The Big Files: The 8 types of intelligence part 1

As a child, our level of intelligence was linked to our ability to succeed in school in subjects deemed important. Were we good at math, reading and writing? Were we able to achieve the main objectives of the second language course? To memorize the information on the program? Well done, we were smart. Otherwise, we often had the impression of being worthless, and the school supported us in this impression with great blows of notes and assessments. A tool was even used frequently allowing us to measure our intelligence level concretely by granting us, in a few tests, a figure representing our IQ (intelligence quotient). If our “score” was high, we were lucky! Society would consider us better, we would go much further in life! In short, for many, intelligence was something we had or didn’t have. The result of a life lottery draw, what. And even today, it is a very present point of view. An American study has revealed that 50% of the adult population considers intelligence as fixed (entity theory). We are born with our level of intelligence and it is immutable. The other half of the population believes that intelligence is malleable and controllable (theory of incremental intelligence). Similar results have been obtained in France, and in several other Western countries.

However, for many years, there has been an important debate in the world of psychology and neurology, as in that of education. What if there were several types of intelligence? And if, in reality, the intelligence was rather full of nuances? How else to explain that a person who has trouble writing two words without making a spelling mistake can write a concerto that will upset his audience? How is it that a child who cannot remember his multiplication tables knows all about dinosaurs? Is being good in mathematics or languages ​​the only criterion allowing a child to grow up by becoming an independent adult capable of creating a place of choice in society and contributing to it? There are many examples, however, of students who were considered dunces, and who made history, achieving great things! This is the case, among others, of Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison to name a few!

A good part of the population now recognizes that intelligence is not unitary, but that it is declined in several ways. This vision of things owes a lot to the work of developmental psychologist Howard Gardner and to his works presenting his theory on multiple intelligences which will become, in the 1980s, 1990s, bestsellers.

Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences

Born in 1943 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Howard Gardner was interested, like many other researchers, in the theory of multiple intelligences from the end of the 1970s. At that time, his work focused on brain damage and its consequences on the patient , particularly in terms of intelligence. And he never ceased to be amazed at what he discovered. How could patients deprived of a specific intellectual faculty be able to be gifted in another? He was particularly interested in high-level autistic people, those who, for example, although unable to read or write, were able to reproduce a piano concerto very exactly after a single listen. He concluded that there could only be one explanation. There were different forms of intelligence independent of each other. And when some were destroyed or underdeveloped, the others were not affected. He concluded that all men were intelligent, but not necessarily in the same way.

During the years of research that followed the formulation of this hypothesis, the professor at Harvard University, succeeded in identifying the first seven types of intelligence which were the subject of his first book published in 1983, Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligence, denouncing, at the same time, the IQ tests, indicating that intelligence was impossible to measure. 10 years later, in 1993, he enriched this number with an 8th form of intelligence. It is today on this list that the work of many specialists, all fields combined, is based. And the fact that Mr. Gardner was able to precisely locate the areas of the brain mobilized by each of these types of intelligence makes his research very credible and unquestionable. Today, he spends a large part of his time on a new type of intelligence which he considers to be intelligence 8.5 since he has still not put his finger on the area of ​​the brain that it would mobilize. It is the existential intelligence that he still defined. He also argues that a tenth form of intelligence, pedagogical intelligence, could eventually enter his theory.

The different types of intelligence

But for the moment, let us briefly present the 8 types of intelligence that he isolated. They are grouped into 4 categories (the short definitions are taken from Wikipedia):

Action intelligences include:

  • Interpersonal intelligence which is the ability to understand others, to interact with them.
  • Intra-personal intelligence that allows you to form a precise and faithful representation of yourself and to use it effectively in life.

School intelligences (the best known) include:

  • Linguistic intelligence which is defined by Gardner as “the ability to use and understand words and nuances of meaning”.
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence which is the ability to manipulate numbers and solve logical problems.

Environmental intelligences include:

  • Musical intelligence, which is the ability to perceive and create rhythms and melodies, to recognize musical models, to interpret and create them.
  • Naturalistic intelligence (that which was added in 1993) makes it possible to classify objects, and to differentiate them into categories. It is intelligence that enables us to be sensitive to what is alive or to understand the environment in which humans evolve.

Methodological intelligences include:

  • Visuospatial (or spatial) intelligence which is the ability to find one’s way in a given environment and to establish relationships between objects in space.
  • Kinesthetic (or bodily-kinesthetic) intelligence, which is the ability to use fine control over body movement in activities like sports and dancing. It also allows you to use your body to express an idea or a feeling or to perform a given physical activity.

His current work on existential intelligence and pedagogical intelligence will be treated at the conclusion of this dossier.

Over the next few weeks, each of the 8 recognized intelligences will be the subject of an article. We will explore together ways to develop it and ideas for activities to do with your children. Our series of 10 articles will conclude with a quick presentation of the two other types of intelligence under study by Howard Gardner and on tools allowing to draw on this knowledge, at school and at home, in order to increase children’s self-esteem and allow them to understand that all children (and adults) are unique and naturally intelligent, one of the main objectives of Mr. Gardner’s work.

Although we often favor, in our daily life, one or more types of intelligence according to our natural talents, our work or our lifestyle, it is important to keep in mind that unless there is significant damage to a certain part of our brain, we have them all. And it is possible, no matter how old we are, to develop them because our brain is transformed every day according to our activities, our new discoveries, etc. And the more the brain is stimulated, the more it will develop. But if you are curious to find out what type of intelligence is predominant in you or your child, here is a little fun test available in English. Share your results with us if you do and tell us if they surprise you!

Pour aller plus loin:

Howard Gardner’s website :

TedX conference of Eric Gaspar (in french):

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