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IQ is just one measure of smarts

About the author — Karen Stephens is director of Illinois State University Child Care Centre and instructor in child development for the ISU Family and Consumer Sciences Department. 

When you hear the word intelligence, the concept of IQ testing may immediately come to mind. Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential, something we are born with, something that can be measured, and a capacity that is difficult to change. At one time, a single test score was thought to accurately access our intelligence quotient (IQ) and our ability to learn.  It turns out that the IQ scores were reliable in identifying children with good mental reasoning and language ability but they had a shortcoming in that they didn’t take into account other valuable abilities and talents children have, such as musical, athletic or social skills. Researchers, teachers and parents have voiced concern that children who did not score well on one IQ test would be pigeon-holed and destined to be treated as “slow learners.” 


In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged. One such conception is the theory of multiple intelligences proposed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner. The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on IQ testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. 


According to Gardner, the implication of the theory is that learning/teaching should focus on the particular intelligences of each person. For example, if an individual has strong spatial or musical intelligences, they should be encouraged to develop these abilities. Gardner points out that the different intelligences represent not only different content domains but also learning modalities. A further implication of the theory is that assessment of abilities should measure all forms of intelligence, not just linguistic, logical and mathematical.


Gardner also emphasises the cultural context of multiple intelligences. Each culture tends to emphasise particular intelligences. For example, Gardner, discusses the high spatial abilities of the Puluwat people of the Caroline Islands, who use these skills to navigate their canoes in the ocean.  


Gardner believes each of us develops a variety of ways of interacting with the world. It is through these preferred styles that we approach learning. He identifies eight distinct intelligences used to make sense of knowledge. Another way to think of those intelligences is to call them skills, aptitudes or talents. What Gardner calls intelligences, I think of as styles of collecting information, organising it and applying it to daily life.  We mix and match our intelligences to suit our immediate needs whether at school, home or work.  When stressed, or facing a new experience, we usually resort to the intelligence we have greater mastery over.


Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)


Multiple Intelligences Theory encourages parents and teachers to nurture children’s overall intelligence, not just one narrow aspect. An array of abilities, talents and predispositions should be respected and encouraged at home, early childhood settings and school.  Adults should offer a variety of experiences and learning opportunities so children can identify their own strengths and preferences which children can then apply varying intelligences as needed. This means that flexibility and versatility will improve chances for success in all areas of life, family, hobbies, work.


Gardner’s eight intelligences and how they are revealed in children and adults follow.  I hope they help you understand your child and yourself better. Let them guide you in responding sensitively and wisely to the unique qualities your child brings to the world.


Musical intelligence


Those with a strong musical intelligence are very sensitive to sounds, often from infancy. Children in tune with this intelligence are adept in perceiving, concentrating on, responding to and producing music.  This may be through voice, instrument or simply a persistent fascination with intriguing sounds.


Bodily – kinaesthetic intelligence


This intelligence is observed in children with natural skill in physical movement and fine and large motor coordination. Children literally use motion to fill up every inch of space around them. People who utilise this intelligence are very tactile, they need hands-on interaction with the world and the more they can touch, manipulate and examine, the better. These children are sensitive to texture, temperature and body zones. Athletes, physical therapists, dancers and stage actors rely heavily on this intelligence. Artists who  work with  clay, welding or even ice sculpture do, too! Typists apply this talent, and I definitely want a dental hygienist with good fine motor coordination.


Logical – mathematic intelligence


Endeavours that involve a lot of mental problem solving put this intelligence to good use. Children skilled in this area love to observe, make associations and create relationships between objects. They enjoy creating and recreating patterns and identify problems, or even create them, just for the fun of solving them. They are fascinated with the question, “what if?” This intelligence leads one to be interested in the sciences (physics, biology, chemistry), medicine, invention, computer programming and information systems, engineering, investigative detective work, or mechanical machines and systems. Mathematical problem solving and word problems tantalise them. Researchers and statisticians are very logico-mathematical.


Linguistic intelligence


Linguistically skilled individuals savour the written and spoken word. They love riddles and tongue-twisters. Children will talk your leg off with made up stories and they think they can talk themselves out of any problem they find themselves in, too! While all children talk to themselves out loud as they learn new concepts, linguistically skilled children must talk out problems or challenges. It is a fundamental tool they use to understand their world. They love reading and writing at school and for pleasure. Adults with linguistic skills apply them to teaching, writing, serving as staff trainers, journalism, public relations and other types of communication. If you know someone who loves to tell stories or talk on the phone, this intelligence is their forte.


Spatial intelligence


Those very sensitive to their surroundings are using spatial intelligence. They are aware of everything besides, above and around them. They enjoy identifying space and adapting it to their needs. With children, this may reveal itself in how they arrange their study or play space or they may be constantly rearranging their room. Children who enjoy working with building blocks, Lego, mazes and toy train tracks are putting their spatial awareness talents to good use. Nurturing this skill leads to mastery of concepts related to navigation, mapping, visual arts, and designing physical environments. Architects, landscape designers, truck or bus drivers, interstate highway designers, land surveyors, interior decorators, pilots and even artists apply this intelligence. 


Interpersonal intelligence


Competencies in this area relate to understanding and communicating with others. Empathy, compassion and the ability to identify a wide range of thoughts and feelings are characteristic of people with interpersonal tendencies and they excel in communicating their understanding. Individuals with interpersonal strengths often say, “I’m a people person.” They enjoy working with others, especially in groups. They would be bored to tears working with a machine all day. Teachers, business managers, therapists, ministers, social workers, nurses and human resource managers apply interpersonal skills.  


Intrapersonal intelligence


This category is highlighted by the ability to understand and communicate one’s own thoughts and feelings. Solitude is not wasted on these individuals. They use it for continual self-reflection. When presented with new knowledge, or faced with a new challenge, they prefer to mull it over on their own before making a decision or taking action. As children they seek out forts, tents, tree houses and private play spaces. Poets, film writers and directors, priests, editors and writers are some professions where this intelligence is applied. Those who enjoy solitary walks, reading, journaling, or meditating put intrapersonal intelligence to work.


Naturalistic intelligence


This ability translates into a keen ability to see and distinguish differences in the natural world, whether it be plant, animal or mineral. These individuals tune in on characteristics and features that set species or natural objects apart, such as pattern, shape, colour and survival adaptations. People with this intelligence gravitate to the natural sciences, hobbies or professions such as, biology, forestry, horticulture, nature and science educator, geologist, conservationist, environmental scientist or engineer and farming.