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Smart in Different Ways: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Smart in Different Ways:
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Are you smart?
What is multiple intelligence?
What is Linguistic Intelligence?
What is Spatial Intelligence?
What is Musical Intelligence?
What is Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence?
What is Logical-Mathematical Intelligence?
What is Interpersonal Intelligence?
What is Intrapersonal Intelligence?
What about standardized tests?

Are you smart?
This question probably brings to mind grades, test scores, and what other people say about you. Do you ace math exams? Are you an excellent writer? Do you do well on standardized tests? If you have these skills, then you've probably been called "smart" at one time or another. Truth is, math and language skills are only two of the kinds of intelligence a person can have. If you don't have these skills, don't worry. That doesn't mean you're not smart. In fact, you're probably just as intelligent as the straight-A student who sits next to you in algebra, but in other ways. back to top

What is multiple intelligence?
For almost two decades Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard University, has been developing the theory that people are smart in different ways. His theories are so popular that dozens of books have been written about them. Teachers all over the world use his ideas in their classrooms.

According to Gardner, there are seven different kinds of intelligence:
  • Linguistic
  • Spatial
  • Musical
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
Most people have more than one kind.

Learning about multiple intelligence can help you discover and develop your natural smarts. It can also help you strengthen the intelligences that don't come as naturally to you. After all, even geniuses have their weaknesses! back to top

What is Linguistic Intelligence?
Chances are you know someone who is "word smart"—or maybe you are yourself. That's what Gardner calls Linguistic Intelligence. People who have this kind of intelligence usually have a good vocabulary. They almost always do well in English class. They like to read and always seem to be absorbed in a book. Perhaps they enjoy making up rhymes and puns, or they speak well in front of groups. People who do well on standardized tests, like the SAT and the IQ test, probably have a lot of linguistic intelligence. But almost everyone has some. That's because most people learn how to speak at a young age, and in many cultures the majority of people can also read and write.

People with linguistic intelligence often choose careers as translators, interpreters, editors, proofreaders, librarians, linguists, radio or television announcers, reporters, speech pathologists, and English teachers. But it's important to remember that almost any career draws on three or four intelligences, not just one.

If you want to develop your linguistic intelligence, consider doing the following:
  • Play word games.
  • Listen to the radio.
  • Browse the library or bookstore regularly.
  • Read a book just for the fun of it.
  • Read the newspaper every day, even for just a few minutes.
  • Keep a diary.
  • Memorize a favorite song, poem, or story.
  • Read joke books, and practice telling the jokes to your friends.
  • Get together with friends and take turns reading the parts of a play.
  • Learn one new word each day. back to top
What is Spatial Intelligence?
Are you the kind of person who would rather draw a picture than write a paragraph? Do you enjoy rearranging the furniture in your bedroom, experimenting with different designs and colors? Do you like building things—or taking things apart to see how they work? Are you good at reading maps? Do you enjoy visiting art museums? If so, then you probably have strong Spatial Intelligence. The spatially intelligent person sees things that other people probably miss. She or he notices colors, shapes, and patterns, and how light falls on objects.

Someone with high spatial intelligence might become a painter, architect, graphic artist, pilot, urban planner, engineer, mechanic, interior decorator, photographer, sculptor, inventor, or astronomer.

If you're a spatially intelligent person, you may sometimes feel that teachers don't appreciate your strengths. Many schools emphasize linguistic and mathematical ways of solving problems. But don't despair! Some of the most creative thinkers and inventors in history have relied on their abilities to see things in the physical world or in their own minds.

On the other hand, if you're one of those people who can't draw a straight line—there's hope for you. There are many ways to develop your spatial intelligence. Here are a few ideas:
  • Take a walk outdoors and pay close attention to what's around you.
  • Visit an art museum or gallery in your neighborhood.
  • Find an art history book in the library and study the pieces that catch your attention.
  • Work on jigsaw puzzles.
  • Cut out your favorite pictures from magazines and make a collage.
  • Take a photography or filmmaking class.
  • Rearrange your bedroom
  • Pay close attention to the television advertisements, films, and videos you see. back to top
What is Musical Intelligence?
Are you always humming a tune or tapping out a rhythm? Do you learn songs quickly? Do you play a musical instrument? Do you spend hours listening to your radio and CDs? These are some of the signs of Musical Intelligence. People who are musically intelligent can usually hear music in their heads. Some extraordinary musicians can even hear an entire orchestra in their heads. Unlike the other six kinds of smart, musical intelligence can been seen in children as young as two years old—and musical genius can stay with someone all the way into old age. People with music smarts often choose such careers as disc jockeys, piano tuners, musicians, music therapists, songwriters, studio engineers, and music teachers.

