9 Types of Intelligence, According to Gardner

Understanding the human mind through multiple intelligence theory

According to Dr. Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist and researcher in educational psychology, intelligence is a multifaceted concept comprised of nine distinct intellectual modalities.

Not to be confused with learning styles, which dictate how information is absorbed and processed. Most likely, you are already familiar with learning styles; namely visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (commonly referred to as tactile). Most people have a predominant style or combination of styles by which means they prefer to absorb new information.

But intelligences are not learning styles. Rather, intelligences represent intellectual abilities, while learning styles represent the modes through which these abilities are acquired and honed.

What I like most about multiple intelligences theory is that it artfully embodies the utter complexity of what intelligence is. Human intellect cannot merely be summated by mathematical or linguistic proficiency. It cannot aptly be explained by simple cognitive processing speeds and memory capacities. Or by one’s ability to graph logarithmic functions, master the English language, or recite Walt Whitman.

Of course, all of those things are indeed intelligence. Each distinct example is a unique manifestation of the intelligence that thrives within us each day. Or doesn’t thrive, depending on your particular strengths and weaknesses. And everyone has both strengths and weaknesses. Whether an individual chooses to capitalize on those strengths and challenge those weaknesses is an entirely different story for another time.

Today’s story is about understanding. After all, without understanding our own unique intellectual makeup, how can we hope to fulfill our cognitive potential?

Rather, intelligence is a multifaceted phenomenon of the human mind which drives all our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Linguistic intelligence

Linguistic intelligence is the intellectual modality that encompasses language — the written word as well as the spoken word. It is the intellectual capacity at play when we read, write, speak, and study language. Strength in this arena is marked by strong reading comprehension skills, a powerful command of one’s native language, and often an aptitude for foreign languages.

Perhaps you have a knack for picking up on foreign tongues. Maybe you have exemplary grammar skills. Or maybe, you thoroughly enjoy decoding the morphological and syntactic components of a written text. Or even a speech. In fact, language takes a myriad of forms — prose, poetry, narrative, speech, and sign, to name a few. Written, typed, spoken. Given the complexity of human language, the list goes on and on.

Regardless of form, Gardner recognized that these are all a reflection of one’s linguistic intellectual ability.

Logical-Mathematical intelligence

Perhaps you’re an individual who is particularly good at solving logic-based problems. You love mathematical puzzles and you tend to think, well, logically. Then consider logical-mathematical intelligence — the intellectual capacity to utilize logic and solve mathematical problems.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, logic is defined as “a science that deals with the principles and criteria of validity of inference and demonstration; the science of the formal principles of reasoning”.

Science. Principles. Reasoning. A few buzzwords that would be entirely fitting in a world cloud devoted to representing LOGIC. Logic involves linear thinking, systematic problem-solving, and sensible reasoning. It equips us to inquire about our world, make educated hypotheses, and test those tentative explanations scientifically. Scientists and mathematicians rely heavily on this modality in their work, as do teachers in these disciplines.

Like linguistic intelligence, the logical-mathematical abilities have long been associated with booksmarts. Being intelligent was equated primarily to linguistic and logical-mathematical aptitude, due largely to the precedence set by the formal education system. Standardized tests, anyone?

Spatial intelligence

Related to logical-mathematical aptitude, but distinctly separate, lies a discipline that Gardner coined spatial intelligence — one’s ability to manipulate space, patterns as well as three-dimensional.

Navigating one’s surroundings, whether by driving a car through a bustling city, meandering down a hiking trail on foot, or simply by reading a map, spatial skills are a crucial aspect to moving one’s body about their environment. Pilots, taxi drivers, architects, and engineers thrive on strong spatial aptitude.

It is precisely this skill-set that equips us with the ability to parallel park in a tight space, that equips a pilot to maneuver an airplane from the runway to their destination, and that equips children to build block-tower creations that don’t fall over — that is, until they destroy them.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

Now that you have a grasp of spatial intelligence, it is fitting to move on to the only other intelligence that expresses itself exclusively through movement — bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

Rather self-explanatory, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence refers to the capacity to manipulate one’s own physical body, the intellectual capacity to express oneself tactilely. While it may seem confusing that kinesthetics and motor abilities are considered cognitive abilities, it makes sense when you consider that human behavior is firmly rooted in cognition. Each movement we make is orchestrated by a chorus of rapidly firing neurons in our brains.

