Guest post from Brian Bahnisch
The discussion of The Flynn Effect and the Bell Curve had at least one positive effect on me. I finally took my copy of Howard Gardner’s “Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences” down from the shelf and looked inside. In a former life I worked in the area of policy development and service provision to schools, and hence tried to keep up with the main themes and issues in education. While psychometrics, IQ and such was not my field, Gardner became big news. Shortly after buying the book, however, I left education and was quite allergic to reading about it for a number of years.
What stunned me about the discussion here on Quiggin’s blog and elsewhere was the ready acceptance of a single “g” factor, a generalised universal characteristic representing intellectual capability or “intelligence”. When I did Ed Psych 101 about 30 years ago at the University of Queensland the concept was even then very much on the nose. IQ tests are not content-free, they told us. As a measure of ability, the notion of IQ is contaminated by schooling, and schooling is culturally biased towards the middle and upper classes, they said. IQ is in fact whatever the particular test measured, no more and no less. Better, they said, to concentrate on more specific measures of more specific abilities, depending on your purpose.
It is interesting, therefore, that Binet’s (d.1911) original purpose was academic administration, according to Gardner. He wanted to separate out the retarded children and “to place other children at their appropriate grade level”, grade levels at that time being determined by the work to be undertaken rather than by age cohort. So the initial cultural bias was towards what was considered important in schooling in France circa 1900.
Gardner doesn’t know why he invented multiple intelligences. A Harvard psychologist who had been a serious pianist it was partly about giving the arts a better go in academic psychology. But when he got started on Project Zero (about human potential) Gardner and his colleagues “combed the literature from brain study, genetics, anthropology, and psychology in an effort to ascertain the optimal taxonomy of human capacities.”
He looked at vocational and avocational “end states” that have been prized by various cultures. He reckons most IQ tests are aimed at the intellectual strengths of a law professor, whereas he wanted to include others such as hunters, fishers, athletes, poets shamans, musicians, scientists etc.
He then defined an intelligence as “the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings.” The problems should not be mechanical or trivial, but open up new areas of understanding and productivity.
He then identifies some prerequisites for an intelligence, and identifies some things that are not intelligences – forms of knowledge, for example.
He then identifies eight criteria of an intelligence. These include a connection with a part of the brain, as identified through a loss of capacity from brain damage. He is looking here for a biological connection at one end to complement the cultural connection at the other.
He also specifies the existence of idiots, savants and prodigies with exceptional abilities in that area. He is looking here for a degree of separation of that characteristic from all others.
He came up with seven:
6. The personal intelligences, subdivided into interpersonal and intrapersonal (know thyself!)
He says you can have 300 if you want or any number in between. Seven seems a manageable number, and were the only ones admissible under his particular criteria.
To what purpose? Well, to understand human capacities and to facilitate useful conversations between professionals.
When he published Frames of Mind in 1983 it seemed to get him into lots of arguments with psychologists, but the schoolies took him up with considerable enthusiasm. This was a surprise to him.
He’s cool about extending the list, but so far has only accepted a naturalistic intelligence and half accepted existential intelligence (concerns the “big questions”). He doesn’t yet accept emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence, sexual intelligence or (thank God) digital intelligence.
He desperately doesn’t want to see his taxonomy reified the way IQ has been and is quite willing to recast the whole taxonomy. In fact given another lifetime he would look at it anew in the light of new biological knowledge and new understanding of the whole terrain of knowledge and societal practice.
Meanwhile he reckons he’s kept up pretty well with brain research etc and there is nothing new that actually conflicts with his theory.
I think IQ is a not very well conceptualised mental construct. It reflects the privileging of abstract over other kinds of knowledge. The linguistic and the logico-mathematical intelligences, which I imagine correspond roughly to traditional IQ, do hold the key to a number of fairly well paid professions, such as lawyers, doctors, economists and such.
If you are after real money, however, go for the bodily-kinesthetic with a dash of personality thrown in. A few years ago Michael Jordan was paid by Nike more than its workforce of 25,000, just for making a few TV ads!
Note: There are about 40,000 expositions of Gardner’s theory on the net, but none surely as neat as the above. Of particular interest, however, is his April 2003 paper Multiple Intelligences after Twenty years (PDF file).