Existential Intelligence in Gifted Children

On January 2, 2018, Business Insider posted an article about teen prodigy, Braxton Moral, who is set to receive both a high school diploma and bachelor’s degree from the Harvard Extension School this May. Howard Gardner wrote the following reflection in response to the article.


With respect to the theory of multiple intelligences, one of the criteria for an intelligence is that there are large individual differences among young people, and these can be identified early in life. And so, for example, by definition, musical prodigies exhibit high musical intelligence, young athletes display high bodily intelligence, chess players are mathematically and spatially precocious, and so on.

In recent decades, I have speculated about the possibility of “existential intelligence”—what I paraphrase as the “intelligence of big questions.” I deliberately choose this rather colorless descriptor, in preference to more loaded terms like “spiritual” or even “religious intelligence.” I have also quipped that every child raises big questions—but the child with existential intelligence searches for answers; and the child continues to raise and ponder questions that are stimulated by more or less acceptable answers to the initial ones. And so I was interested to learn that Braxton Moral, an extremely precocious high school and college graduate at age 16, is reported to have had an “existential crisis” while in fifth grade.

Assuming that the report is accurate, Braxton raised philosophical and religious questions while still a young boy and was so vexed that he sought higher education to help him think through these enigmas. According to Ellen Winner, gifted children and prodigies exhibit a “rage to master” and are not easily derailed from their area of fascination—be it musical sounds, chess moves, or the arc of a tennis ball. From what I know about his childhood, Mahatma Gandhi also was precocious in the existential realm.

I would welcome other examples of “existential precocity”–the questions asked by highly gifted children, as well as how these children went about trying to answer their own questions. For contrast, I would also welcome examples of the kinds of big questions that typical children pose, with information about how much they pushed to try to get answers.

Also, as a researcher currently focused on higher education, I would add that receiving a college degree “in extension school,” as Braxton has, is not the same as receiving it in a four-year residential school. Such a college education occurs much in interaction with peers, both in sessions and classrooms, in extracurricular activities, and in late night “bull.” A young person can be precocious in one sphere while quite ordinary in others. Such was the case with Michael Kearney, a scholastic prodigy, who, after four years of college before adolescence, had as his goal becoming a talk show host! Indeed, and famously, both Norbert Wiener and William James Sidis were enrolled in college at an early age by their academic parents. And both experienced significant personality upsets in later life. There are no easy solutions for exceptional islands of intellectual talents.

- Howard Gardner


To read the article in full, please follow this link: https://www.businessinsider.com/teenager-harvard-graduate-existential-depression-2019-1

“A Rage to Master”: A Blog on Gifted Children by Dr. Ellen Winner

Consistent with the name and purpose of this website, most of the entries provide support for the notion of several, relatively independent intellectual capacities, called the “multiple intelligences.” That includes reports on gifted children, most of whom have jagged profiles—that is, they may be very strong in one or two intelligences, less strong in others. Having studied gifted children, Ellen Winner has described many of these youngsters as having a “rage to master”—spending many hours each day engaged in, say, playing chess or practicing the violin.

But, counter to popular lore, there are no necessary patterns across the intelligences. Life is not fair! Some individuals are strong across several intelligences (Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind), while others, less fortunate, struggle in several intelligences. And the reasons for these diverse patterns are also multiple—genetic, cultural, and/or familial.

Recently, my wife, Dr. Ellen Winner, spent time with a remarkable child who, quite unusually, exhibited a “rage to master” across a wide range of learning opportunities. I’m pleased to post this blog—a contribution to our understanding of human giftedness.



A Rage to Master…Everything

Ellen Winner

October 2018

As a developmental psychologist with a particular interest in gifted children, I have observed many unusual children. Most gifted children have one domain in which they excel. Domains in which one most often finds such children are language (speaking in sentences at a very early age), music (playing an instrument), drawing (typically very realistically), mathematics, and chess. These children exhibit what I call a “rage to master,” the domain in which they are strong. They spend hours working at developing their craft, and it is often hard for parents to tear the child away in order to eat, go to school, or go to sleep. These children have an enormous amount of energy which they focus exclusively (or at least primarily) on their domain of strength.

Recently friends of ours visited with their daughter who was on the cusp of turning six and who showed such a rage to master. But hers was unusual. She did not zero in on any one particular domain. Everything she came in contact with seemed to stimulate a rage to master. Because of her boundless energy for everything, she seemed to have a compulsion to keep busy, and if there were no obvious activities to engage in, she made up games for herself.

An example…

When she found some fine markers in our kitchen, she asked for paper and then proceeded to write out the alphabet and numbers up to 20 in very neat handwriting. She did this numerous times, and then used the phone to photograph each image.

Next, she discovered a puzzle where you have to put wooden shapes into a square box so that they all fit perfectly. She used my phone to time herself and was satisfied when she got her time down in half from her first try. After thus competing against herself, she then insisted that everyone else (six adults) try the puzzle, and she timed us each time, smiling broadly each time another person’s time was longer than hers.

In terms of attention, she also stood out. She noticed everything that the adults said in conversation even when she seemed to be concentrating on something else. We could tell because every once in a while she would look up from what she was doing and make a relevant comment.

I was surprised by the acuteness of her memory. At dinner she had asked me for my iPhone code which I gave to her orally. The next morning she picked up my phone and immediately typed in the code. When I told her I was amazed that she remembered, she began to tell me the code for the phone of one of her mother’s friends.

