Frames of Mind

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences


By Howard E. Gardner

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The book that revolutionized our understanding of human intelligence.

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has been hailed by educators for decades and applied in hundreds of schools worldwide. In Frames of Mind, Gardner challenges the widely held notion that intelligence is a single general capacity possessed by every individual to a greater or lesser extent. Amassing a wealth of evidence, Gardner posits the existence of eight different intelligences, each as important as the next, that comprise a unique cognitive profile for each person. In this updated edition, the author reflects on thirty years of work on Multiple Intelligences theory and practice.


The Quest for Mind (1973; second edition, 1981)
The Arts and Human Development (1973)
The Shattered Mind (1975)
Developmental Psychology (1978; second edition, 1982)
Artful Scribbles (1980)
Art, Mind, and Brain (1982)
The Mind's New Science (1985)
To Open Minds (1989)
The Unschooled Mind (1991, 2011)
Multiple Intelligences (1993)
Creating Minds (1993)
Leading Minds (1995)
Extraordinary Minds (1997)
Intelligence Reframed (1999)
Good Work (2001)
Changing Minds (2004)
Five Minds for the Future (2007)

For Ellen

The First Thirty Years
In the years since I published Frames of Mind, I have often been asked how I first got the idea of—or for—the theory of multiple intelligences. Probably the most truthful answer is "I don't know." However, such an answer satisfies neither the questioner nor, to be frank, me. With the benefit of hindsight, I would mention several factors, some remote, some directly feeding into my discoveries:
As a young person I was a serious pianist and enthusiastically involved with other arts as well. When I began to study developmental and cognitive psychology in the middle 1960s, I was struck by the virtual absence of any mention of the arts in the key textbooks—in the face of numerous discussions of scientific thinking. An early professional goal was to find a place for the arts within academic psychology. I am still trying! In 1967 my continuing interest in the arts prompted me to become a founding member of Project Zero, a basic research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education begun by a noted philosopher of art, Nelson Goodman. For twenty-eight years (1972-2000), I was the codirector of Project Zero, and I am happy to say that the organization has continued to thrive under new leadership.
As my doctoral studies were drawing to a close, I first encountered the writings of Norman Geschwind,1 a notable behavioral neurologist. I was fascinated by Geschwind's descriptions of what happens to once-normal or -gifted individuals who have the misfortune of suffering from a stroke, tumor, wound, or some other form of traumatic brain damage. Often the symptoms run counter to intuition: for example, a patient who is alexic but not agraphic loses the ability to read words but can still decipher numbers, name objects, and write normally. Without having planned it that way, I ended up working for twenty years on a neuropsychological unit, trying to understand the organization of human abilities in the brain: how they develop, how they (sometimes) work together, and how they break down under pathological conditions.
This introduction replaces a previous introduction that appeared in earlier editions of this book.
I have always enjoyed writing, and by the time I began my postdoctoral work with Geschwind and his colleagues in 1971, I had already completed three books. My fourth book, The Shattered Mind,2 published in 1975, chronicled what happens to individuals who suffer from different forms of brain damage. I documented how different parts of the brain are dominant for different cognitive functions. After I completed The Shattered Mind, I thought that I might write a book that describes the psychology of different human faculties—a modern (and hopefully more scientifically grounded) reformulation of phrenology. In 1976 I actually wrote an outline for a book with the tentative title Kinds of Minds. One could say that this book was never written—and indeed I had totally forgotten about it for many years. But one could also say that it eventually emerged silently from the file cabinet and transmogrified into Frames of Mind.
So much for the more remote causes of the theory.
In 1979, a group of researchers affiliated with the Harvard Graduate School of Education received a sizeable grant from a Dutch foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation. This grant was designed for a grandiose purpose, one proposed by the foundation. Members of the Project on Human Potential (as it came to be called) were commissioned to carry out scholarly work on the nature of human potential and how it could best be realized. (Thinking of the United States, I've sometimes quipped that the Project on Human Potential is more of a "West Coast" topic than an "East Coast" topic.) When the project's principal investigators carved out our respective projects, I received an inviting assignment: to write a book chronicling what had been established about human cognition through discoveries in the biological and behavioral sciences. And so was born the research program that ultimately led to the theory of multiple intelligences.
