What Is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences?

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (MI theory) posits that there are at least eight different types of intelligence. Gardner introduced MI theory in his 1983 book, "Frames of Mind."

Before MI theory there was general intelligence, or G factor, which represents a singular type of cerebral intelligence scored using IQ tests. The concept of multiple intelligences takes the emphasis off G factor.

MI theory broadens our concept of human intellect beyond G factor by proposing multiple intelligences (e.g., visual-spatial intelligence, musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, etc.). According to MI theory, each of us can have at least eight different types of intelligence to varying degrees. 

This article will cover more about Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and the eight different types of intelligence.

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 Types of Intelligence

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences categorizes at least eight different types of intelligence beyond "general intelligence" (G factor), which is just one categorization of human intellect.

G factor has been used to assess how "smart" people are using the same conventional intelligence measurements, such as intelligence quotient (IQ) testing, since 1905.

Gardner's MI theory broadens the scope of how we view "being intelligent" and opens our eyes to how people can be smart in many different ways.

Below are detailed descriptions of Gardner's eight multiple intelligences.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence

Having strong visual-spatial intelligence means that someone is especially good at perceiving real-world visual information accurately, visualizing imaginary things in their mind’s eye, and using visual and spatial representations to perform activities such as drawing, interpreting maps, or navigation.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence: Strengths and Skills

  • Solving puzzles
  • Drawing and painting
  • Graphic design
  • Making sculptures
  • Interpreting charts and graphs
  • Mapless navigation
  • Detailed "mind's eye" visualizations
  • Reading maps

Interestingly, you can have excellent visual-spatial intelligence without using your eyes. Gardner notes that other senses aside from sight are involved in visual-spatial intelligence. For example, a person with vision loss can have extraordinary visual-spatial intelligence based on their ability to use other senses to create accurate representations of the world in their mind's eye.

Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence

The ability to express yourself and communicate ideas using spoken or written words is often a sign of strong linguistic-verbal intelligence.

Reading comprehension or having someone write an essay is a way of measuring this type of intelligence. Having the ability to persuade others using rhetoric during a debate is another sign of linguistic-verbal intelligence.

Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence: Strengths and Skills

  • Reading comprehension
  • Storytelling
  • Fictional writing
  • Nonfiction writing
  • Public speaking
  • Persuasive use of rhetoric
  • Winning debate competitions

Storytelling and fictional narratives rely on this type of intelligence. Nonfiction writing and public speaking also benefit from strong linguistic-verbal skills.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

People with robust logical-mathematical intelligence excel at solving complex problems and calculating numerical values.

Children who display this type of intelligence tend to think methodically and in a linear order. Students' logical-mathematical intelligence can be assessed based on their ability to classify and understand patterns and relationships.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: Strengths and Skills

  • Analytical reasoning
  • Logical problem-solving
  • Solving math problems
  • Conducting scientific research
  • Identifying patterns
  • "Connecting the dots" in new and useful ways

People with strong logical-mathematical intelligence often like working with facts and figures. Their propensity for analytic thinking and solving problems based on data makes them good at things like computer programming, scientific research, engineering, and accounting.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

Performing actions that require fluid physical coordination and controlled muscle movements requires bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

Professional athletes, elite-level dancers, and surgical specialists become best in class by refining their motor skills using this type of intelligence.

By first grade, students are already displaying low, medium, and high levels of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

But even if you weren't born with extraordinary athletic prowess or outstanding hand-eye coordination, with daily practice, your dexterity and motor coordination can improve.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: Strengths and Skills

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Fluid body movements
  • Refined motor skills
  • Playing sports
  • Choreographed dancing
  • Performing surgery
  • Touch typing (without looking at the keyboard)

Musical Intelligence

As its name implies, musical intelligence refers to appreciating music and being able to recognize differences in pitch, timbre, rhythm, and tone.

Accumulating evidence suggests that musicality and perfect pitch are strongly influenced by genetics.

Writing a catchy melody or composing a symphony both rely on musical intelligence. Even though legendary composers like Mozart and Beethoven are often heralded as musical geniuses, contemporary songwriters and "rock stars" like Ed Sheeran or The Beatles are, too.

Of course, you don't have to be famous to have plenty of musical intelligence.

Musical Intelligence: Strengths and Skills

  • Reading music
  • Writing songs
  • Singing on key
  • Having perfect pitch
  • Playing an instrument
  • Understanding musical structure
  • Differentiating tone and timbre

Interpersonal Intelligence

The prefix inter- means "between." Interpersonal refers to relationships and communication between people. Having strong interpersonal intelligence means that you're good at interacting with others and understanding social dynamics.

Unlike someone with encyclopedic knowledge who is viewed as "book smart," someone with this type of intelligence would be considered "people smart."

Someone who's a "people person" is likely to have strong interpersonal intelligence. Working with the public in retail jobs or serving as a frontline worker in the service industry relies on this type of intelligence.

Politicians who are good at "schmoozing" flex their interpersonal skills during meet-and-greets with potential voters. Counselors and psychotherapists use their interpersonal intelligence to understand what clients are going through and give personalized help.

