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Howard Gardner’s Theory of Intelligence Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2691 words Published: 10th Apr 2018

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  • Sophia Ashraf

Individual Differences Essay

Describe and evaluate the usefulness of Howard Gardner’s theory of intelligence?

Intelligence is a highly significant and contested area within psychology. It is an elusive, multi-faceted ability that has close connections with Cognitive Psychology. It is characterised by inter-individual variation and is measured using intelligence tests. Some definitions of intelligence include: the ability to solve problems, retain information and the possession of numerous skills and talents. Howard Gardner, the founder of multiple intelligence theory defines intelligence as ‘a biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture’ (Gross, 2010: 645). This definition implies intelligence is a social construction as its definition lies upon the values of a society (Mahoney, 2011).

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Howard Gardner was born in Pennsylvania in 1943. He has completed studies in neuropsychology and developmental psychology at Harvard University, where he is currently a professor in Cognition and Education. He is also a senior director of the human cognition research group named Harvard Project Zero, and has published several books including Frames of Minds (1953) and ‘The Art and Science of Changing our own and other People’s Minds’ (2004). Gardner was influenced by psychologist Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Jerome Bruner and Jean Piaget. His theory draws on his knowledge and findings from evolutionary biology, anthropology, developmental/cognitive psychology, neuropsychology and psychometrics (Garnett, 2005; Maltby et al, 2010). This essay will describe and evaluate the usefulness of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences in the contemporary world.

Howard Gardner asserts intelligence is not fixed at birth. It develops through experience and learning. Each person is born with a wide variety of capabilities that reside in separate sections of the brain. In theory, this means that brain damage in one area will leave other cognitive functions intact. Consequently, intelligence is a computer that works more or less well. Gardner worked as an investigator at the Boston University Aphasia Research Centre. He was interested in human faculties under conditions of brain damage and studied children and brain damaged adults. He examined for behaviours which developed at similar ages, were similarly affected by damage to a particular part of the brain and behaviours that interfered with one other when performing two tasks simultaneously (Cooper, 2002; Gardner, 1999).

In regards to intelligence, Gardner acknowledges nature providing us with savants and prodigies. One such extraordinary case study is that of a savant called Leslie Lemke, who was born blind and suffered from both mental retardation and cerebral palsy. Despite his illness, he showed incredible skills in playing the piano. At the age of 18, he could listen to a piece of classical piano music and play it back flawlessly. This evidences Howard Gardner’s views that our intelligences are independent as people with signs of brain damage can have extraordinary profiles of intelligence despite their mental illness (Gregory, 2011)

Howard Gardner takes a multidimensional approach to intelligence. He identifies nine distinct faculties. The first two are distinguishable from standard IQ tests. These are linguistic and logical- mathematical intelligence. Gardner’s theory incorporates an additional five which are spatial, musical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. After 1996, he added a further two intelligences to his theory. These comprise of naturalist and existentialist intelligence. Firstly, linguistic intelligence is displaying ability in speaking, writing, listening and reading. This intelligence is crucial for us to make sense of the world and learn new languages. Lawyers, writers, poets and teachers all have high linguistic intelligence. Students with high linguistic intelligence learn best by reading, listening to lectures and taking notes. Secondly, logical-mathematical intelligence is associated with high reasoning capabilities and the skill to carry out complex calculations. Mathematicians, economists and doctors all possess high logical-mathematical intelligence. It is claimed that the western education system is heavily biased in Gardner’s first two intelligences. This means that only students who excel in these subjects will benefit. Moreover, it should be noted that schools now incorporate design technology subjects into their curriculum to cater for students’ needs (Gardner, 1999; Garnett, 2005; Maltby, 2012).

Gardner’s next three intelligences are compatible with the arts. The first is musical intelligence which also entails aspects of linguistic intelligence. Musicians, singers and composers have high musical intelligence as they display great sensitivity to sounds and rhythms. The second faculty linked with the arts is bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence, which involves the use of bodily-movements and physiology to solve problems. These people learn best by adopting a hands-on approach. Strong bodily-kinaesthetic individuals might use muscle memory as an aid to learning. Careers suited to this intelligence include dancers, athletics, mechanics and builders. The third intelligence correlated with the arts is spatial intelligence which is the awareness, recognition and manipulation of space. Navigators, artists, surgeons and chess players all have high spatial intelligence. These people have a good sense of direction and hand eye coordination (ibid).

