Research Myth 5: Multiple Intelligences

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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How many intelligences do you possess?

Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences (MI) theory is well-known and has been used as a basis for a more flexible type of teaching and learning but it has never been supported by research and is best described as a ‘flaky’ theory.

MI has been discredited as a model of how we learn by neuroscientists and education experts.

John White says that the eight intelligences have not been shown to exist and the “further one looks into the theory, the more unsubstantiated it appears” because “there are eight criteria by which an intelligence is identified, but no reason is given for selecting them”.

The different types of intelligence proposed by Gardner are hard to measure and difficult to assess and some of the intelligences, such as interpersonal and intrapersonal, are problematic to even define clearly.

Lynn Waterhouse (2006) found that Gardner declined to postulate what he thinks the components of the various intelligences might be or how these might be measured and has only provided hazy and ambiguous descriptions of them.

The great majority of scientists do not accept the MI theory and see it as a confused and nebulous set of claims that have not been empirically validated. Professor John Geake (2008) says:

Neuroimaging studies do not support multiple intelligences; in fact, the opposite is true. Through the activity of its frontal cortices, among other areas, the human brain seems to operate with general intelligence, applied to multiple areas of endeavour.”


Read the full Research Myths series.

2 thoughts on “Research Myth 5: Multiple Intelligences

  1. I think we need to draw a distinction between a specific model and the concept of intelligence. While it is correct that there is a lot of research which challenges Gardner’s model, that is what a model is for – not to be right, but to aid understanding and stimulate research which will (inevitably) lead to a better model. There is a wealth of research supporting the idea that intelligence is not a single entity, but multifaceted. This is the real issue for Learning: our pupils cannot be measured on a single scale of ‘intelligence’, nor treated as such.

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