Article on Intelligence Ignores MI Theory

While MI Theory is well known in educational circles, and has become part of the common culture in some places, it has never had much of a home in standard psychology circles.  This point is illustrated beautifully in this article published in a major journal of psychology (Current Directions in Psychological Science), click here for link.  Entitled “Life beyond ‘general intelligence,’” researchers Kovacs and Conway contend that “IQ should be interpreted as an index of specific cognitive abilities rather than the reflection of an underlying general cognitive ability.”  Terming their approach “POT” (Process Overlap Theory) the authors propose that intelligence is determined by multiple components, both domain-general and domain-specific.”  Moreover, they add that they do not equate “g” or general intelligence with some kind of central executive function.  Rather, executive functioning appears to be a “cluster of largely autonomous control processes—an executive committee,” so to speak.

You might well conclude that I am pleased with this article and its conclusions.  And yet, what strikes me more is that neither my work nor that of other critics of a single-intelligence position is cited — not Robert Sternberg, not Steven Ceci, not David Olson, just to mention three scholars known to me.  Apparently, standard intelligence theory and standard proponents of “g” are the only individuals who merit citation in such an article.  You may think that I am annoyed, or even angry,  and yet I am simply bemused.

Howard Gardner

How Can I Build an MI Test? Howard Gardner Comments

Howard Gardner recently received an email from a Romanian scholar and educator who wanted to know how she could build a test that measures children’s various intelligences. Below, we’ve printed her question and Howard Gardner’s response in full.

Dear Dr. Gardner,

I come back to you after a while with another question. Last year I have got my PhD with the thesis "Theory of Multiple Intelligences: Impact on In-service teachers’ training." I am very happy and grateful to Professor Gardner for his fascinating theory and work, as MI really has a big impact in the classroom.

Now I would like to continue my research and to build a Romanian tool in order to estimate the development level of each of the 8 intelligences (or are they already officialy 9 ?) at a certain moment - somehow like Branton Shearer’s MIDAS does, for different ages (3-5yo, 6-10 yo, 11-14 yo, 15-18 yo and over 18 yo). Because teachers ask for that as they say have no enough time to observe each child and would need something quicker to help them and the parents find about the kids cognitive profile in terms of MI .

So the question for you is : could you please give me some pieces of advice before starting this huge task? how should I think this tool? As a questionnaire (more like MIDAS type with Likert scale answers for  each activity listed) with good psychometric properties or as a screening tool or observation guide? how is it in other countries? Do you have some bibliography/links /tools to share?

Thank you for spending time in reading my email and all the best in everything you do.

Kind regards,

Educator in Romania


Dear Educator in Romania,

My colleague has passed on your correspondence from a few weeks ago, and I've also looked through your papers.  I have to admit that I was unaware, or had forgotten, about your initiative.  Let me say that I'm quite impressed with what you have done and how you think about the issues of assessment of MIs.

As you  point out, I have been skeptical about testing for the intelligences. However, that's NOT because I fear a replication of the IQ story.  Rather, it's because I think that it is quite challenging to come up with a reasonable set of measures of each of the intelligences, and because I worry about the importance of having certain experiences in certain cultures which can stimulate or stunt particular intelligences.  I feel  most positively about Project Spectrum because it was a modest effort to assess the profiles of middle class preschoolers in a Boston suburb;  and about the Explorama in Denmark (I don't know whether it still exists!), because it presents games which individuals of all ages can “play” in their own way.

I respect Branton Shearer's efforts but, as he knows, I do not particularly trust self reports. (Almost all people--or at least almost all Americans--believe that they have an above average sense of humor and above average capacity to drive cars--and clearly half of them must be wrong!) If the self-reports on MIDAS were independently verified by those who know the children well--family, insightful teachers or friends,--then I would feel more comfortable with the results of the MIDAS. We term this confirmation from several sources 'triangulation'.