But you don't have to be a musical wizard to enjoy the benefits of music. Tunes have always helped people memorize text and stories. New research has shown that people who listen to classical music can learn some things—like languages or science—more easily. Even if you don't have musical strengths, listening to music can help you concentrate on your schoolwork and become less anxious.

Music belongs to everybody. Even if you sing off-key, you can still develop your musical intelligence. Try a few of these activities:
  • Listen to different kinds of music—classical, jazz, rock, international, country, etc.
  • Go to concerts with friends and family.
  • Sing in the shower.
  • Join a choir or chorus group.
  • Make a tape or CD of your favorite songs.
  • If you have to memorize something, put the words to a tune you like.
  • Keep a list of all the music you hear during the day, including what you hear on radio and television, in school, in restaurants, in stores, and on elevators. Bird songs count, too. back to top
What is Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence?
Are you a good dancer? Can you dribble and shoot a basketball? Can you do a cartwheel? Do you like working with clay? Can you wiggle your ears? All of these activities require good control of your body. Knowing how to move your body well probably means you have Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. People with this kind of intelligence generally have skills such as strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, dexterity, coordination, and good reflexes. Or perhaps they rely on their bodies for certain information. For instance, people talk about having a "gut reaction" or a "feeling in their bones" about a person or an event. That's bodily-kinesthetic intelligence too.

A person who is smart in this way might choose to become an athlete, a dancer, an actor, a jeweler, a model, or a mime. A person who is particularly good at working with her hands also might choose to be a sculptor, a furniture maker, a plumber, a physical therapist, a farmer, a forester, or a seamstress. But remember that almost any career draws on three or four intelligences, not just one.

If bodily-kinesthetic intelligence isn't your specialty, you can still use your body to help your mind. For instance, physical exercise like walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, or aerobics can improve mental health. Certain kinds of movement, like yoga and tai chi, have been done for many years as a way of clearing the mind. If you're having trouble concentrating on a task, try taking a short walk or doing a few stretches. It might get your creative juices flowing again.

Here are some other ways to develop your "body smarts":
  • Learn one of the martial arts, such as karate or aikido.
  • Play video games to develop your reflexes.
  • Learn cooking, gardening, woodworking, or car mechanics.
  • Learn American Sign Language or Braille.
  • Put on music and make up your own creative dance.
  • Enroll in a dance or pottery class.
  • Play sports in your neighborhood. back to top
What is Logical-Mathematical Intelligence?
If a number is multiplied by 3, divided by 4, and the result is 3/10, what is the number? How many zeroes are in a billion? How many cans of soda would it take to fill up your bathtub? Why is the sky blue? How does an electric motor work? If you enjoy questions like these, then you probably have strong Logical-Mathematical Intelligence. This is the kind of intelligence that is found in people who are good at science and math. It tends to be strongest in adolescence and early adulthood. These folks usually choose such jobs as scientists, mathematicians, physicians, computer analysts, economists, accountants, statisticians, and science teachers.

Like those with linguistic intelligence, people with logical-mathematical intelligence generally do very well on standardized tests. These are people who can see patterns in nature, as well as patterns in thought and logic. They like to solve abstract problems, and often do so by trial and error. Many also tend to be familiar with scientific principles and methods.

