Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


In Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner Introduces the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Dissatisfied with the views of intelligence in the field of psychology, Howard Gardner introduced the theory of multiple intelligences (MI) in his book Frames of Mind (1983).  Gardner, a professor of Cognition and Education and a Co-Director of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has since reflected on the theory and its impact and gone on to describe how it has evolved (Intelligence Reframed, 1999). 

Rather than viewing intelligence as a “general capacity or potential which every human being possesses to a greater or lesser extent” to be measured by standardized verbal instruments, Gardner defined intelligence as “the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings. (Gardner, 1983, p. ix)  It was seen as “the manifestation of engagements between two components:     

(a) Individuals, who are capable of using their array of competences in various domains of knowledge; and

(b) The societies that foster individual development through the opportunities they provide....”             (Gardner, 1993, p. 236) 

Gardner proceeded to describe seven intelligences: 

Linguistic intelligence, for example, “involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals” (Gardner, 1999, p.41) while the logical-mathematical intelligence “involves the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations…”  . (Gardner, 1999, p.42) Interestingly, in North American culture and schools, these two intelligences have been particularly valued.

Gardner’s criteria for deciding on which capacities or competencies are intelligences are noted:

In Intelligence Reframed,  Howard Gardner modified the definition of intelligence to suggest that it is a potential (a neural one) “that will or will not be activated, depending upon the values of a particular culture, the opportunities available in that culture, and the personal decisions made by individuals and/ or their families, schoolteachers, and others.” (Gardner, 1999, p. 34)  He also raised the possibility of broadening the concept of intelligence and of the existence of additional intelligences including a naturalistic, a spiritual, an existential and a moral intelligence.  After considering his criteria for an intelligence, Gardner added the naturalistic as an eighth intelligence.

Since the publication of Frames of Mind, Gardner has expressed concern about and addressed the many myths that have evolved around MI theory. (Gardner, 1995). Its positive influence is evident in the variety of approaches and investigations undertaken in education (e.g. from Project Spectrum in early childhood to the portfolio approach in college admissions).  In elementary and secondary schools, for instance, the theory has become a lens “designed to extend teachers’ understanding of how students learn”. It reminds teachers that students bring different learning strengths to a learning situation. (Bennett and Rolheiser, 2001, p. 340).  The terms for the intelligences have been popularized to enhance communication with students.  For example, children with interpersonal intelligence are termed ‘people-smart’; those with intrapersonal intelligence are called ‘self-smart’.  The potential of the theory in education has very definitely been recognized!


Bennett, Barrie and Rolheiser, Carol. (2001). Beyond Monet: The artful science of instructional integration. Toronto: Bookation, Inc.

Gardner, Howard. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, Howard. (1993). Multiple intelligences: The theory into practice. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, Howard. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books

Gardner, Howard. (1995). Reflections on MI: myths and messages. Retrieved October 29, 2002 from

Prepared By Jol Grzeslo (OISE/UT), 2002

Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  (date accessed).

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