So if I were your adviser, I would turn the question around and ask "Why do the teachers in Romania want to estimate the developmental level of the several intelligences?"  What are they planning to do with this information? Will it inform how they teach a particular subject, or what they teach, or what extra-curricular opportunities they offer?   If they have any or several of these goals, then it is well worth devising instruments-- which can be observational or psychometric or some combination--which can inform their pedagogy, their approach to particular children. But if it is just to give students or parents some kind of a chart, with their scores, I would not be sympathetic. And there is the risk that they would treat the report as some kind of a final statement, rather than as a stimulus for trying new things or trying new ways with old things.

Also, you mention "developmental level'.  It is true that in FRAMES OF MIND  I mention that each intelligence may have its own developmental sequence. But that was a dis-embodied statement.  It would have been more helpful to say that tasks and skills that feature particular intelligences may well have a developmental sequence So, for example, when it comes to writing essays, there may be developmental levels--similarly, learning to play an instrument, or chess, or understanding the motivations of others--but one can't be certain that one's developmental level in , say, playing the piano is equivalent to a developmental level in composing a piece of music or singing or some other musical tasks.  Life is more complicated than that...and so are the intelligences! 

In writing you these words, I am well aware that I have not been particularly helpful . But I hope at least to have given you an idea of how, forty years later!,  I think about these complicated issues. 

With all good wishes,

Howard Gardner

Q&A with Students Around the World

Howard Gardner has recently had several email exchanges with students from around the world who are interested in MI. Read them in full below.

Dear Dr. Gardner
Greetings! I am a student from Iraq, and I am studying research related to  humor intelligence. I am looking for direct studies, and I have not yet found any study on the subject directly.

Please, do you have studies on the topic? I am ready to buy sources, books and studies that address this topic.

Best wishes,

Student from Iraq


Dear Student from Iraq,

This is an interesting topic, and I'd be curious to learn what you discover.  Personally, I don’t believe there is a separate humor intelligence. People may well differ in their abilities to tell jokes, make funny drawings, or appreciate the humor of others. But I don’t find it useful to designate it as a separate intelligence. Rather, I think that a sense of humor involves playing with certain expected arrangements (hence, logic), and in the process, stimulating an affective response.

Good luck in your exploration.

With best wishes,

Howard Gardner

Dear Professor Gardner,

How do we measure student learning outcome (e.g. hands-on skills, emotional strength, self-management, etc.) that’s not testable on paper? How do we quantify the results, make benchmark and comparisons, and communicate with parents and students themselves about the progress?

Thank you very much again, professor.

Best regards,

Student from China


Dear Student from China,

Thanks for your note! Of course, you can create a paper-and-pencil measure for anything, and there are lots of vendors who will be only too happy to give you measures of self management, emotional intelligence etc. I have a few quick thoughts:

l.  Observations with agreements among observers are quite powerful

2. Use of so-called 'inspectors' worked well in England for many decades

3. If you use paper-and-pencil or other so-called 'objective' measures, use more than one--if they agree, and are not simply variations on the same theme, then you can be confident in the judgment

4. Some of these judgments can involve self-report and judgments by parents

Most important, don't worry so much about objective tests. If you have to test for it, it's probably not being very effective. I can spend an hour in a Western school and have some confidence about whether it is a productive institution or a mess.

We should do things because we believe in them and think that they are right--Harvard worked pretty well for centuries without such measures--and now, that we are loaded with measures, I doubt that we are any better off.

But I realize the chances for corruption among judges…

With best wishes,

Howard Gardner

Dear Dr. Gardner,

Thank you for your attention!

Lately I've come across a big question, and I do not have the answer. If you can clarify this doubt, we will take a big step in our program that seeks to transform the school into an authentic laboratory of reflections and practices that foster the cognitive, emotional, social and ethical development of the student.

In our program we work simultaneously with cognitive and emotional stimuli.

My great doubt since the emotions are intrinsic in the human being is the following:

In order to have intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences developed, do we need to develop the intelligences linked to the cognitive process?

Thank you,

Researcher from Brazil


Dear Researcher from Brazil,

Thanks for your note. I don’t think of this issue in the way that you describe it. For me all of the intelligences are cognitive, and they all involve emotions. While I don’t object to Dan Goleman's notion of a separate emotional intelligence, I don’t see it the same way that he does.