If logical-mathematic intelligence is your weak spot, here are a few ways to build those skills:
  • Play logical-mathematical games like Clue and Dominoes with friends or family.
  • Try some brainteasers.
  • Visit the local science museum or planetarium.
  • Watch television shows about science.
  • Read about famous scientists and their discoveries.
  • Carry a small calculator with you in your pocketbook or backpack. back to top
What is Interpersonal Intelligence?
Do people come to you with their problems? Can you "read" other people's thoughts just by noticing their facial expressions and body language? Do you like creating fictional characters who bare their souls? Do you enjoy convincing other people to take a certain position or action? People with Interpersonal Intelligence have a talent for understanding other people—their thoughts, their feelings, their moods, their needs, their motivations, and their struggles. They can use these skills in a number of ways: to help and comfort people, to manipulate and persuade them, or simply to observe and analyze.

Interpersonal smarts can lead to a wide variety of jobs. People who choose to become psychologists, social workers, novelists, playwrights, poets, business executives, sociologists, travel agents, salespeople, lawyers, politicians, and school principals usually have strong interpersonal skills. But remember that almost any career draws on three or four intelligences, not just one.

Even though some people seem to be born with "people smarts," anyone can learn to improve his or her interpersonal skills. If you want to strengthen yours, here are some ways to begin:
  • Be a people watcher. Go to the mall or another busy place and spend time watching people interact with one another.
  • Make a point of meeting one new person every month or so.
  • Have a party and invite one or two people you don't know very well.
  • Join a club at school or in your neighborhood.
  • Find a project to do with another person. Make a film together or become exercise buddies.
  • Volunteer at a local hospital or nursing home.
  • Strike up conversations with people when you're standing in line at the store. back to top
What is Intrapersonal Intelligence?
Who am I? What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of my dreams? These are the sorts of questions that people with Intrapersonal Intelligence like to ponder. Their goal is to understand themselves. To do this, they take the time to become aware of the many different emotions that live inside of them. They sometimes help other people do the same thing. For instance, people who are self-smart often become therapists, writers, and religious leaders. If you have intrapersonal intelligence, you might feel the need to take time out to reflect on life. Perhaps you write in a journal for a few minutes before you go to bed. Perhaps you read poetry or pray by yourself. Perhaps you feel most peaceful and self-aware when you're walking alone in nature. Intrapersonally intelligent people also enjoy having conversations about the deeper meaning of life's everyday events. They are always searching for ways to get beyond the ordinary. They make sure that the goals they pursue match their true nature.

If all this sounds strange to you, try beefing up your intrapersonal intelligence by doing the following:
  • Record your thoughts and feelings in a daily journal.
  • Keep a special "dream journal" by your bed. Write down your dreams as soon as you wake up in the morning.
  • Carve out 2 or 3 minutes each day to sit in a comfortable position and take some slow, deep breaths.
  • Read a book or take a half-hour walk outdoors.
  • Sit in a comfortable chair for 20 minutes and just daydream.
  • Attend religious services.
  • Engage in activities that make you feel confident about yourself.
  • Think about your goals and your hopes for the future. back to top
What about standardized tests?
Standardized tests (like the SAT) mainly measure just two of the seven intelligences: Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical. So what happens if those are your weakest areas?

Remember that most colleges look at much more than test scores when they make admissions decisions. Your overall grades, extracurricular activities, sports, volunteer work, class offices you held, and recommendations from teachers, coaches, and employers all can add to your college acceptance. If you're applying to a fine arts or architecture program, an audition or portfolio review may be part of the process as well. And don't forget about admissions essays and interviews! They are a great way to let college admissions staff see the "real you" behind the test scores.

Many psychologists and educators think that standardized tests offer a very limited view of a person's knowledge and potential. You may be relieved to know that a growing number of colleges, using Howard Gardner's ideas about multiple intelligence as a guide, no longer require applicants to submit standardized test scores.

But for most young people, standardized tests are still a fact of life. In order to graduate from high school or get into most colleges, you have to take them. But take heart. There are some tricks to improving your test scores. A few companies offer courses to help you learn these tricks. Some schools even offer classes to help students prepare for standardized tests.

In the meantime, remember that all of the seven intelligences are valuable for living in the world. The key is to discover which ones you possess and develop them. The world needs your talents!

To learn more about Multiple Intelligence, read 7 Kinds of Smart by Dr. Thomas Armstrong. There are lots of exercises in the book to help you develop both your strongest and weakest intelligences. back to top
Last Modified Date: 4/18/2001
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