Interpersonal Intelligence: Strengths and Skills

  • Ability to pick up on people's emotions
  • Sensitivity to nonverbal cues and others' moods
  • Can take a "fly on the wall" view
  • Can put oneself in someone else's shoes
  • Understands group dynamics
  • Cooperative team player
  • Social grace and finesse
  • Engaging conversationalist

Intrapersonal Intelligence

The prefix intra- means "within." Intrapersonal refers to the thoughts within a person's mind. The metacognitive ability to think about one's thinking utilizes intrapersonal intelligence. Introspection and self-reflection are key to this type of intelligence. Highly creative individuals and daydreamers with vivid imaginations tend to have strong intrapersonal intelligence.

People with intrapersonal intelligence tend to be good at figuring out what makes them tick. This type of intelligence benefits self-starters and entrepreneurs who like to be their own bosses.

Intrapersonal intelligence can fortify people's intrinsic motivation to set and achieve personal goals. Notably, this type of intelligence often fuels learning motivation and the desire to become "smarter" at other intelligences like mathematics or foreign languages.

Intrapersonal Intelligence: Strengths and Skills

  • Self-awareness
  • Introspection
  • Metacognition
  • Intuitive thinking
  • Daydreaming
  • Vivid imagination
  • Creativity
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Setting and achieving goals
  • Entrepreneurship

Naturalistic Intelligence

Howard Gardner added naturalistic intelligence to MI theory in a 2006 book, "Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice."

This type of intelligence refers to someone's ability to connect with nature and is marked by a heightened interest in other species, the outdoors, and exploring the wilderness.

Botanists who study plants and flowers fortify this type of knowledge with the help of their linguistic-verbal intelligence. Surfers who become one with the waves and rock climbers who scale mountains cultivate innate naturalistic intelligence via lived experience and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

People with naturalistic intelligence are more likely to be interested in sustainability and preserving the environment. Conservationists who dedicate their lives to protecting nature and wildlife can use their knowledge about the impacts of climate change to motivate others to reduce their carbon footprint.

Naturalistic Intelligence: Strengths and Skills

  • Appreciation of nature
  • Recognizing flora and fauna
  • Gardening and horticulture
  • Zoology
  • Birdwatching
  • Awe-inspired walking or jogging outside
  • Hiking
  • Rock climbing
  • Surfing
  • Conservationism

Criticism of Gardner's Theory

Since its introduction in 1983, Gardner's MI theory has been thoroughly scrutinized and criticized. Common criticisms revolve around the eight different "intelligences" actually representing people's natural abilities, talents, or giftedness.

Others view the categorizations as too broad or argue that so-called "intelligences" are actually "learning styles." There is also debate about whether there is adequate evidence-based research to support these theories.

Regardless, there are positive ways that the concept of multiple intelligences helps schools and other settings to cultivate students' desired capabilities, approach subject matter in a variety of ways, and personalize education.


Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences shatters the notion that IQ testing is the only way to measure human intellect.

According to the theory, there are at least eight different types of human intelligence. Although someone may not do well on standardized tests that measure "general intelligence" or G factor, it doesn't mean they're not "smart" in other ways. MI theory reminds us that the scope of human intelligence is broad and multidimensional.

A Word From Verywell

All too often, those of us who don't score well on IQ tests or didn't get straight As can feel like we're not that smart or somehow "less than."

Knowing there are at least eight different types of intelligence can inspire people from all walks of life. Even if you're not academically inclined and don't love school, MI theory reaffirms that there are lots of different ways for your unique intelligences to shine.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is the theory of multiple intelligences important?

    The theory of multiple intelligences is important because it takes the emphasis off measuring human intellect only with IQ tests. People can be intelligent in different ways. According to the theory, scoring well on standardized tests or getting straight As isn't the only way to measure intelligence.

  • What are multiple intelligences?

    Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory posits that there are many different types of intelligence. According to Gardner, there are at least eight types of intelligence:

    1. Visual-spatial intelligence
    2. Linguistic-verbal intelligence
    3. Logical-mathematical intelligence
    4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
    5. Musical intelligence
    6. Interpersonal intelligence
    7. Intrapersonal intelligence
    8. Naturalistic intelligence

  • Who created the concept of multiple intelligences?

    Howard Gardner of Harvard's Graduate School of Education created the concept of multiple intelligences (MI theory) in the early 1980s. MI theory was first published in Gardner's 1983 general audience book, "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences."

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Arum DP, Kusmayadi TA, Pramudya I. Students’ logical-mathematical intelligence profileJ Phys: Conf Ser. 2018;1008:012071. doi:10.1088/1742-6596/1008/1/012071

  6. Suhadi S, Sugiyanto S, Amirulloh H, et al. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence level of first grade elementary school students. In: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of Science and Technology for the Internet of Things, ICSTI 2019, September 3rd 2019, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. EAI; 2020. doi:10.4108/eai.20-9-2019.2290949

  7. Szyfter K, Witt MP. How far musicality and perfect pitch are derived from genetic factors? J Appl Genetics. 2020;61(3):407-414. doi:10.1007/s13353-020-00563-7

  8. Lei DY, Cheng JH, Chen CM, Huang KP, Chou CJ. Discussion of teaching with multiple intelligences to corporate employees’ learning achievement and learning motivationFront Psychol. 2021;12:770473. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.770473

  9. Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons in theory and practice. New York: Perseus Books.

  10. Howard Gardner. Personal website and blog.

By Christopher Bergland
Christopher Bergland is a retired ultra-endurance athlete turned medical writer and science reporter.