Adolescent and Adult Intellectual Development

A study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science proposes a framework of adult intelligence that supplements more traditional views of intelligence to include domain knowledge, thereby taking into account information that is learned in occupations and avocational activities past adolescence.

Most studies of intelligence are carried out with young people. Recently, there has been growing interest in how intelligence develops, or fails to develop, over the course of a lifetime. This study documents the importance of what the author calls “the current depth and breadth of domain knowledge.” The author correctly notes that much of what goes on in the adult years concerns a person’s ability to sustain or even enhance his performance in specific areas—e.g. law, engineering, teaching, or the arts. While the study focuses on the domain of performance, rather than on the particular intellectual capacities under scrutiny, it seems evident that individuals do not randomly choose these domains. Rather, a person is attracted to, say, the practice of law, or teaching, or engineering, or the arts, because of his or her special combination of intelligences. The better the fit between an individual’s spectrum of intelligences and the domain of knowledge, the more likely that intellectual growth will continue through the adult years.

-Howard Gardner

Ackerman, Philip. “Adolescent and Adult Intellectual Development.” (2014). Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23 (4), pp. 246-251.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

A study published in the journal Psychological Science claims to show that music practice does not have an effect on music ability after researchers observed 10,500 Swedish twins and found no evidence that practice produced better music skills, suggesting that “genetic variation among individuals affects both ability and inclination to practice.”

I am often asked how much of each intelligence in MI theory is based on nature (genetics) and how much on nurture/culture (child-rearing, formal education, practice, etc.). I have been deliberately agnostic on this question because it can only be answered convincingly by the use of behavioral genetics methods, of the sort used by behavioral genetics (as exemplified in the aforementioned article).

That said, both my wife Ellen Winner (author of the well-known book Gifted Children: Myths and Realities) and I have been extremely skeptical of the claims, made chiefly in the scholarly literature by K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues and in the popular press by Malcolm Gladwell) that talent is essentially due to practice. No one doubts that practice is necessary, but we (and others) have doubted that anyone can become an expert, and that there is no such thing as talent. As I’ve put it most dramatically, if you were in the same cello class as Yo-Yo Ma, you’d soon see the difference in performance from one week to the next. The same goes for other domains—as, for example, being in the same math class as a young person who goes on to win the Putnam competition.

This article is one of the first to actually tease out the effects of heritability on musical ability. Contrary to the Ericsson-Gladwell hypothesis, the association between music practice and music ability turns out to be largely genetic; moreover, differences in the environments of subjects did not contribute materially to differences in the capacity to discriminate rhythms, melodies, and pitches.

In a similar study, also in Psychological Science, researchers studied the effects of deliberate practice on performance in several domains, including music, games, sports, education, and professions, finding that practice was a poor measure of explaining variance in performance in each case (from explaining 26% of the variance for games, down to less than 1% for professions).

While a single study or pair of studies should not be over-interpreted, such findings should give pause to those who believe that practice alone determines how well one will perform and at what rate expertise will be achieved.

-Howard Gardner



“Practice does not make perfect: no causal effect of music practice on music ability.” Mosing MA, Madison G, Pedersen NL, Kuja-Halkola R, Ullén F. (2014). Psychological Science, 25 (9), pp. 1795-803.

“Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis.” Macnamara B.N., Hambrick D.Z., Oswald F.L.(2014). Psychological Science, 25 (8), pp. 1608-1618.

Chilean Magazine Spotlights MI Theory

From 2011-2012, the Chilean publication Calpe&Abyla, a periodical dedicated to education and neurosciences, published a series of magazines on Multiple Intelligences theory. The editors assembled a unique collection of high-quality materials with a focus on the connection between MI and neuroscience. These texts are a useful resource for Spanish-speaking educators, researchers, and individuals who would simply like to know more about MI theory.

For more information about the magazines and for details on how to access them via subscription, please visit Free previews of each edition are available at

Howard Gardner and Project Zero would like to thank Terry Orrego for bringing these magazines to their attention during the Project Zero Classroom Institute in July 2014. Special thanks is also given to the editor of Calpe&Abyla, Amanda Cespedes.

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