectuals saw this as evidence of our failing educational system (Miller, 1983). Gardner responded to this limited scope of intellectual range by stating, “I think it has to do with the circumstances under which the intelligence test was developed. It was developed to predict who would have trouble in school. So it’s basically a scholastic kind of measure, and the more you try to apply intelligence tests results to milieus like schools – which can include certain kinds of professional or business organizations-the more appropriate the IQ test is, and the more appropriate that standard definition is. But, once you move to outside of school-like settings, then the standard theory of intelligence is much less appropriate” (Koch, 1996).

According to Miller, other lists of mental faculties were compiled by the school of “common sense philosophy” in Scotland and later used in the science of phrenology in the German school headed by Franz Gall, who identified 35 faculties localized to different parts of the head. However in the middle of the 19th century, the whole conception of separate faculties was displaced by theories of association of ideas, and even in America, efforts by Horace Mann to keep the school of phrenological alive faded by the close of the 19th century (1983).

History appears to repeat itself, and according to Miller, the theory of MI, in its myriad forms, is no exception. In Frames of Mind, Gardner mentions the fact Chromsky calls these faculties organs; the philosopher Gerald Fedor calls them modules; the British psychologist Allport calls them production systems. Howard Gardner calls them intelligences (1983).The paramount question is, “Are they multiple intelligences or are they cognitive styles?” L.L. Thurstone was among the first of the intelligence test makers to suggest that the human organism was too complex for intellectual activity to be determined solely by a single human factor (Morgan, 1996). As a result Thurstone (1938) developed the Primary Mental Abilities test, a multivariate analyses as a method of measuring intellectual functioning. Thurnstone’s theory suggested, much to the liking of Gardner, that intelligence could not be determined by measuring a single ability. The practice of intelligence testing began to follow the pattern of Thurstone. The work of Gardner has continued in similar fashion except perhaps for, semantics.

In analyzing Gardner’s seven distinct intelligences beginning with logical-mathematical intelligence, one discovers an interesting parallel to two other cognitive styles. In the 1940s, Briggs and Meyers started developing self-report questions that would lead to assessments of individual personality types and their cognitive styles. They expanded cognitive style theory to include typological constructs from their personality theory. This concept has been referred to as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Myers and McCauley, 1985). As mentioned earlier, Gardner categorized logical-mathematical intelligence as the capacity to discern logical or numerical patterns and handle long chains of reasoning (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). The MBTI also identified these characteristics as cognitive learning styles employed by various personality types (Morgan, 1996, p. 266). Another learning style, The Field Independent types, approach object relations in an analytical manner with the ability to discern objects as discrete from their context. Interestingly, Gardner’s Logical-Mathematical Intelligence employs practically the same description.

Morgan (1983) indicates cognitive theorists have identified three basic sensory modes of interacting with the environment. They are kinesthetic, visual, and auditory (verbal thinking). It is with “verbal thinking” we draw a close comparison to Gardner’s Linguistic Intelligence – “sensitivity to meanings of words… (and) sensitivity to different functions of language (p. 266).

In criticism of Gardner’s Musical Intelligence, Morgan (1983) argues the auditory component of cognitive learning styles appears to be very similar to pitch, timbre, and expressiveness in Gardner’s description of Musical Intelligence. Also, how does one measure one’s appreciation of the forms of musical expression? Cognitive theorists have also been somewhat skeptical of Musical Intelligence based on *End States* due to the fact the various sensory modes often mature at various stages in a child’s life, so how can we predict Musical Intelligence based on these *End States?* Also, we must not neglect the importance of a child being raised in a competitive home where music is encouraged. A child, for example, with moderate ability to perform early in life, with encouragement, motivation, and interest, could excel in music later in life.

