A Surprising Finding from the IQ World: Educational Implications

As a principal proponent of multiple intelligences, I have often been critical of scholarly work on the traditional notion of a single intelligence. From a scientific point of view, I think that multiple intelligences theory accounts better for the range of human performances. From an educational perspective, IQ testing is much better at classifying people than at helping them. It is an extraordinarily blunt instrument.

An article in Psychological Science reports a surprising finding. As the title of the study indicates, in primary school, literacy and numeracy turn out to be more heritable than psychometric (IQ) intelligence. The term “heritability” can be off-putting; technically, it refers to the sources of variation within a population. But in practical terms, it simply means that a certain proportion of one’s performance can be attributed to one’s genetic background: if we know about the performances of your grandparents on a set of tasks, it will help us predict how you will perform on similar tasks.

The surprise is that school is supposed to teach you literacy and numeracy, while it does not concern itself directly with improving intelligence (which is thought by many to be largely heritable and hence difficult to nudge upwards). And yet, it turns out that more of performance on literate and numeracy test can be attributed to one’s genetic background.

The authors speculate on the possible reasons for this unexpected finding. It may be, as they believe, that because school focuses on the Three Rs, it actually levels the playing field across individuals, and, according to behavioral genetics theory, that leveling actually increases the potency of the heritability factor. (Put differently, when there are no successful interventions, then environmental factors emerge as more powerful.)

But I am interested in this result for a different reason. Rather than focusing simply on IQ, as so often happens in psychometric research, the scientists are looking at more specific factors–in my terms, at linguistic intelligence and at logical-mathematical intelligence. (And, at least in principle, they could look at spatial intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, etc.)

Moreover, to the extent that students show different strengths in these different intelligences, it suggests two things:

1) We can identify student intellectual potentials in more specific areas; and

2) We can experiment with educational approaches that are more specifically addressed to specific capacities, such as those involved with language and number.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

-Howard Gardner



Kovas, Y et al. “Literacy and Numeracy Are More Heritable Than Intelligence in Primary School.” (2013). Psychological Science, 24(10), pp. 2048-2056.

Musical Intelligence: Sensing and Interpreting Music in the Brain

by Howard Gardner

According to my definition, an intelligence should not be tied uniquely to a single sensory system. Linguistic intelligence operates, whether one listens, reads, or detects patterns in Braille; spatial intelligence is active in individuals who are blind.

sheet-musicFor that reason, musical intelligence has posed a dilemma for me. On the one hand, it seems to be a quite separate human faculty, one analogous in power and complexity to numerical or linguistic computation, and worthy of including within the family of intelligences. On the other hand, for most persons, for most of the period of history, musical creation and perception has been closely tied to the auditory system. I have had to play the ‘rhythm’ card to base music’s super-sensory status on the multi-modality status of rhythm and on the importance of bodily intelligence in the production of musical patterns.

But as technology improves, and as our understanding of the human brain increases, it seems increasingly likely that music can be dissociated, in significant part, from the “auditory-exclusivity channel.” We have already experienced many efforts to visualize musical compositions, some obviously more successful than others, some algorithmic, others involving considerable artistic choice. At concerts now, we see interpreters attempting to convey the sounds and words of musical compositions to deaf individuals in the audience. I take seriously the views of neuroscientist Gottfried Schlaug: “Music has the unique ability to go through alternative channels and connect different sections of the brain.”

Recent studies have also shown the ability of music to boost cognitive development in the young, to facilitate more effective processing of information from the senses, and to create connectivity between different parts of the brain. To read more, please click here.

Beyond the Turing Test

Science MagazineThe Turing Test, developed by British scientist Alan Turing and now familiar to viewers of the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game,” has long been considered the gold standard for the measurement of human intelligence. If, by its responses to a set of challenging verbal questions, a computer can fool a careful observer, then the computer would be deemed intelligent.

Now it is being increasingly recognized that no single set of questions, delivered in a single format, can determine whether a machine is intelligent. Rather, as described in an article from Science, a new and improved Turing Test must incorporate several measures due to the expanding capabilities of artificial intelligence. To quote from the article, in a new Turing Championship that would include a greater number of benchmarks and questions for computers, “the proposed challenges acknowledge that intelligence has multiple dimensions, from language acquisition to social awareness, that are best tackled piece by piece.”

Thus, a modern Turing Test should seek to measure various capabilities present in the human mind as a determinant of whether a respondent is human. And indeed, the list of capacities in this article—from physical movement to the ability to collaborate—is quite reminiscent of the ensemble of multiple intelligences.

Click here to read the full article via Science.