The existence of a ‘single’ intelligence or several types, where does the truth lie?

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Unchanged for a long time, the notion of intelligence was confined to the IQ (intelligence quotient) test alone. This test, developed at the beginning of the 20th century, has served as a barometer for evaluating a person’s cognitive skills.

Based on a score scale from 0 to 200, a ranking can be one of the following:

  • Below 80: borderline low intelligence.
  • Up to 110: average to normal intelligence.
  • Up to 120: strong normal intelligence.
  • Up to 130: superior intelligence.
  • From 130: very superior intelligence.

This begs the question: should intelligence as a whole then be determined according to this test? A diversified teaching approach argues against this point, so as to highlight each individual’s unique abilities and to encourage the learning of new skills.

Starting from the 1970s, an eminent professor of Neurology in Boston, Howard Gardner, starting looking into human potential and carrying out work on the complexity of human thought. From his research, Howard Gardner deduced that intelligence is not unique or universal, but rather multiple and that it is therefore more appropriate to speak of “multiple intelligences”.

The IQ test, therefore, provides too limited a view of intelligence. Indeed, according to this test, a child would be deemed more or less intelligent from birth, without taking into account the diversity of abilities each individual attains in different areas.

Each human being should be seen as intelligent but with their own unique intelligences.

At the end of the 20th century, Howard Gardner defined 8 forms of intelligence.

These 8 intelligences are classified by type: academic, action, methodological, and environmental intelligences. Each corresponds to a specific aptitude or talent.

  • Academic intelligence, which includes:
    •  linguistic intelligence, is the use of language to express oneself and to understand others (such as a pupil that is sensitive to language, to sounds and who communicates clearly), and
    • logical-mathematical intelligence, which is the ability to observe, analyse or solve problems (such as a pupil that can evaluate whether something is feasible or not by making hypotheses, finding examples, classifying and categorising things).
  • Action intelligence, which corresponds to:
    • intrapersonal intelligence, and denotes the ability to recognise one’s own emotions and know how to evaluate one’s strengths and weaknesses (such as a student that knows how to concentrate easily and identify his or her learning needs), and
    • interpersonal or social intelligence, which entails the ability to show cooperation, empathy and tolerance towards others (such as a child that promotes cooperation, and listens to the ideas of those around him).
  • Methodological intelligence which uses:
    • visuo-spatial intelligence to mentally visualise objects, graphics, and create things in a harmonious way (such as a child with a great imagination or who uses drawing to represent ideas), and
    • kinesthetic intelligence which uses body movement to communicate or to learn by moving with the body or manipulating objects (such as a pupil who is comfortable in sports or theater activities and who often expresses himself with their hands).
  • Environmental intelligence, which brings together:
    • musical intelligence, denoting a sensitivity to the musicality of words, thought attuned to rhythm and creation of musical models (such as a pupil who likes music and beats to a rhythm when they learn something), and
    • naturalist intelligence, which refers to an increased sensitivity to living things in general (nature, animals, etc.): the individual observes the environment, recognises, classifies plants, minerals, etc. (such as a child that will notice certain small details or will be sensitive to sounds and characteristics of their environment).

More recently, another, somewhat particular, form of intelligence has been identified: existential intelligence. This intelligence is attached to the thoughts that human beings have about life and death as well as their existence on earth. This entails a capacity of the individual to reflect on the meaning of life, and is much harder to identify.


What we can deduct from this highlighting of multiple intelligences is that each individual has several intelligences within them; sometimes they manifest naturally and sometimes they are more or less neglected and, unfortunately, reduced.

Making a judgment on the aptitude of a child by taking into account only their ability to develop in this or that sector does not reflect their true capacity for intelligence.

It is important that children understand from a young age that they all have abilities and that these are not limited. In this sense, diversified learning methods can make it possible to identify the different intelligences in pupils and allow them to progress more easily.

Those with certain abilities will be able to open up to others and those who encounter difficulties will be able to, by evolving in a conducive learning environment, discover their talents and reveal their potential.

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