Gardner’s definition of Spatial Intelligence includes the capacity to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately and to perform transformations on one’s initial perceptions (Gardner, 1983). Concerning the cognitive style, Breadth of Categorization, Kogan (1976, p. 60) describes it as the ability to set boundaries, either narrow or broad, around a central focal exemplar. According to Morgan, Spatial Intelligence as described by Gardner is highly compatible with the cognitive style construct of Breadth and Categorization (p.267). Individuals with broad categorizing cognitive styles have a greater capacity to perceive the visual-spatial world and match Gardner’s concept of Spatial Intelligence. Holtzman & Klein, (1954); Santosteno, (1964); Israel, (1969) referred to these attributes as leveling and sharpening. Within the visual/figural (spatial thinking) mode of leveling and sharpening, one discovers a striking similarity to Gardner’s “capacity to perceive the visual-spatial world… and to perform transformations on one’s initial perceptions” (Morgan, 1983. p 267).

There is a striking similarity within Gardner’s Bodily-Kinesthetic category (abilities to control one’s body movements and handle objects skillfully) with the work of cognitive style investigations related to sensory modalities and motor control. Kinesthetic (motoric thinking), is one of three cognitive style basic modalities found within the framework of Gardner’s Linguistic Intelligence. Motoric thinking as described in cognitive style theory is essential to body movement and control (Morgan, 1983, p. 267).

Other criticisms of Gardner’s Bodily-Kinesthetic theory is delineating between non-competitive performance and athletic performance on the playing field. According to Elias, (1979); Einstein, (1979); Fiske, (1977) allude to a sensory-active cognitive style that tends to guide the information processing for certain individuals, such as Black and Hispanic students. In other words, the information processing for the athlete on the playing field could be drastically different from that within a non-competitive situation. These researchers discovered Black and Hispanic students tend to perform better in classrooms that are not silent.

The final Intelligence identified by Gardner is Interpersonal and intrapersonal Intelligence. Briefly, Gardner’s has identified the absence or presence of external (interpersonal), and internal (intrapersonal) social skills as *intelligences.*Cognitive style theorists have defined these characteristics with the domains of Field Independent and/or Field Dependent characteristics employed by individuals during social encounters (Morgan, 1996). Another contrast with Gardner’s theory on inter/intra intelligences can be found in the work of Bieri (1961) who identified the bimodal cognitive style labeled Cognitive Complexity vs. Cognitive Simplicity – the constructs by which individuals define their personal and social world. These constructs compare with Gardner’s *capacities to discern and respond appropriately to the moods, temperments, and desires of other people” (Morgan, 1996, p. 268).

With regard to the arguments supporting cognitive learning styles as opposed to Multiple Intelligence, the debate will inevitably continue. Many researchers, educators, and practitioners have much invested in support of the MI theory. Despite the semantical difference in terms intelligence or cognitive learning styles, the overarching benefit of Gardner’s work was to silence the proponents of the single factor constructs of intelligence. In summary, Miller (1983) states, “The value of Frames of Mind lies less in the answers it proposes that in the problems it poses. They are important problems, and time spent thinking about them will be time well spent, whether or not your conclusions agree with Mr. Gardner’s.”


Bieri, J. (1961) Complexity – Simplicity as a personality variable in cognitive performance behavior.
Functions of Varied Experience. Homewood, Illinois: Dorsey Press

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books

Gardner, H. & Hatch. (1989). Multiple Intelligences go to school: Educational implications of the theory of Mulitple Intelligences.

Educational Researcher 18, (8), 4-10

Holtzman, P.S. & Klein, G.S. (1954). Cognitive system principles of leveling and sharpening individual differences in assimilation effects in visual time error. Journal of Psychology 37, 105-122

Kogan, N. (1976). Cognitive Styles In Infancy and Early Childhood. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum

Miller, G. (1983). Varieties of Intelligence. New York Times Review. Dec 25, 5 & 20

Morgan, H. (1996). An Analysis of Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence. Roeper-Review. Vol 18,4, pp. 263-269

Myers. I. B. and McCauley, M.H. (1985). Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto, California: Consulting Psychologist Press

Koch, C. (1996). The Bright Stuff. CIO magazine. Mar. 15

Santostefano, S. G. (1964). A developmental study of the cognitive control leveling-sharpening. Merrill- Palmer Quarterly 10. 343-360

Thurston, L.L. (1938). Primary Mental Abilities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Leave a Reply