The Misrepresentation and Incorrect Interpretation of Multiple Intelligences

Over the years, numerous ideas and practices regarding Multiple Intelligences have been put forth. Although these ideologies are often grounded in good intentions, Howard Gardner has found the need to speak out against these malpractices.



Dermatoglyphics – The discerning of Multiple Intelligences based on fingerprinting.

  • The belief that one can infer intelligences from fingerprints is unfounded.

  • There is no reason to think that fingerprints would be yoked to a specific intelligence or the theory of Multiple Intelligences.

  • Knowledge of one’s intelligences does not dictate life trajectory. We should not predict someone’s career choices based on their intelligences, let alone on the basis of their ‘fingerprints.’


The belief that there may be differences in Multiple Intelligences profiles based on gender or race.

  • Howard Gardner has elected not to pursue this theory.

  • Apparent group differences have often been exploited for unethical or immoral purposes.

  • A state in Australia issued documents claiming that people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds had different profiles of intelligence – that program had no validity and was subsequently shut down.

Howard Gardner believes that, should investigations demonstrate replicable differences among groups, he would regard these differences as starting points for imaginative efforts at remediation, rather than proof of inherent limitations within a group.


In the 1999 book Intelligence Reframed, Howard Gardner identified the seven core myths that had germinated from the theory of Multiple Intelligences as well as their corresponding realities.

Myth #1 - Now that the intelligences have been identified, researchers should develop tests to measure these intelligences.
Reality #1 - MI theory is a critique of the standard psychometric approach wherein researchers test a construct; as such, Myth #1 is inconsistent with one of the major tenets of the theory. On the other hand, assessments in rich, real life contexts can be quite helpful. In this respect, one should consult some of the example Good Practices on this website, such as Project Spectrum and Explorama.

Myth #2 - An intelligence is the same as a domain or a discipline.
Reality #2 - An intelligence is a new kind of construct. It denotes the strength or power of a mental computer. An intelligence should not be confused with domains (i.e. practice of law, performance of music, etc.) or disciplines (i.e. history, mathematics, etc.), which are socially constructed human endeavors.

Myth #3 - An intelligence is the same as a learning style, a working style, or a cognitive style.
Reality #3 - A style is an approach that individuals use for a range of activities. Individuals can have styles that are planful, playful, obsessive, etc. As noted with respect to Reality #2, an intelligence is NOT a style. An intelligence is a computer with a certain amount of strength, a certain amount of computational power.

Myth #4 - MI theory is not empirical.
Reality #4 - MI theory is based wholly on empirical evidence. The evidence is a synthesis of studies and data drawn from psychology, brain science, anthropology, genetics, and other disciplines. As an empirical theory it can be revised on the basis of new empirical findings.

Myth #5 - MI theory is incompatible with g (general intelligence), with hereditarian accounts, and/or with environmental accounts of the nature and causes of intelligence.
Reality #5 - MI theory questions not the existence but the province and explanatory power of and heritability. g denotes the overlap among different psychological tests, and thus, the power of g depends on the tests included in the battery. MI theory makes no claims about the extent to which, or the ways in which, an individual’s intelligences have heritable components. This is an empirical matter which will be determined in the future. Independent of the heritability of an intelligence, the amount of intelligence demonstrated is always a reflection of opportunities to exercise the intelligence, the pedagogical resources available, and the motivation of the individual.

Myth #6 - By broadening the term intelligence to include a broad spectrum of psychological constructs, MI theory renders the term and its typical connotations useless.
Reality #6 - The opposite is true. It is the standard definition of intelligence which constricts our view by treating a certain form of scholastic performance as all-important. As outlined in Chapter 4 of Frames of Mind, there are eight criteria for a candidate faculty to be considered an intelligence. Gardner is very conservative about adding intelligences. Moreover, he explicitly separates the strength of intelligence from the purpose(s) to which it is put. Linguistic intelligence can be used to write great poetry or to foment hatred.

Myth #7 - There is a single “approved” educational approach based on MI theory.
Reality #7 - There is always a gulf between scientific claims and classroom practices; as such, educators are in the best position to determine whether and to what extent MI theory should guide their practice. This website captures many educational applications that have been devised by thoughtful educators.