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May 14, 2018

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory – Balram

As an economics student on the Warwick in Schools programme, I was immediately interested by the quantitative aspect in existing literature. The following is an excerpt from an assignment where I critically review literature on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory.

Gardner’s (1983) Multiple Intelligences Theory states that there are many types of intelligences, with weak correlations between them. Gardner conceptualised this theory as a reaction to the focus on mathematical and lingual intelligences in schools. Since its conception, it has been adopted into the mainstream, replacing Intelligent Quotient Theory (Stern & Klüver, 1925).

IQ Theory, in opposition to MI Theory, states that there is only one general intelligence factor. However, despite the accuracy of IQ tests at predicting achievement in certain specific subjects (Duckworth et al., 2012), it may not predict other intelligences, such as artistic and emotional, as accurately. MI theory accounts for a variety of intelligences, hence could provide a better indication of true intelligence than IQ.

However, this advantage is not ubiquitously accepted in literature. Studies find that there are strong correlations between the different types of intelligence, unlike the weak correlations Gardner hypothesized (Geake, 2008). Neuropsychologist Waterhouse (2006) found no studies supporting MI Theory in 2006 and there have been none since. Chen (2004) believed that Gardner was exempt from empirical rigour because intelligence is hard to measure. Waterhouse rebuffs Chen’s claims citing literature in the field, insinuating MI Theory does not stand.

There may be an explanation for the lack of evidence for MI Theory in considering Neo-Piagetian Theory. Neo-Piagetian theory compromises theories stressing the autonomy between the multiple intelligences and those that stress one general intelligence (Demetriou et al., 2011). This idea states that Gardner ignores sub-processes that govern all types of intelligence, such as processing speed and memory. One sub-process may determine many different intelligences; hence correlations between them are stronger than Gardner predicts (Demetriou, 2005).

Some have claimed practical applications of the theory may validate the theory. In Ireland, a study looked at reported evidence from teachers adopting MI Theory based techniques (Hanafin, 2014). In this study, teachers would teach the same topics through multiple intelligences, such as narrative and group projects, meaning that children of varying types of intelligence were taught equally. The study backed MI theory extensively as teachers gave positive feedback on how the feedback was received and the performance changes after, as opposed to before.

However, these studies should not be held as conclusive evidence of practical usage of MI Theory. It is possible that studies were successful because of a method that is independent of the MI Theory basis. For example, the study may have only led to better results because the same topics were taught multiple times to appeal to each of the different intelligences rather than because of MI Theory. The success of the study could have also been caused by the novelty of being studied (Waterhouse, 2006) because teachers and students are more likely to be attentive due to the excitement of a new teaching method. Moreover, the methodology did not use performance metrics and quantitative methods emphasizing this bias.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences is unlikely to hold in theory; studies show there are strong correlations between intelligences. Practical evidence cannot be taken as conclusive as the outcomes may not be correlated to MI Theory due to the lack of academic rigour. On this basis, the Neo-Piagetian theory may be closer to the truth.

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