As for the development of the personal intelligences, I think that the role models around us affect the nature and extent of our personal intelligences. If you are on the autistic/asperger spectrum, it will be more difficult to develop personal intelligenes--but the writings of Ron Susskind about his son, Owen, indicate how movies--like Disney movies--can be helpful.

With best wishes,

Howard Gardner

Existential Intelligence in Gifted Children

On January 2, 2018, Business Insider posted an article about teen prodigy, Braxton Moral, who is set to receive both a high school diploma and bachelor's degree from the Harvard Extension School this May. Howard Gardner wrote the following reflection in response to the article.

Notes by Howard Gardner

With respect to the theory of multiple intelligences, one of the criteria for an intelligence is that there are large individual differences among young people, and these can be identified early in life. And so, for example, by definition, musical prodigies exhibit high musical intelligence, young athletes display high bodily intelligence, chess players are mathematically and spatially precocious, and so on. In recent decades, I have speculated about the possibility of “existential intelligence”—what I paraphrase as the “intelligence of big questions.” I deliberately choose this rather colorless descriptor, in preference to more loaded terms like “spiritual” or even “religious intelligence.” I have also quipped that every child raises big questions—but the child with existential intelligence searches for answers; and the child continues to raise and ponder questions that are stimulated by more or less acceptable answers to the initial ones. And so I was interested to learn that Braxton Moral, an extremely precocious high school and college graduate at age 16, is reported to have had an “existential crisis” while in fifth grade. Assuming that the report is accurate, Braxton raised philosophical and religious questions while still a young boy and was so vexed that he sought higher education to help him think through these enigmas. According to Ellen Winner, gifted children and prodigies exhibit a “rage to master” and are not easily derailed from their area of fascination—be it musical sounds, chess moves, or the arc of a tennis ball. From what I know about his childhood, Mahatma Gandhi also was precocious in the existential realm. I would welcome other examples of “existential precocity”–the questions asked by highly gifted children, as well as how these children went about trying to answer their own questions. For contrast, I would also welcome examples of the kinds of big questions that typical children pose, with information about how much they pushed to try to get answers. Also, as a researcher currently focused on higher education, I would add that receiving a college degree “in extension school,” as Braxton has, is not the same as receiving it in a four-year residential school. Such a college education occurs much in interaction with peers, both in sessions and classrooms, in extracurricular activities, and in late night “bull.” A young person can be precocious in one sphere while quite ordinary in others. Such was the case with Michael Kearney, a scholastic prodigy, who, after four years of college before adolescence, had as his goal becoming a talk show host! Indeed, and famously, both Norbert Wiener and William James Sidis were enrolled in college at an early age by their academic parents. And both experienced significant personality upsets in later life. There are no easy solutions for exceptional islands of intellectual talents.

To read the article in full, please follow this link:

"A Rage to Master": A Blog on Gifted Children by Dr. Ellen Winner

Notes by Howard Gardner

Consistent with the name and purpose of this website, most of the entries provide support for the notion of several, relatively independent intellectual capacities, called the “multiple intelligences." That includes reports on gifted children, most of whom have jagged profiles—that is, they may be very strong in one or two intelligences, less strong in others. Having studied gifted children, Ellen Winner has described many of these youngsters as having a “rage to master”—spending many hours each day engaged in, say, playing chess or practicing the violin. But, counter to popular lore, there are no necessary patterns across the intelligences. Life is not fair! Some individuals are strong across several intelligences (Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind), while others, less fortunate, struggle in several intelligences. And the reasons for these diverse patterns are also multiple—genetic, cultural, and/or familial. Recently, my wife, Dr. Ellen Winner, spent time with a remarkable child who, quite unusually, exhibited a “rage to master” across a wide range of learning opportunities. I'm pleased to post this blog—a contribution to our understanding of human giftedness.