Support from the van Leer Foundation allowed me, with the aid of many valued colleagues, to carry out an extensive research program. I saw this grant as providing a once-in-a-lifetime gift: we had the opportunity to collate and synthesize what I and others had learned about the development of cognitive capacities in normal and gifted children as well as the breakdown of such capacities in individuals who suffered some form of pathology. To put it in terms of my daily calendar, I was seeking to synthesize what I had been learning in the mornings from my study of brain damage with what I was learning in the afternoons from my study of cognitive development. These latter studies actually investigated how young children mastered symbol use in seven different areas ranging from singing to drawing to story-telling.3 My colleagues and I also combed the literature from brain study, genetics, anthropology, psychology, and other relevant fields in an effort to ascertain the optimal taxonomy of human intellectual capacities.
I can identify a number of crucial turning points in this investigation. I don't remember when it happened but at a certain moment, I decided to call these faculties "multiple intelligences" rather than "assorted abilities" or "sundry gifts." This seemingly minor lexical substitution proved very important; I am quite confident that if I had written a book called Seven Talents it would not have received the attention that Frames of Mind received. As my colleague David Feldman has pointed out,4 the selection of the word intelligence propelled me into direct confrontation with the psychological establishment that has long cherished and continues to cherish IQ tests. However, I disagree with Feldman's claim that I was motivated by a desire to "slay IQ"; neither the documentary nor the mnemonic evidence indicates that I had much interest in such a confrontation.
A second crucial point was the creation of a definition of an intelligence and the identification of a set of criteria that define what is, and what is not, an intelligence. I can't pretend that the criteria were all established a priori; rather, there was a constant fitting and refitting of what I was learning about human abilities with how best to delineate and then apply what ultimately became eight discrete criteria. I feel that the definition and the criteria—as laid out in the opening chapters of this book—are among the most original parts of the work. Interestingly, neither has received much discussion in the literature, on the part of supporters or critics.
When drafting Frames of Mind I was writing as a psychologist, and to this day that remains my primary scholarly identification. Yet, given the mission of the van Leer Foundation and my affiliation with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it was clear to me that I needed to say something about the educational implications of MI theory. And so, I conducted background research about schools and about education, more broadly defined; in the concluding chapters I speculated about some educational implications of the theory. This nod toward education turned out to be another crucial point because it was educators, rather than psychologists, who found the theory of most interest.
By 1981 I had drafted the book that you are now reading (hence the thirty years of the title); thereafter I revised. The main lines of the argument had become clear. I was claiming that all human beings possess not just a single intelligence (often called by psychologists "g" for general intelligence). Rather, as a species, we human beings are better described as having a set of relatively autonomous intelligences. Most lay and scholarly writings about intelligence focus on a combination of linguistic and logical intelligences—the particular intellectual strengths, I often maintain, of a law professor, and the territory spanned by most intelligence tests. However, a fuller appreciation of human cognitive capacities emerges if we take into account spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences (the list as of 1983). We all have these intelligences—that's what makes us human beings, cognitively speaking. Yet at any particular moment, individuals differ for both genetic and experiential reasons in their respective profiles of intellectual strengths and weaknesses. And so, drawing on the analogy of our era, I contend that we have not one general-purpose computer but rather a set of discrete computers—the multiple intelligences—that operate somewhat independently of one another. No intelligence is in and of itself artistic or nonartistic; rather, several intelligences can be put to aesthetic ends, if individuals so desire. (I am using my linguistic intelligence here, but scarcely in the manner of a novelist or poet.) No educational implications follow directly from this psychological theory. But if individuals differ in their intellectual profiles, it makes sense to take this fact into account in devising an educational system for individuals, groups, or even nations.
By the time that Frames of Mind appeared I had already published half a dozen books. Each had had a modestly positive reception and a reasonable sale. I did not expect anything different from Frames of Mind, a lengthy and (for a trade audience) somewhat technical book, filled with hundreds of references and devoid of illustrations. But within a few months after its publication, I realized that this book was different. Not that the reviews were that exuberant or the sales that monumental. Rather, there was genuine "buzz" about the book. I was invited to give many talks, and when I showed up at a site, people had at least heard about the theory and were eager to learn more about it. I even received invitations from abroad to talk about the book. Echoing artist Andy Warhol, I sometimes quip that MI theory gave me my fifteen minutes of fame. While I have done a number of things in my professional life and written about a broad range of topics, I realize that I am likely always to be known as the "father of multiple intelligences" or, less palatably, as the "MI guru."
