Episode 88: What kind of ‘intelligent’ are you?

What does it mean to be smart? Usually when we say someone is really intelligent, what we mean is that they are ‘book smart’, that they were good in academic subjects. Yet “human beings have very different kinds of intellectual strengths,” claims Howard Gardner.  And he should know.  Gardner has spent decades now developing a theory of Multiple Intelligence which lists up to ten different kinds of intelligence.  So what kind of ‘intelligent’ are you?

This week, Clay and Sarah discuss the theory of Multiple Intelligence.


In this episode we discuss:

  • description of the ten different kinds of intelligence
  • Background of Howard Gardner’s research
  • implications in education and how we assess intelligence
  • historical perspective on which kinds of intelligences were valued at different times
  • what Multiple Intelligence means for our future
  • Clay and Sarah’s results from their Multiple Intelligence test (you can take it here)


If everyone’s intelligence was the same, “we could teach everyone the same things int he same way and assess them in the same way and that would be fair… But once we realised that different people have very different kinds of minds, different kinds of strengths — some people think spatially, other people are very good with language, other people are very logical — then education that treats everyone the same is actually the most unfair education because it picks out one kind of mind, what I call the law professor mind, someone who is very linguistic and logical. And it says ‘if you think like that, great! If you don’t think like that there’s no room on the train for you.'”  Howard Gardner’s explanation of his theory of Multiple Intelligence demonstrates what a massive impact our understanding of human intelligence has on all of us at a very personal level.


Our Multiple Intelligences:

(1) Linguistic – sensitivity to the meaning of words, order of words, sound and rhythm of words etc.

(2) Logical-Mathematical – capacity to conceptualise logical relations among actions or symbols

(3) Visual-Spatial – ability to conceptualise and manipulate things in space

(4) Intrapersonal – sensitivity to one’s own feelings, goals, anxieties and capacity to plan and act in light of one’s own habits

(5) Interpersonal – ability to interact effectively with others. Sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperament and motivations

(6) Musical – sensitivity to rhythm, tone, melody etc.

(7) Bodily-Kinesthetic – ability to use the body to solve problems or create

(8) Naturalistic – ability to distinguish aspects of nature (plants, clouds etc.)

(9) Pedagogical – ability to teach

(10) Existential – ability to ask and seek responses to the big questions of life, meaning, spirituality etc.


Looking down this list, it is clear which aspects of intelligence were valued and which were not.

There are countless stories of athletes finding solace in sports because they were told at school that they weren’t smart.  Similarly certain kinds of knowledge get higher status than others — those were know calculus and have mathematical knowledge, for instance, are seen as more clever than those who have a vast knowledge of the natural world and can distinguish various kinds of plants or recognise subtle changes in cloud formations.

We take many of these assumptions as self-evident.  We assume calculus IS more difficult than naturalistic knowledge. But this is simply the historical lens were are looking through in our modern world.  In an interesting interview with Alanis Morissette (who has a lot of say about Multiple Intelligence in terms of the perceptions of musical ability), Howard Gardner explains that — “as the ecology of our world changes, the kinds of intelligence we value changes.”

For example, at a time when hunters and farmers were the most important people in terms of survival, those with naturalistic and spatial-kinesthetic intelligence would have been the ‘smartest’.  In the 19th century, getting into Harvard was not based as it is today on certain kinds of linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, but was based on knowledge of Greek and Latin, or an ability to learn languages.

And in the future, as machines and artificial intelligences surpass humans’ ability to solve logical-mathematical problems, this kind of intelligence will become less and less a marker of intellectual ability, and perhaps it will be the kinesthetic, musical or intrapersonal aspects of intelligence that will come to the fore.

Many of us might have experienced what Ken Robinson describes in his TED talk — “Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatised.”

But we can take the theory of Multiple Intelligence and reshape how we think about others around us, our kids AND OURSELVES.

What kind of Intelligent are YOU? Here’s the link for the test Clay and Sarah took.