Gardner’s sixth faculty is interpersonal intelligence which involves interaction with others, understanding their intentions and motivations and being able to communicate and work effectively as part of a group. Careers linked with this intelligence involve teachers, politicians and social workers. Mahatma Gandhi famously stressed the importance of understanding others. Alternatively, Gardner’s seventh intelligence which is intrapersonal intelligence is to do with self-reflective capacities. This faculty closely mirrors Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence theory as it places emphasis on understanding our emotions, goals and motivations in order to solve problems. Careers suited to this intelligence include philosophers and psychologists. Gardner’s eighth ability is naturalist intelligence which incorporates displaying sensitivity to the natural world. Careers linked with this ability include farmers, environmentalists and scientists. Charles Darwin, a prominent person declared himself ‘as a born naturalist’ (Gardner, 1999:48). Lastly, Gardner’s ninth intelligence which is known as existentialist intelligence involves displaying concern with ultimate issues in life such as the meaning of life and death plus the fate of both physical and psychological worlds (Gardner, 1999; Garnett, 2005; Maltby, 2012).

Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory is based on two fundamental principles. Firstly, intelligences exist as independent entities that may also require collaboration in order to achieve a task. For example, singing and dancing together entails the amalgamation of both musical and bodily-kinaesthetic faculties. Secondly, Gardner states every individual is unique in their levels of ability. There may be two individuals with musical talent but only one can sing whilst, the other is skilful in playing a musical instrument. This proves intelligence is not the same in any two individuals, not even monozygotic twins who share 100% genetic similarity. This proves, we are all intelligent but in different ways as Gardner claims ‘We are not all the same; we do not all have the same kinds of minds and education works most effectively if these differences are taken into account rather than denied or ignored’ (Gardner, 1999: 91). Gardner asserts intelligence cannot be measured via IQ test. He proposes the need for empirical observations such as observing a music class and argues this would provide a more valid and detailed picture of musical intelligence (Conti, 2008; Gross, 2010).

Gardner’s theory has practicalities within educational institutions. This includes primary, secondary, college and university level. His theory makes an invaluable contribution to the education system. It is egalitarian as it takes into account the entire human cognition. Armstrong (2009) cited in Ghamrawi, 2014) argues the theory is productive since it provides multiple approaches to learning which allows teachers to be imaginative as they can draw on a repertoire of activities within the classroom. Therefore, it is beneficial as it will account for students preferential learning styles such as auditory, visual and kinaesthetic. For instance, teachers can integrate linguistic intelligence by making pupils write a story or read poetry. Similarly, teachers can embrace logical-mathematical intelligence by making students solve puzzles and crosswords. Overall, numerous schools have structured their curriculum towards Gardner’s faculties which signals the value of his theory (Gardner, 1999; Garnett, 2005; Malim and Birch, 1998).

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The Harvard Project Zero has researched 41 schools in America applying multiple intelligence theory for at least 3 years. Results show 78% of the schools reporting positive test outcomes, with 63% attributing the improvement to practices inspired by Gardner’s theory. Additionally, 78% reported improved performances by students with learning difficulties and 75% credited the increase to multiple intelligence theory. (Gardner, 1999) These figures support the view that multiple intelligence theory is extremely successful within the education system. Meanwhile, the extent to which the findings can be generalised to other schools worldwide is called into question. This is because the research focussed on a small sample of schools in America and used self-report methodology. This may means the findings suffer from social desirability bias as teachers and students may answer in a way that favours the school’s reputation (Garnett, 2005).

