Child Development Theories: Howard Gardner

Child Development

Child Development Theories: Howard Gardner

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Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University, developed his groundbreaking theory of multiple intelligences in 1983. His theory suggests that traditional notions of intelligence as one general ability are far too narrow. Instead, Gardner proposed a list of eight different types of intelligences to account for a much broader range of human potential which occurs in children and adults.

Dr. Howard Gardner is an American developmental psychologist who first outlined his theory of multiple intelligences in his book ‘Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences’ published in 1983. Gardner believed human intelligence was not just one general ability but a suite of eight different abilities which occur in children and adults.

These abilities are:

  • Linguistic-Verbal intelligence (good with words and language)
  • Logical-Mathematical intelligence (good with numbers and reasoning)
  • Visual-Spatial intelligence (good at visualising things)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (good at body actions and physical control)
  • Musical-Rhythmic intelligence (good musical skills)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (good at understanding and relating to people)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (aware of personal emotions, feelings and motivation)
  • Naturalistic intelligence (well in tune with nature and the natural environment)

Howard Gardner Multiple Intelligence Theory

Gardner believed his multiple intelligence theory is a more accurate way of describing ability than narrow IQ theories which suggested intelligence is: relatively fixed, easily tested and limited to areas such as verbal and reasoning skills. For Gardner, humans don’t have just one intellectual capacity but a range of talents and abilities such as interpersonal, musical, spatial-visual, and linguistic intelligences. A person might have a dominant intelligence – such as musical intelligence – but was also likely to have a blend of additional abilities too.

For teachers, one strong implication of Gardner’s theory is that children are likely to have different preferred ways of learning. For example, whilst one child may prefer a verbal explanation, another may prefer ‘hands-on’ (kinesthetic) learning, while yet another may prefer to follow pictures or diagrams.

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences also helps to explain why people are more suited to certain careers, and quite unsuited to others. 

Critics of Garner’s work suggest his theory does not help to unravel the relationship between concepts such as intelligences, abilities and talents. Furthermore, Gardner’s mode of circular argument has also been criticised: high musical ability = being good at music; being good at music = having high musical ability.

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