A Rage to Master…Everything

Ellen Winner October 2018

As a developmental psychologist with a particular interest in gifted children, I have observed many unusual children. Most gifted children have one domain in which they excel. Domains in which one most often finds such children are language (speaking in sentences at a very early age), music (playing an instrument), drawing (typically very realistically), mathematics, and chess. These children exhibit what I call a “rage to master,” the domain in which they are strong. They spend hours working at developing their craft, and it is often hard for parents to tear the child away in order to eat, go to school, or go to sleep. These children have an enormous amount of energy which they focus exclusively (or at least primarily) on their domain of strength. Recently friends of ours visited with their daughter who was on the cusp of turning six and who showed such a rage to master. But hers was unusual. She did not zero in on any one particular domain. Everything she came in contact with seemed to stimulate a rage to master. Because of her boundless energy for everything, she seemed to have a compulsion to keep busy, and if there were no obvious activities to engage in, she made up games for herself. An example… When she found some fine markers in our kitchen, she asked for paper and then proceeded to write out the alphabet and numbers up to 20 in very neat handwriting. She did this numerous times, and then used the phone to photograph each image. Next, she discovered a puzzle where you have to put wooden shapes into a square box so that they all fit perfectly. She used my phone to time herself and was satisfied when she got her time down in half from her first try. After thus competing against herself, she then insisted that everyone else (six adults) try the puzzle, and she timed us each time, smiling broadly each time another person’s time was longer than hers. In terms of attention, she also stood out. She noticed everything that the adults said in conversation even when she seemed to be concentrating on something else. We could tell because every once in a while she would look up from what she was doing and make a relevant comment. I was surprised by the acuteness of her memory. At dinner she had asked me for my iPhone code which I gave to her orally. The next morning she picked up my phone and immediately typed in the code. When I told her I was amazed that she remembered, she began to tell me the code for the phone of one of her mother’s friends. Her personality was strong, and she liked to be in control. She consumed all of our time and attention. We were like pieces in a human chess set that she manipulated. When she saw me holding my iPhone, she took it from me and began to take photos and videos of everyone in the room, including selfies of herself making funny faces. (I should note that her parents rarely take out their phones in front of her.)  She was however an iPhone expert, and instructed me on how to take a still photo and then to press loop or bounce to make the picture move in funny ways (this was news to me!).  She did allow me to take a few photos if I pointed the camera exactly where she instructed me. She was behaving like a movie director – making it clear she was in charge, and we were working for her. Another way in which she “ran the show” was recounted to me by her father. He told me how he tried to keep her amused at a restaurant by showing her his two closed fists and asking her to guess in which hand he held a piece of paper. After one or two trials, she took over and insisted that he be the one to guess in which hand she was holding the paper. When she was four, Trump was elected. She asked her parents what a president was. Her father, a policy scholar, listed to her all the things that presidents do and that the government does. When he finished, she said, “Then I want to be president!” That evening over dinner her parents found themselves being bossed around by their daughter. Her mother paused for a moment and then turned to her and asked, “Who set the rules in this house?” Their daughter’s instant reply: “Me because I’m the government.” Most gifted children have very jagged profiles – ahead in language, average in math; ahead in drawing, average in music. But this child seems to be high in many different intelligences – verbal (did I mention that she is bilingual and speaks fluently a language unrelated to English?), spatial (that puzzle), mathematics (timing everyone on the puzzle; remembering iPhone codes), bodily-kinesthetic (she climbed to the top of the three story climbing structure at the Boston Children’s Museum), musical (she plays the recorder and recorded herself singing for me on my phone), and interpersonal (she had everyone marching to her orders; she formed a strong relationship with both my husband and me the first night she arrived, and I observed her strong connection not only to her parents but to two adult siblings). About intrapersonal intelligence, I can only say that when she was asked a hard question (how can you test which colors a dog can see?) she thought for a while and then said (reflectively and accurately) that she did not know. In addition to her gifts across the board she showed a powerful motivation to compete and an equally powerful motivation to fill her time with goal oriented activities. The point of this sketch: While most gifted children have a rage to master in one area, this child showed a rage to master everything she came into contact with. Of course, it’s not at all clear what she will grow up to become. But perhaps Bill and Hillary looked like this as young children. Perhaps she really will grow up to be president – of something. I suspect she will not be passively taking orders from any boss.