Traditionally, scientists viewed a person’s level of intelligence as a fixed property that affected performance in logic, mathematics, and language. In 1905, French psychologist Alfred Binet developed the first quantifiable IQ test that measured intelligence in those three areas. His assessment of people’s minds was based on their ability to answer items on written tests.
In 1983, with the publication of Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner, PhD greatly expanded on the definition of intelligence. Through his research, he found that people could use a variety of aptitudes, talents, and abilities—or intelligences—to learn, to use skills, to create products, and to solve problems. Originally, Gardner identified seven intelligences. Later he added an eighth intelligence (naturalist) and a half intelligence (existential).
Gardner explains that he made the existential intelligence only half an intelligence because he could not identify the regions of the brain responsible for it, and he was concerned that it could be misunderstood as a connection to religious belief. Following are Gardner’s eight and one half intelligences:
- Musical-rhythmic intelligence—The ability to use music and rhythm to identify, think about, and create patterns
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence—The ability to use the whole body to express thoughts and to move smoothly to perform tasks, such as athletics, acting, and dancing
- Logical-mathematical intelligence—The ability to use underlying numerical systems and patterns and to take a logical approach to a problem
- Linguistic intelligence—The ability to use language to express an idea or to solve a problem; an aptitude with words
- Spatial intelligence—The ability to see an actual space and then reproduce it accurately in your mind; an ability to build, engineer, and navigate
- Interpersonal intelligence—The ability to connect with other people and to understand their needs
- Intrapersonal intelligence—The ability to know yourself and to develop a clear idea of your own abilities and limitations
- Naturalist intelligence—A sensitivity and attraction to the natural world
- Existential intelligence—A drive to ask and explore the big questions in life: Why do human beings exist? What happens when we die? Is there a God?
While some scientists claim that Gardner’s categories are not types of intelligences but merely areas of talent, many educators have found Gardner’s distinctions useful in identifying how particular students think and how it is best to teach them. Gardner is opposed to labeling people with one type of intelligence. He says that everyone has a unique blend of intelligences, though one type is perhaps more pronounced.
Your baby’s eagerness to engage her world lets you know that she is an intelligent being. Although she is born with innate intelligences, how she develops them largely depends on your nurturing support and her environment. As a parent, you can use the concept of multiple intelligences to identify your child’s innate abilities and approaches to learning.
For example, maybe she learns best by listening to or making music (musical-rhythmic intelligence), by acting something out (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence), or by seeing a concept reflected in nature (naturalist intelligence).
In your baby’s early years, an awareness of her unique blend of intelligences can help you support her natural interests and learning process. As she heads off to school, this awareness can help you advocate for her and guide her education.