Multiple Types of Intelligence

If distinct parts of the brain perform distinct functions, then we can expect to find several different types of mental ability (or disability) corresponding to strengths (or weaknesses) in specialized areas. For example, tone deafness is what neuropsychologists would call a selective deficit: a problem with a particular area or skill center in the brain. A person with tone deafness cannot "carry a tune" because he or she literally does not hear melody like other people. When the same skill center is highly developed, the result is an acute sensitivity to melody and sometimes perfect pitch (the ability to identify the pitch of notes played in isolation, without additional cues).

A person can be a selective genius (a savant) or a person can have a selective deficit (missing or defective skill), depending on how well various parts of the brain function. Studies of savants and brain damaged patients helped to lead researcher Howard Gardner to a theory of multiple kinds of intelligence described in his book Frames of Mind (1983).

Gardner's 7 types of intelligence

What does it mean to say skills are "doubly dissociable"?

Gardner used data from brain-injured patients and also from special populations such as autistic savants and children with learning disabilities-people who might have exceptional skills in one area but deficient skills in another. In the end, he identified seven separate and discrete forms of intelligence. In the language of neuropsychology, these skills are doubly dissociable, meaning that each can be altered or disabled without affecting the others. In this sense they act as distinct modules in the nervous system.

1. Linguistic intelligence is a facility with words, a sense of how to combine them to express meaning clearly or beautifully. For example, poets are advanced in this type of intelligence.

What are the types of intelligence identified by Gardner?

2. Logical-mathematical intelligence is an ability to manipulate abstract thoughts such as those involved in logic, mathematics, and science. Gardner (1993) commented, "Jean Piaget, the great developmental psychologist, thought he was studying all intelligence, but I believe he was studying the development of logical-mathematical intelligence."

3. Spatial intelligence is "the ability to form a mental model of a spatial world and to be able to maneuver and operate using that model." Sailors and sculptors both use this kind of intelligence.

4. Musical intelligence is, of course, the ability to comprehend, produce, and enjoy music. Mozart is a famous case of a person with high musical ability in childhood.

5. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is "the ability to solve problems or to fashion products using the whole body or parts of the body," exemplified by "dancers, athletes, surgeons, and craftspeople."

6. Interpersonal (social) intelligence is the ability to understand and work with other people, shown by successful salespeople, politicians, teachers, and religious leaders.

7. Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to "turn inward" and develop insight from personal experiences-to form accurate knowledge of oneself and use it to live more effectively.

What eighth category did Gardner add later?

Gardner later added an eighth category for sophisticated pattern recognition, which he described as the ability to recognize natural objects such as types of plants and animals. Such skills would have been at a premium in our ancestral environment. A person exceptionally skilled at spotting edible or medicinal plants, for example, would have a highly valued form of intelligence.

In what sense can these categories be "subdivided further"?

These eight categories are large-scale, major categories of intelligence that can be subdivided further. For example, a person who is good at one type of math might be poor at another. One might be a great essayist but a lousy poet, although both involve linguistic intelligence. Clearly there are multiple forms of intelligence within each of the broader categories of intelligence identified by Gardner.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey