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While our first idea of what intelligence is measured is IQ, this less-than-modern method of determining smartness has long since outlived its welcome in any form.

With modern schools and techniques now considering IQ a far less accurate measure of intelligence than we first thought, other methods that take a less traditional approach have popped up. One of these methods is multiple intelligences, first defined by Dr. Howard Gardner in 1983.

This measure of intelligence is far less ambiguous than IQ, suggesting that each person is born with eight different bits of intelligence. Combined, these provide a far better and preferable overview of potential in children and adults. Instead of considering a person either of higher or lesser intelligence, multiple intelligence theory suggests you can be intelligent in many different ways. This more accurately reflects our overall potential. After all, we’ve all seen students who are exceptional at math but struggle with reading or who are fantastic storytellers who can’t grasp scientific concepts without much support.

Read on to find out more about Gardner’s multiple intelligences and how the characteristics they suggest can help shape the life and passions of children and adults:

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Gardner’s multiple intelligences explained

Rather than having a sliding scale of smartness, Gardner’s multiple intelligences provide eight distinct forms of intelligence. These are defined as:

  • Linguistic-Verbal
  • Visual-Spatial
  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Musical
  • Naturalistic
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic

According to Dr. Gardner, most learning and culture in our schools is focused on two small areas of intelligence; Logical-Mathematical and Linguistic. Because of this overwhelming focus on testing and paying attention to this specific intelligence, students whose intelligences lie elsewhere can quickly fall behind. Gardner suggests that students labeled with behavioral issues or learning disabilities are simply those with intelligence outside the Linguistic or Logical-Mathematical curriculum.

In his 1983 book and the overall theory of multiple intelligences, Gardner suggests that the way schooling is achieved should be transitioned into something more suitable for children of all types of intelligence. This also applies to adult learning and job seeking, where many adults end up in careers unsuitable for their specific intelligence traits. With more and more teachers now understanding the importance of supporting children of all types of intelligence, Gardner’s theory is more relevant than ever.

The eight intelligences

Dr. Gardner defines eight distinct types of intelligence in his multiple-intelligence theory, each of which has its strengths, characteristics, and career options. Each type of intelligence can be readily seen in many students, making this theory relevant for teachers today in lesson planning and creating inclusive curriculums.


Individuals with sharp intelligence in the linguistic-verbal field are likelier to have strengths in their writing, language, and use of words overall. This extends to writing engaging stories, memorizing information, and similar skills.

Indicators of strong linguistic-verbal intelligence may include:

  • Enjoyment from writing and reading
  • The ability to explain things well
  • Accurate memorization of spoken and written information
  • Use of humor in story-telling
  • High levels of skill in persuasion or debating

For people with high linguistic-verbal intelligence, excellent career choices could be a writer, journalist, teacher, or lawyer.


Individuals with keen intelligence in the visual-spatial field will likely be better at visualizing things than their peers. This ability extends to reading maps, providing directions, and analyzing pictures, videos, and charts.

Indicators of strong visual-spatial intelligence may include:

  • Enjoyment from writing and reading
  • The ability to complete complex puzzles quickly and efficiently
  • Enjoyment from painting and drawing
  • Fast interpretation of charts, graphs, and pictures
  • High level of pattern recognition

For people with high visual-spatial intelligence, excellent career choices could be an architect, an engineer, or even an artist.


People with high levels of intrapersonal intelligence tend to have strengths relating to self-reflection and introspection. They are more aware of their internal motivations, emotional state, and feelings. Daydreaming, assessing their strengths, and forming relationships are all key to their intelligence.

Indicators of strong intrapersonal intelligence may include:

  • High-level analysis of personal strengths and personal weaknesses
  • Good skills in analyzing ideas and theories
  • Consistent self-awareness
  • Understanding of personal feelings and motivations

Individuals with strong intrapersonal intelligence may be most suited to careers in philosophy, sciences, or as a writer.


Individuals with high interpersonal intelligence are excellent communicators and have a strong understanding of this to interact with those around them instinctually. This allows for effectively assessing others’ emotions, desires, intentions, and emotional states.

Indicators of strong interpersonal intelligence may include:

  • Excellent verbal communication skills
  • The ability to see things from different perspectives
  • Great conflict resolution skills
  • Nonverbal communication skills
  • Naturally fostering positive relationships quickly and effectively

People with keen interpersonal intelligence may be ideally suited for people-focused careers, such as counseling or psychologist roles. Alternatively, sales or politics may also be suitable career paths.


Musical intelligence isn’t just the ability to produce music. Individuals with high musical intelligence will be able to hear rhythm, sound, and pattern in all they do. They also have a stronger appreciation for music and are skilled in performing.

Indicators of strong musical intelligence may include:

  • Enjoyment from playing instruments or singing
  • Fast recognition of tones and musical patterns
  • Excellent recall of melodies and song lyrics
  • A strong understanding of notes, music structure, and rhythm

As you might expect, individuals with sharp musical intelligence are best suited to careers within musical fields, such as composing, singing, teaching music, or conducting.


A more recent addition to the multiple intelligence theory, naturalistic intelligence fills a gap for individuals that feel more connected to nature. This may include a sense of nurturing, enthusiasm for learning about natural things, and even an increased inclination to explore their environments.

Indicators of strong naturalistic intelligence may include:

  • High levels of interest in natural subjects such as biology and botany
  • The ability to catalog information quickly and easily
  • Enjoyment of time outside, such as gardening or hiking
  • Lack of enthusiasm for non-natural subjects

Individuals with a higher degree of naturalistic intelligence will feel most at home working with nature. Suggested careers could include conversation, gardening, or even farming.


A very analytical form of intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence is one of the primary forms of intelligence nurtured in modern education. Individuals who are strong in this particular intelligence will be able to think conceptually about patterns and numbers and logically analyze problems.

Indicators of strong logic-mathematical intelligence may include:

  • Excellent skills in problem-solving
  • Enjoyment from conducting science experiments
  • The ability to easily solve complex computations
  • Enthusiasm for math and science subjects

People with high levels of logical-mathematical intelligence do well in more clinical fields that require problem-solving and logic, such as engineering, accounting, sciences, and computer programming.


Most physical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, focuses on movement, actions, and physical control. Individuals with this trait are far more likely to be dextrous and have excellent coordination in physical activity, dance, and sports.

Indicators of strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence may include:

  • Excellent skills in sports or dancing
  • The ability to be fully coordinated in movement
  • Remembering ‘doing’ something, rather than seeing or hearing it
  • Enjoyment from creating with their own hands

Individuals with high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence do well in more physical roles that require exceptional hand-eye coordination. This could include sculpting, dancing, acting, or athletics.

Do you use multiple intelligence methods in your classroom? With more and more teachers realizing that not all their students are being supported in their education, it’s more important than ever to consider individual traits. From students that work best with natural subjects to those that prefer physical activity, involving them all can offer the best chance of success in their future.