For the first decade following the publication of Frames of Mind, I had two primary connections to the theory. The first relation was that of a bemused observer. I was amazed at how many individuals claimed that they wanted to revise their educational practices in the light of MI theory. Within a year or so, I had already met with eight public school teachers from Indianapolis who would shortly begin the Key School (now the Key Learning Community), the first school in the world organized explicitly around MI theory. I began to receive a steady stream of communications asking or telling me how to use MI theory in various kinds of schools or for various populations, from gifted young people to those with severe learning difficulties. While I tried to be responsive to these communications (a somewhat more demanding exercise in the pre-e-mail era), I always maintained that I was a psychologist and not an educator. I did not presume to know how best to teach a class of young persons or run an elementary or secondary school or, for that matter, design a program in a children's museum or a science museum, let alone a method of selection or promotion for a corporation.
My second relation was as a director of research projects that grew out of MI theory. The most ambitious effort was Project Spectrum, a collaboration with Jie-Qi Chen, David Feldman, Mara Krechevsky, Janet Stork, Julie Viens, and others.5 The goal of Project Spectrum was to create a set of measures whereby one could ascertain the intellectual profile of young children—preschoolers and those in the primary grades. We ended up devising fifteen separate tasks that were designed to assess the several intelligences in as natural a manner as possible. The team had a great deal of fun devising the Spectrum battery and using it with different populations. We also learned that creating assessments is a difficult task and one that requires an enormous investment of time, thought, and money. I decided, without saying so in so many words, that I did not want myself to be in the assessment business, though I was very pleased if others chose to create instruments in an effort to assess the various intelligences.6
In this context, I should add that instruments that purpose to assess intelligences need to focus on what subjects can actually accomplish, putatively given a specific intelligence or intelligences. Many "MI tests" actually assess preferences and are dependent on self-reports, neither of which is necessarily a reliable index of the strength of the intelligence(s) in question. But I don't mean to dismiss such MI assessments: much can be learned about how people conceive of themselves, and through comparisons of response patterns found among and across different groups of subjects.7
Let me mention two other research projects that grew out of the first wave of interest in MI theory. Working with Robert Sternberg, another psychologist-critic of standard views of intelligence, my colleagues and I created a middle school curriculum called Practical Intelligences for School.8 Working with colleagues from the Educational Testing Service, my colleagues and I developed a set of curriculum-and-assessment instruments designed to document learning in three art forms—graphic arts, music, and literary expression.9
To my surprise and pleasure, interest in multiple intelligences survived the transition to the 1990s. By that time I was prepared to undertake several new activities, variously related to MI theory. The first was purely scholarly. Building on the notion of different kinds of intelligences, I carried out case studies of individuals who stood out, putatively, as remarkable in terms of their particular profile of intelligences. This line of work led to my books on creativity (Creating Minds),10 leadership (Leading Minds),11 and extraordinary achievement, more broadly (Extraordinary Minds).12 You can see that I was getting a lot of mileage by injecting book titles with the term mind!
The second was an extension of the theory. In 1994-1995 I took a sabbatical and used part of that time to consider whether, as some had proposed, there was convincing evidence for the existence of new intelligences. I concluded that there was ample evidence for a naturalist intelligence (the ability to make consequential distinctions among organisms and entities in the natural world); and suggestive evidence as well for a possible existential intelligence ("the intelligence of big questions").13 I also explored the relation between intelligences—which I construe as biopsychological potentials—and the various domains and disciplines that exist in various cultures. While intelligences may possess the same names as cultural activities, they are not the same thing: as one example, the performance of music entails several intelligences (among them bodily and interpersonal); as another example, individuals strong in spatial intelligences can pursue a range of careers and avocations (running the gamut from sculpture to surgery). What we know and how we parse the world may well reflect in part the intelligences with which our species has been endowed.
I also proposed three distinct uses of the term intelligence14:
• A property of all human beings (All of us possess these 8 or 9 intelligences)
• A dimension on which human beings differ (No two people—not even identical twins—possess exactly the same profile of intelligences)
• The way in which one carries out a task in virtue of one's goals ("Joe may have a lot of musical skill, but his interpretation of that Bach partita reflects little intelligence")