So yes, it is understandable that Gardner chose to include motor abilities — athletics, dancing, hand-eye coordination — in his diverse repertoire of intellectual abilities.

That being said, this type of intelligence is proudly displayed by athletes, dancers, and physically active professions of all types, making it extremely beneficial to physical health and wellbeing.

Interpersonal Intelligence

Now, let’s venture into the realm of personal intelligences. The intellectual soft skills that allow us to maintain a deeper sense of connection with ourselves and others.

Interpersonal intelligence refers to one’s ability to understand and communicate effectively with other people. It allows us to understand the motives, desires, and needs of others by interpreting their facial expressions and body language.

Interpersonal intelligence allows us to make judgments about the character and intentions of people around us. Making sound judgments is how we function as social beings; it tells us to steer clear of the shady character in the parking garage late at night, and allows us to trust those who we deem trustworthy.

On the flip side, it helps us detect liars and manipulators. Interpersonal intelligence is a crucial ability for those who interact regularly with people, which encompasses nearly all professions. Particularly businesspeople, health professionals, teachers, and service workers. Without solid interpersonal skills, an individual will not last long in these occupations. At least not successfully. Gardner acknowledges this, and therefore recognizes interpersonal strengths as an intellectual ability.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Similar to interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence refers to the understanding of oneself; one’s own strengths, weaknesses, needs, and desires.

Self-awareness and self-concept are key components of intrapersonal intelligence. Self-awareness allows us to be conscious of ourselves, our personalities, our behavioral patterns. It fosters who we are, who we want to be, and who we become. It paves the way for a strong self-concept and empowered self-confidence.

Confidence in oneself goes hand-in-hand with esteem. Self-esteem fosters a healthy sense of respect and love for oneself, as well as consideration of one’s own needs and desires.


a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect


Especially important in today’s age due to the inundation of snapshots of our peers’ Instagram-worthy lives, this intellectual ability promotes emotional wellness by fostering self-esteem and self-worth. In turn, it challenges us and allows us to pursue our true selves.

Musical Intelligence

To some, musical talent seems to come naturally, while others are tone-deaf and struggle to produce even simple melodies. Musical intelligence, within the context of multiple intelligence theory, refers to one’s ability to appreciate and create musical patterns.

But musical intelligence is not merely an elitist talent reserved for famous musicians and singers who top the charts. It is manifested in various ways, oftentimes even by the hobbyist musical connoisseur. Singing, playing musical instruments, composing music, dancing, and choreographing are all demonstrations of musical intelligence. Likewise, active listening allows us to identify musical patterns, melodies, and styles within musical works of art.

Naturalistic Intelligence

Naturalistic intelligence is the intellectual capacity to thrive in and understand the natural environments of our world.

Naturalists are adept at the identification and classification of species that are native to the natural world. Understanding the complex interaction within ecosystems often comes easily to those with strong naturalist skills.

Furthermore, naturalists love being outdoors, interacting with their environment, plants and animals alike. Biologists, zookeepers, and environmentalist scientists are among the numerous professions that rely largely on naturalistic intelligence.

Existential Intelligence

Perhaps one of the most abstract and difficult to define, existential intelligence encompasses one’s receptivity to the supernatural or spiritual world. While this capacity will vary greatly amongst individuals, the realm of spiritual ability typically involves two components: awareness of one’s own existence in the spiritual world and the ability to communicate with the supernatural world.

As you might expect, psychics, spiritual mediums, astrologists, and religious leaders are grounded heavily in existential intelligence. Because they possess such a strong connection to the spiritual world, they thrive on the abstract, the supernatural, the subconscious.

So, take a moment to do a bit of self-reflection and consider which of the multiple intelligences are your greatest strengths, and which you’d like to work on. Assuming that you have even the slightest interest in personal growth and self-development, you’ll be glad you did.

Holistic Wellness | Psychology | Mental Health | Mindfulness | Nature | Powerful advocate of positive psychology and intellectual curiosity :)

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