What is the Evidence for Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences?

multiple intelligence

This post sums up the theory of multiple intelligences and considers it in the light of evidence. So, is it true that people have multiple intelligences?

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is recommended for improving learning situations. We know that some people learn more easily by doing things, and others learn by reading books, which might reflect the fact that people have different intelligences and learning styles.

It’s a widely held belief that people have different intelligences and that their unique intelligences and learning styles should be favored in the classrooms and in general. This idea is grounded in Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

The theory of multiple intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences was coined by Gardner in 1983 in his book Frames of Mindbut it has later gone through several revisions. In 1983, Gardner suggested that the following seven distinct forms of  intelligence exist:

  1. Linguistic
  2. Musical
  3. Logical-mathematical
  4. Spatial
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic
  6. Intrapersonal sense of self
  7. Interpersonal

In his book Intelligence Reframed from 1999, he added yet another intelligence called naturalistic intelligence, which is the empathy for natural objects, and he suggested an additional intelligence: the existential intelligence, which is the ability to be (spiritually) immersed in a work of art.

In his latest revision in 2004, he proposed two additional intelligences, namely a mental searchlight intelligence and the laser intelligence.

Gardner states that each of the intelligences contains more sub-intelligences, and that each intelligence is controlled by different brain areas, and he reported that:

“Neuroscientists are in the process of homing in on the nature of core operations for each of the intelligences” (Gardner, 2004, p. 217).

The evidence for multiple intelligences

The theory of MI lacks evidence. When the critical review was published by Waterhouse (2006), there had not been any study that supported the validity of MI. Gardner tried to meet these critiques in 2004:

“MI theory has few enthusiasts among psychometricians or others of a traditional psychological background” because they require: “psychometric or experimental evidence that allows one to prove the existence of the several intelligences” (Gardner, 2004, p. 214).

Chen (2004, as cited in Waterhouse, 2006) has tried to defend the fact that MI lacks empirical support by saying:

“A theory is not necessarily valuable because it is supported by the results of empirical tests” and “intelligence is not a tangible object that can be measured” (p. 22).

More specifically, Chen (2004) proposed five counter arguments against the critique of the MI theory:

  1. Empirical evidence for MI is not necessary
  2. Intelligence is not a tangible object
  3. MI are novel constructs requiring new measures
  4. MI theory has been validated by its classroom applications
  5. MI theory profiles cognitive skill better than do IQ subtests

In sum, none of Chen’s five arguments make the need for validating theory less necessary. MI maintain to be “just a theory” that cannot be validated, unless the components of the theory are specified. Since Gardner has stated that he will not specify such components, the theory of MI is not likely to be validated.

Chen (2004) proposed that the theory of MI is validated through the application of it, however, this does not satisfy the need for valid data since this type of application does not provide valid data. Finally, no studies have yet proved that the cognitive ability profiles created by MI are any better than those created by IQ subtests.

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