Changing The Face Of Intelligence Labels for Children

Standard intelligence has been commonly defined as having an affinity for practical mathematical and logical understanding. We have all been subjected to standardized testing during our formal education years. Based on how well we solved math equations and engaged with critical thinking exercises an air-tight definition of our ‘intelligence’ was determined.

From these tests, our sense of self and identity began to be molded by how well we competed with our peers. Teachers in grade school are able to quickly ramble off the list of names of students who are “gifted” and those who are not. The term “gifted” usually means highly intelligent in linear logic. The problem with this standard viewpoint on intelligence is that it completely disregards other types of smarts and strengths.

In 1983 Howard Gardner introduced the idea of multiple intelligence in which he proposed various types of intelligence:

1. Musical Intelligence “Musical Smart”

Musical intelligence is the capacity to discern pitch, rhythm, timbre, and tone. This intelligence enables us to recognize, create, reproduce, and reflect on music, as demonstrated by composers, conductors, musicians, vocalist, and sensitive listeners.

2. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence “Number/Reasoning Smart”

Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to calculate, quantify, consider propositions and hypotheses, and carry out complete mathematical operations. Logical intelligence is usually well developed in mathematicians, scientists, and detectives. 

3. Existential Intelligence

Sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.

4. Interpersonal Intelligence “People Smart”

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand and interact effectively with others. It involves effective verbal and nonverbal communication, the ability to note distinctions among others, sensitivity to the moods and temperaments of others, and the ability to entertain multiple perspectives. Teachers, social workers, actors, and politicians all exhibit interpersonal intelligence.

5. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence “Body Smart”

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence is the capacity to manipulate objects and use a variety of physical skills. This intelligence also involves a sense of timing and the perfection of skills through mind–body union. Athletes, dancers, surgeons, and craftspeople exhibit well-developed bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

6. Linguistic Intelligence “Word Smart” 

Linguistic intelligence is the ability to think in words and to use language to express and appreciate complex meanings. Linguistic intelligence allows us to understand the order and meaning of words and to apply meta-linguistic skills to reflect on our use of language. Linguistic intelligence is most evident in poets, novelists, journalists, and effective public speakers.

7. Intra-personal Intelligence “Self Smart”

Intra-personal intelligence is the capacity to understand oneself and one’s thoughts and feelings, and to use such knowledge in planning and directing one’s life. Intra-personal intelligence involves not only an appreciation of the self but also of the human condition. It is evident in psychologists, spiritual leaders, and philosophers.

8. Spatial Intelligence “Picture Smart”

Spatial intelligence is the ability to think in three dimensions. Core capacities include mental imagery, spatial reasoning, image manipulation, graphic and artistic skills, and an active imagination. Sailors, pilots, sculptors, painters, and architects all exhibit spatial intelligence.

9. Naturalist Intelligence “Nature Smart”

Designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations, etc). Botanist and archaeologists have high nature smarts.

As we begin to re-define intelligence and what it means to be considered ‘smart’ I think it is important to begin to create new labels for our children (and for ourselves) to strengthen their sense of self and improve their confidence levels.

In my individual sessions with children who struggle with learning disorders, they usually struggle to see themselves as intelligent beings because of their often very challenging experiences in school which invalidated their own brand of intelligence. I work deliberately in sessions to introduce this concept of multiple types of intelligence to begin to have them re-conceptualize how they are in fact uniquely smart. I challenge them to find at least two intelligence category in which they are strong and begin to build on this concept and help them begin to understand how their unique intelligence can be useful and respected in general.

Children often discount intelligence based in spatial or Kinesthetic but reminding them that Picasso had strong spatial intelligence and Michael Jordan has remarkable Kinesthetic intelligence often puts things into perspective for them.

Beginning to challenge your children’s concept of intelligence can give light to more creative, self-assured and confident children.


Learn more about the Theory of Multiple Intelligences at MI


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, JD Hancock.

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