An Interview on Children and Multiple Intelligences

I was recently interviewed about multiple intelligences by a French magazine. I answer six questions below.

1) How do you define intelligence? Is it innate (genetic) or acquired (socio-cultural environment)? How is it different from a talent?

An intelligence is the ability to make products or solve problems that are valued in one’s cultural setting.  I believe that human beings have a small number of relatively independent intelligences, which I call the multiple intelligences.  Standard tests of intelligence typically probe linguistic and logical intelligences, but do not probe the other intelligences that I have identified: musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.

 Each of these intelligences has a genetic component but each can and is enhanced by opportunities to practice the exercise of that intelligence.

You can call all of these capacities ‘talents’ or all of them ‘intelligences’.  I object to picking one or two of them out, calling them ‘intelligences’ and down-grading or marginalizing the others by calling them (mere) ‘talents’.

2) Does a person have only one dominant intelligence? Can a person's intelligence profile be changed during life (childhood or adulthood)? (Is it possible to improve or diversify one's intelligence?)

Absent gross injury, we each have the full component of intelligences, though we differ in which one(s) are strong, or not strong, at a particular time.  Our profiles can and are changed continually throughout life.  Practice, exercise increase an intelligence; disuse or misuse decreases the intelligence. If one wants to enhance an intelligence, it is best to live in a society where there are good teachers and teaching methods, many opportunities to practice, and various kinds of prosthetics, which can certainly include all kinds of technological aids.

3) More and more children are tested for IQ when intellectual precocity is suspected. However you are opposed to these tests. Why?

I am not opposed to tests per se.  Tests need to be used sparingly and to be interpreted intelligently.  If an individual is really intelligent in an area—be it language, music, or the understanding of other persons—there is no need to test them.

 IQ tests are best suited to determine who will be successful in a certain kind of educational environment—that is why and how they were created in Paris by Alfred Binet over a century ago. But as the nature of schooling changes, and as the skills needed for success in society also evolve, these tests need to change—or they will become increasingly anachronistic.

4) What would you recommend to parents who want to discover the intellectual profile of their child?

I recommend taking the child to a children’s museum, or some other kind of rich environment (like a new city, or a farm, or the seashore).  Observe what interests the child, how he or she interacts with materials, what they return to and what they ignore, and especially which materials they interact with, over time, in an increasingly sophisticated way. 

Of course, this is easier to do if you have seen and observed lots of children. And so it’s good to have someone who teaches children of that age; such an individual can help you to distinguished between behavior that is to be expected from a child of that age and experience: and behavior that is extraordinary for a child of that age and experience.  But it is also important to deserve change over time: two youngsters can look equally intelligence at Time 1; but at Time 2 or Time 3, there can be quite a difference—one child shoots ahead because he or she is more intelligent in that sphere. Yo-Yo Ma could not play the cello at age 3; but he certainly learned more quickly than most other three year olds!

5) It is increasingly common to be willing to adapt the way of teaching according to the learning profile (auditory, visual or kinesthetic) of the child. Do you think it is relevant? What is the difference between the learning profile and the intelligence profile when it comes to teaching?

It certainly makes sense to have more than one way of teaching any topic or skill.  But I do not agree that the teaching should be done by varying the sensory modality; rather it should be done in terms of the intelligences that the child has exhibited. There is no secret formula for determine the best way(s) to teach a child; one has to experiment with various ‘entry points’.  And often the child can tell you how he or she learns best, which approaches work, and which ones don’t work.  Of course, motivation can help a great deal, and the effective parent or teacher attends to what experiences excite and energize the learner and which ones alienate them.

6) How can a better understanding of multiple intelligences and a better knowledge of each child’s intelligence profile facilitate learning? When one wants to facilitate learning, do you believe that teaching should only take into account the child’s intelligence profile or that teaching should call upon all different intelligences even if they are not the child’s profile?

That’s a good question.  Optimally, a child should be able to learn in a number of ways, drawing on the several intelligences.  And if a child is learning well, we should celebrate that fact and just encourage the child to continue.

