Professor Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University has identified seven 'intelligences' exhibited by humans, to demonstrate how people process and express the information they have absorbed

  • Linguistic Intelligence
    is connected to a facility with words and language, either written or spoken. Highly developed linguistic intelligence is evident in great orators such as John F Kennedy, or writers such as Dickens.
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence
    is the ability to reason, calculate and handle logical thinking. Highly developed logical-mathematical intelligence is evident in mathematicians like Albert Einstein or scientists such as Steven Hawking.
  • Visual-spatial intelligence
    is the ability to visualise something and either express it practically, as in a sculptor like Henry Moore, or use it like the Polynesian sailors who navigated using the stars.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
    is a facility of movement - using one's body or hands - highly developed in athletes, actors or dancers, or in a different form in skilled craftsmen such as mechanics
  • Musical intelligence
    is the ability to play instruments, sing or compose music.
  • Interpersonal intelligence
    is the ability to relate to others - what might be described as 'social' intelligence, evidenced highly in such professions as diplomacy or consulting.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence
    is a facility to access one's inner feelings and is highly evidenced in counsellors or philosophers.

None of these intelligences is mutually exclusive. A potter would routinely use both visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, while a novelist would utilise linguistic and intrapersonal intelligences.

Traditional wisdom, and often the public schooling system, only recognises two of these intelligences - linguistic and logical-mathematical, as forming part of intelligence per se. The others are generally described as 'talents' or 'abilities'.

Gardner says "if critics were prepared to label language and logical thinking as talents as well and remove these from the pedestal they currently occupy I would be happy to speak of multiple talents. But I strongly resist any attempt to use a contrast between intelligence and talent as a veiled attempt to ignore or minimise a range of critical human abilities"

The difference between the words 'talent' and 'intelligence' is more than just semantics - many people have grown up considering themselves as 'not intelligent' because they lack a facility in the linguistic or logical-mathematical fields and this can often stand in their way when learning in later life.

A person with well developed visual-spatial intelligence, but poorly developed linguistic intelligence for example, may have been unable to express their understanding of the works of Shakespeare at school. This is because the way English literature is taught demands that they write an essay to demonstrate their learning. Had they been able to express their learning through use of diagrams or drawing, however, their grade might have been very different.

For example they might illustrate the background of Hamlet like this:

(Hamlet's Father)






He was murdered by


Claudius_____ who has married_____Gertrude (Hamlet's mother) (Hamlet's Uncle)


So that Claudius could take the throne

While this diagram expresses a clear understanding of the situation behind the play, in an English class in most schools, the student would never be given the opportunity to present the information visually, let alone use this method in an examination. The result of this is that the student gets the impression they are 'bad at English'. This impression discourages them from studying English and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is also possible that the failure of the traditional education system to allow students to express their learning in non-traditional ways may be at the root of many behaviour difficulties in schools - the child, whilst fully understanding a subject is not permitted to call on their own methods of conveying that understanding, and therefore is assumed not to have understood. Until the child is able to present what they've learned in the traditional way they are not given more information, and so become bored and frustrated and disruptive.

A broadening of the spectrum in the way learning is tested, therefore, could both improve a child's predisposition to success and make life easier for teachers.

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