The theory’s multi-faceted nature is beneficial to students as it helps them master their preferred disciplines for instance, linguistic intelligence for the poet and bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence for the dancer. Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory has also been embraced by institutions such as museums that have practically integrated Gardner’s criteria with visual, spatial and bodily-kinaesthetic activities for students. Gardner’s theory is equally valid within the workplace as all businesses make use of a mixture of multiple intelligences. For instance, businesses that deal with finance and accounting draw on logical-mathematical intelligence. Likewise, entertainment businesses draw on musical intelligences, linguistic and bodily kinaesthetic intelligences. More importantly, Gardner’s theory is applicable with other species and organisms as rodents have strong spatial intelligence whereas, birds possess outstanding musical intelligence. It may well be argued that computers too have multiple faculties as they are extremely effective in multitasking (ibid).

Nevertheless, Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory is highly controversial. It is criticised for being extremely flexible. This makes it difficult for researchers to construct a single test that will measure and evaluate all nine faculties. For this reason, the theory has little scientific credibility. It may well be argued that Gardner’s musical and bodily-kinaesthetic intelligences are better viewed as talents as they are not needed in adapting to life demands .Additionally, the theory is proven irrelevant in regards to uniform schooling which believes all pupils should be taught the same subjects in the same manner. In regards to the implementation of Gardner’s theory within the education system, it is disapproved for increasing educators’ workload. Ultimately, Gardner’s theory is criticised since it derives from his own intuitions and findings rather than from comprehensive empirical research (Conti, 2008; Gardner, 1999; Ghamrawi, 2014).

In comparison to Gardner’s theory, psychologist Charles Spearman’s theory advocates the notion of a general faculty (g). Spearman administered tests to Hampshire schoolchildren on six areas of ability including mathematical ability, ability to follow complex instructions, visualisation, knowledge of vocabulary, matching colours and musical pitch. He invented factor analysis to analyse the scores and concluded one factor called general ability (g) that determined children’s intellectual performance. His results implied that if a child performed above average on one of the tests, it was more likely that they would perform above average on all other tests. The problem with his study is that intelligent students would have been selected. Gardner was sceptic about Spearman’s single faculty. He proposed the existence of numerous intelligences. Nevertheless, Spearman’s view is regarded as both reductionist and deterministic as it reduces intelligence to a single lump (Mahoney, 2011; Maltby et al, 2010).

Alternatively, Robert Sternberg a professor at Yale University came up with the triarchic theory of intelligence. He claims certain mental mechanisms are required for intelligent behaviour. His theory deals with three types of intelligence: componential, experiential and contextual intelligence. Componential intelligence consists of mental mechanisms responsible for intelligence behaviour. The first mechanism is meta-components which are responsible for determining the nature of an intellectual problem, selecting a strategy to resolve the problem and making sure the task is completed. Secondly, performance components are the processes actually involved in solving the problem. Thirdly, knowledge- acquisition components are involved in learning new information. Sternberg’s second ability is named experiential intelligence involves the ability to deal effectively with novel tasks from previous experience (Gregory, 2011; Mahoney, 2011; Maltby, 2010).

Lastly, Sternberg’s contextual intelligence involves the adaptation, shaping of a current environment and the selection of a new environment. Kline (1991 cited in Mahoney, 2011) criticises Sternberg’s theory for defining intelligence too broadly. His theory raises the question as to whether intelligence is an ability, personality trait or behavioural style. Nevertheless, the theory has real life applications like Gardner’s theory. For example, an employee who convinces their boss to do things differently has used shaping to alter the work environment. Sternberg’s theory is more credible than Gardner’s as he has devised The Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test to validate his theory. Both Sternberg and Gardner agree that intelligence is a complicated phenomenon that cannot be measured by any single intelligence test (Gregory, 2011; Mahoney, 2011; Maltby, 2010).

In conclusion, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is both highly valued and also contentious within the contemporary world. In relation to his criteria of intelligences, many may argue there are several others intelligences that Gardner has failed to consider for instance cooking intelligence, humour intelligence, spiritual intelligence and many more. Whether researchers consider Gardner’s theory as useful or not depends on their definition and interpretation of intelligence. This will also depend on whether the individual considers intelligence as singular or plural (Gardner, 1999).



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