A third activity featured a more proactive relationship to the uses and interpretations of my theory. For the first decade after publication, I had been content simply to observe what others were doing and saying in the name of MI theory. But by the middle 1990s, I had noticed a number of misinterpretations of the theory. As one example, the concept of intelligences was often conflated with that of learning styles; in fact, an intelligence (the computing power of an individual's musical or spatial or interpersonal capacity) is not at all the same as a style (the way in which one allegedly approaches a range of tasks). As another example, I noted the frequent confounding of a human intelligence with a societal domain (e.g., musical intelligence being misleadingly equated with mastery of a certain musical genre or role). I had also learned of practices that I found offensive—for example, describing different racial or ethnic group in terms of their characteristic intellectual strengths and deficiencies. And so, for the first time, I began publicly to differentiate my "take" on MI from that of others who had learned about and tried to make use of the theory.15 And I acquired considerable concern about the responsibilities that attend to individuals who put forth ideas that become well known. This heightened concern ultimately led me, and other colleagues, to an ambitious study of professional responsibility, which came to be known as the GoodWork Project.16
A final feature of this second 1990s phase entailed a more active involvement with educational reform. This involvement took both a practical and a scholarly form. On the practical level, my colleagues and I at Harvard Project Zero began working with schools as they attempted to implement MI practices and other educational programs that we had developed, such as one focused on teaching for understanding and, more recently, applications emerging from the GoodWork Project. In 1995 we also launched a summer institute, which continues until today and attracts practitioners and scholars from around the world.17
On the scholarly side, I began to articulate my own educational philosophy. In particular, I focused on the importance in the precollegiate years of achieving understanding in the major disciplines—science, mathematics, history, and the arts. For a host of reasons, achieving such understanding proves quite challenging. Efforts to cover too much material lead to superficial recall and doom the achievement of genuine understanding. As has been documented in countries with effective educational systems, learners are more likely to achieve enhanced understanding if they (or we) probe deeply into a relatively small number of topics. And once the decision is made to "uncover" rather than "cover," it is possible to take advantage of our multiple intelligences. Put concretely, we can approach topics in a number of ways (often termed different "entry points" to the same topic), we can make use of analogies and comparisons drawn from a range of domains, and we can express the key notions or concepts in a number of different symbolic forms.18
In light of three decades of research and reflection, I can summarize the educational implications of MI theory quite crisply—the so-called elevator speech. An educator convinced of the relevance of MI theory should individualize and pluralize. By individualizing, I mean that the educator should know as much as possible about the intelligences profile of each student for whom he has responsibility; and, to the extent possible, the educator should teach and assess in ways that bring out that child's capacities. By pluralizing, I mean that the educator should decide on which topics, concepts, or ideas are of greatest importance, and should then present them in a variety of ways. Pluralization achieves two important goals: when a topic is taught in multiple ways, one reaches more students. Additionally, the multiple modes of delivery convey what it means to understand something well. When one has a thorough understanding of a topic, one can typically think of it in several ways, thereby making use of one's multiple intelligences. Conversely, if one is restricted to a single mode of conceptualization and presentation, one's own understanding (whether teacher or student) is likely to be tenuous.
This line of analysis has led to a perhaps surprising conclusion. Multiple intelligences should not—in and of itself—be an educational goal. Educational goals need to reflect one's own (individual or societal) values, and these values can never come simply or directly from a scientific theory. Once one reflects on one's educational values and states one's educational goals, however, the putative existence of our multiple intelligences can prove very helpful. And, in particular, if one's educational goals encompass disciplinary understanding, then it is possible to mobilize our several intelligences to help achieve that lofty goal—for example, by employing multiple modes of presentation and diverse forms of assessment.
Since the turn of the millennium, my relationship to MI theory has been less intimate. The infant and child that was MI theory is now a young adult: as a parent and grandparent, I know that it is best for the theory to make its own way, without excessive managing from its forbears. Nonetheless, I have continued to be involved in several ways.