The challenge arises when the child is not learning well. That’s the time to experiment with different ‘entry points’ and different ways of continuing the lesson—until one hits upon the ways that are effective.  And as mentioned, the child can often help by indicating what works and why.  Almost all children want to learn. It‘s up to those in their environment to help the child figure out what works for him or her, and to remain in regular dialogue with the child—until such time as the child can take charge of his or her own learning. At this point, the most important educational goal has been reached—the child is now a lifelong learner!

Trump and IQ

There he goes again—President Trump bragging about his own high IQ and the IQs of his close colleagues (click here to read the article).


Of course, in most cases, we don’t actually know about the IQs of these individuals.  IQ, as conventionally measured, is a quick measure of how one will do in a certain kind of school. Accordingly, we can assume that graduates of elite institutions and recipients of prestigious fellowships will on the whole have reasonably high IQs… as well as those who dropped out of selective institutions because they sensed a way to become very rich very quickly (think Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg).


In this context, Trump stands out in two ways.  First of all, he not only refuses to release his grades or transcripts or test scores, but actually threatens jail sentences for those who might be tempted to do so.  (Does this seem like someone who is proud of his academic achievements?) Second, in Trump’s case, I would bet that his IQ would vary significantly, depending on whether the test was written or oral (Trump does not like to read and, if his spelling of tweets is any cue, he may be somewhat dyslexic), whether it involved language, or was completely non-linguistic (like the Raven’s progressive matrices).


I suspect that when Trump assesses an individual’s IQ, he is instead paying attention to gender, height, quickness of response, ability to quip, speed with figures, and perhaps, alas, willingness to cut corners and to go along with him. Indeed, the speculated IQ is likely to go down a standard deviation if someone breaks with Trump, as did Cabinet Secretaries Tillerson or Mattis, and to go up a standard deviation if one protects Trump, as do his current favorites, or is a member of his family, as in the case of Jared Kushner. (We don’t discuss certain members of the family). And if the person is Steve Bannon, the IQ probably fluctuates like the stock market.


Interesting that Trump praises the ‘poorly educated’.  Presumably he makes an exception for low IQ individuals who support him.


So, what does the multiple intelligences person think about Trump’s IQ? Let’s read what I wrote ten days after the election (click here for link.) And let’s look at what Mindy Kornhaber wrote months before Trump’s (click here for link.) And of course, you should read this article.


By Howard Gardner

Do Highly Intelligent People Prefer Instrumental Music?

This story caught me eye (click here for link) — the claim that individuals with high intelligence (presumably measured by an IQ test) prefer instrumental music over vocal music.  And as someone who plays the piano daily and listens to classical music regularly, I initially had a positive feeling about this claim—based on published research.


But some thought has caused me to be very skeptical about the claim. First of all, it makes a big difference whether one is listening to music as background (as I typically do), as opposed to attending a concert where one’s attention is focused on the performance.  If a well regarded vocalist were singing Schubert songs, they would command my full attention; so too, for the Mahler symphonies or song cycles for soloists or orchestras.


Second, this correlational finding doubtless reflects significant social-economic-cultural factors. Those raised in Western intellectual circles in the last century or so will have a bias toward the great symphonists and concerto composers from Europe (Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms etc).  But what do we know about those individuals raised in other cultures (India, China, West Africa, Latin America) at different times and in different cultural milieus?  I’d be astonished if we would find the same preferences—less surprised if we found totally different tastes depending on culture and era.


Finally, as the individual who proposed different kinds of intelligences, I’d make a distinction between computational powers (and intelligence) and personal preferences. Example:  There are all kinds of reasons why physicians and scientists might be partial to instrumental music; but that says nothing about their computational powers with music.  Indeed, in one study, Ellen Winner and her colleagues found that humanists are as much involved with music as are mathematicians and scientists—but this finding is less known because it does not fit into cultural stereotypes.


So long live intelligence, however defined, and musical preferences, however measured, but please don’t confound the two.

By Howard Gardner