[evol-psych] Gardner Article
- This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 1/1/2000.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
Rethinking the concept of intelligence
By Howard Gardner, 1/1/2000
What is likely to happen to the concept of intelligence in the new
millennium? As a longtime researcher in the area of intelligence and as the
creator of the theory of multiple intelligences, I anticipate four principal
BREADTH. I have proposed that human beings are best thought of as having
several intelligences, ranging from the familiar linguistic and logical
intelligences to more esoteric forms such as interpersonal intelligence and
Linguistic and logical intelligences are valuable in school and IQ tests.
Interpersonal intelligence is crucial in doing clinical or sales work, while
naturalist intelligence figures in hunting, agriculture, and our capacity to
make and appreciate differences among commercial products, like sneakers and
Psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman has proposed emotional
intelligence (the ability to understand and control one's emotions), and
psychiatrist Robert Coles has nominated moral intelligence (the sense of
character that we hope our children will have and that we look for in
friends and associates).
It is a good idea to broaden our notion of intelligence, especially if we
want to recognize the range of human capacities.
But I worry about definitions that collapse assessments of our cognitive
powers with statements about the kind of human beings we favor. Our ability
to understand other persons (a cognitive capacity) does not necessarily mean
we will use that capacity to help others (a decision involving a value
judgment). Indeed, primatologists speak of Machiavellian intelligence - the
capacity to use our understanding of others to ''do them in.''
PURITY. For many years psychometricians have searched for the ultimate or
''pure'' essence of intelligence. They would like to ferret out the brain
structure or the gene that controls intelligence.
I remain skeptical that there is such a thing as pure intelligence. In my
view, what we count as intelligence changes from one era to another - the
intelligence needed to succeed in an agricultural society may be different
from that needed to thrive in a computer-based society - and from one
situation to another (trying to negotiate a contract, planning one's life
Indeed, should one intelligence become overly prized (as it is on Wall
Street), resourceful individuals will discover or exploit another form (as
they do in Silicon Valley or Hollywood). Wall Street looks for skill with
figures and trends, Silicon Valley rewards daring ideas and inventions in
technology, and Hollywood is ever in search of a new plot twist and a new
ASSESSMENT. What one thinks intelligence is determines how one believes it
should be assessed. Devotees of the IQ test prefer sharp questions that are
thought to best assess intelligence (e.g., solving a complex maze, mapping
an analogy). In contrast, those who view intelligence as operating
distinctively in different contexts prefer assessments that are as realistic
as possible. For them, a simulation, where you actually have to navigate new
territory or write an essay that compares two quite different entities,
proves to be a far more effective assessment than a short-answer or
INDIVIDUATION. One of the most widely debated works on intelligence in
recent times was ''The Bell Curve.'' Authors Richard Herrnstein and Charles
Murray espoused the classical position on intelligence: that each of us
represents a particular point on a bell-shaped curve of intelligence and
that our intelligence is largely a product of our genetic heritage.
I believe that the bell curve view is unsubstantiated on scientific grounds
and unpalatable on social grounds. According to my rival ''multiple
intelligences'' view, each of us has many intellectual potentials. Which
ones are realized depends on opportunities available, effectiveness of
teaching, and one's own motivation.
In the future, will we assume a passive view with respect to intelligence -
receiving a test score and letting it determine our life options? Or will we
see intelligences as flexible opportunities, which we can shape and enhance
for ourselves and for others under our care, such as our students or our
children? Will we try to realize as many variations of intellect as
Before long it will be possible for us to intervene actively in matters of
the mind through hormonal injections, operations on the nervous system, or
even genetic engineering or cloning. Deciding on such matters will certainly
test our intelligence. What we ultimately decide will reveal the quality of
our wisdom and the merit of our values.