First of all, when possible, I have continued to help out institutions that want to apply the idea of multiple intelligences. (And when not able to do so myself, I am fortunate enough to have a small cohort of MI colleagues to whom I can turn.) In addition to the Key Learning Community, I've had a long-standing relationship with the New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, an impressive middle school that has pioneered many MI applications and also featured the first MI library. In 2005 I was excited to learn of the Explorama at the Danfoss Universe Theme Park in southwestern Denmark. This facility, consisting of dozens of games and exercises, represents an optimal instantiation of MI ideas. Each of the displays mobilizes a distinct set of intelligences, and by predicting one's own performance profile, one can even assess one's own intrapersonal intelligence. I've also lent a hand, upon request, to any number of schools, libraries, museums, and workplaces that seek to base practices on MI ideas or materials.19
While MI interest first occurred in the United States, it soon spread to the corners of the globe. The ideas have been particularly pursued in Latin America, Scandinavia, Southern Europe, Australia, the Philippines, Korea, and China. Interest in England, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan has been less salient—though I have had a wonderful alliance for over a decade with the dedicated band that constitutes the MI Society of Japan. Taking note of these international trends, and energized by a symposium organized in 2006 by Branton Shearer, my colleagues Jie-Qi Chen, Mindy Kornhaber, Seana Moran, and I decided to sponsor a conference and edit a book on the theme "Multiple Intelligences Around the World." Published in 2009, the book features forty-two authors from fifteen countries, on five continents, each detailing experiences with MI ideas and practices. Of course, I take pride in the numerous ingenious ways in which these ideas have been used and adapted. As an inveterate social scientist, I've also been intrigued by the many (and not always consistent) ways in which the ideas have been understood, and have sought, when possible, to relate these applications to conditions in the particular country or region of the world.
As just one example, let me mention the case of China. Though I had visited China several times in the 1980s and even written a book about my experiences there, I was unprepared for the overwhelming interest in MI ideas in China. In 2004 a conference on MI featured 2,500 papers, and I learned that there were at least a hundred books on multiple intelligences in Chinese. Naturally, I was curious to understand the reasons. From a journalist I met in Shanghai, I received a wonderful answer. She said to me, "In America, when people hear about MI, they think of their child. She may not be good in math, or in music, but she has wonderful interpersonal intelligence, they declare. In China," she went on, "these are simply eight areas in which we want all our children to excel." When I returned to China six years later, I learned that a great many schools, particularly for young children, claim to be based on MI ideas. Again, I queried widely why this was the case. I received a surprising reply from one informant, who said, "If we had a psychologist in China who was pushing for progressive ideas in education, we would not need to quote the words or ideas of Howard Gardner. We don't. In the absence of such a person, mentioning you and your ideas is a good way to open up our rather rigid educational system."
A third activity in which I've been involved entails efforts to answer the most frequent critiques of MI theory. In 2006 anthologist Jeffrey Schaler put together a book called Howard Gardner Under Fire20 and invited thirteen scholars to critique my work. By prior arrangement, only four of them wrote directly about MI theory, but several others criticized it in passing. In 2009, psychologist and assessment expert Branton Shearer published a collection called MI at 25.21 Here a wide range of scholars—including linguist Noam Chomsky, psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Michael Posner, educators Deborah Meier and Linda Darling-Hammond, and political analyst Charles Murray—put forth their own assessments and criticisms of the theory. With respect both to the Schaler and Shearer volumes, I composed detailed responses to each of the critics. While few scholars—or, for that matter, nonscholars—cherish criticism, there is no doubt that I learned a good deal from having to grapple with this wide range of discussion. In recent years I have also authored and coauthored several direct responses to criticisms of the theory in psychological and educational journals.22


  • "The value of Frames of Mind is less in the answers it proposes than in the problems it poses. They are important problems, and time spent thinking about them will be time well spent."—The New York Times
  • "Timely, wide-reaching and in many ways brilliant....[Gardner's] effort to bring together the data of neurology, exceptionality development, and symbolic-cultural skills is not only heroic but it makes extremely evocative reading."—The New York Review of Books
  • "Mention Howard Gardner's name to a growing cadre of educators and the response verges on the reverence teenagers lavish on a rock star. The cult of Gardner began....with his book Frames of Mind."—Newsweek
  • "Because of [Frames of Mind] Gardner is both lionized and exploited as one of the most famous educational theorists in the world. His notion of multiple intelligences-including the idea that musical, athletic, and other talents are separate from, but as important as, high SAT scores-has inspired scores of books, journal articles, conferences, and lesson plans for public schools."
    The Washington Post

On Sale
Mar 29, 2011
Page Count
528 pages
Basic Books

Howard E. Gardner

About the Author

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero. The author of more than twenty books and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and twenty-one honorary degrees, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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