Her personality was strong, and she liked to be in control. She consumed all of our time and attention. We were like pieces in a human chess set that she manipulated. When she saw me holding my iPhone, she took it from me and began to take photos and videos of everyone in the room, including selfies of herself making funny faces. (I should note that her parents rarely take out their phones in front of her.)  She was however an iPhone expert, and instructed me on how to take a still photo and then to press loop or bounce to make the picture move in funny ways (this was news to me!).  She did allow me to take a few photos if I pointed the camera exactly where she instructed me. She was behaving like a movie director – making it clear she was in charge, and we were working for her.

Another way in which she “ran the show” was recounted to me by her father. He told me how he tried to keep her amused at a restaurant by showing her his two closed fists and asking her to guess in which hand he held a piece of paper. After one or two trials, she took over and insisted that he be the one to guess in which hand she was holding the paper.

When she was four, Trump was elected. She asked her parents what a president was. Her father, a policy scholar, listed to her all the things that presidents do and that the government does. When he finished, she said, “Then I want to be president!” That evening over dinner her parents found themselves being bossed around by their daughter. Her mother paused for a moment and then turned to her and asked, “Who set the rules in this house?” Their daughter’s instant reply: “Me because I’m the government.”

Most gifted children have very jagged profiles – ahead in language, average in math; ahead in drawing, average in music. But this child seems to be high in many different intelligences – verbal (did I mention that she is bilingual and speaks fluently a language unrelated to English?), spatial (that puzzle), mathematics (timing everyone on the puzzle; remembering iPhone codes), bodily-kinesthetic (she climbed to the top of the three story climbing structure at the Boston Children’s Museum), musical (she plays the recorder and recorded herself singing for me on my phone), and interpersonal (she had everyone marching to her orders; she formed a strong relationship with both my husband and me the first night she arrived, and I observed her strong connection not only to her parents but to two adult siblings). About intrapersonal intelligence, I can only say that when she was asked a hard question (how can you test which colors a dog can see?) she thought for a while and then said (reflectively and accurately) that she did not know. In addition to her gifts across the board she showed a powerful motivation to compete and an equally powerful motivation to fill her time with goal oriented activities.

The point of this sketch: While most gifted children have a rage to master in one area, this child showed a rage to master everything she came into contact with. Of course, it’s not at all clear what she will grow up to become. But perhaps Bill and Hillary looked like this as young children. Perhaps she really will grow up to be president – of something. I suspect she will not be passively taking orders from any boss.

Game-Based Learning Program Helps Kids Find Their Dream Job

In September 2018, Dr. Howard Gardner received an email about Metier, a game-based learning program developed by teachers at Pillager Public Schools.  Metier uses MI concepts to help students find a career that aligns with their skills and their passions. Below is an introductory statement and video about Metier, followed by a brief response from Dr. Gardner.


Metier is a grades 5-9 experiential learning program that utilizes games to guide students in discovering the truest, happiest, and greatest versions of themselves and the career field that makes them come alive. These games allow students to uncover their state of flow, which is an optimal state of consciousness wherein you feel your best and perform your best. According to research, those with the most flow in their lives are the most satisfied with their lives. By monitoring what gets students into flow, including a self-awareness of their intelligences, we can help them find their Metier: the job and life they love and loves them back.

Follow this link to watch an introductory video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLNooLxLOo_oetSnA5Q4oCCPei-_ikKCpQ&v=pykAtJvXQcw&app=desktop


I was pleased to learn about the educational innovations that have been implemented by in the Metier program. I encounter many attempts to create educational programs associated with the idea of multiple intelligences, and this program is one of the most intriguing ones I’ve seen.

As I understand it, the architects of Metier have combined a focus on the intelligences favored by young people and the experiences that generate experiences of ‘flow’—that state of consciousness in which a person becomes completely absorbed in what he or she is doing and time flies by.  I’ve always felt a kinship with the ideas of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—who developed the notion of flow in the 1980s—and in fact he and I have been colleagues since that time.

To the work on ‘MI’ and ‘flow’ I would now add the ideas of our valued colleague William (Bill) Damon. With Anne Colby and other colleagues, Bill describes the importance of a sense of purpose: the feeling of mission that motivates people of all ages, with that mission affecting more than one’s own pleasure—that is, a wider sense of purpose. As young people mature, it’s important that they do not only experience flow—but that they experience flow while carrying out work and play that serves others, including the wider community.  And so I hope that in the future, programs like Metier will encourage young people not only to ‘follow their bliss’ but to contribute to the bliss of others.

-Dr. Howard Gardner

What Should Be in a Library? An MI Expert Explains

In August 2018, MI Expert Dr. Thomas R. Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School at New City School and Scholar In Residence, UMSL College of Education in St. Louis, MO, wrote an article about the questions that informed the design of the Learning Library at the New City School.

Below, the article is printed in full and prefaced by a brief comment from Dr. Howard Gardner.


If you are over fifty, it’s likely that your education was based heavily on reading newspapers, articles, and books, and, for you, the word “library” connotes a collection of many written words and volumes.

Nowadays, of course, nearly everyone picks up information and skills through interactions with a variety of media. And even when one is reading words, it’s likely that one is reading them on a screen, with the chief variable being the speed and the size of the machine.

Quite a few years ago, Tom Hoerr and his colleagues at the New City School in St. Louis began to rethink the meaning and the use of the school’s library. The result is a learning environment which presents information in a variety of ways and which encourages young people to  draw on, as appropriate, their several intellectual strengths or  intelligences.

I am grateful to Tom Hoerr for writing a blog, in which he describes the School’s experiences with the Learning Library. And I want to take this opportunity to thank Tom for his unstinting support of appropriate educational uses of MI Theory.

- Dr. Howard Gardner


A Learning Library

by Thomas R. Hoerr

What should be in a library? This is a more fun and complex question than it might appear!

Our initial response is probably a quick one, as we envision shelves and shelves of books, monitored by a stern librarian who can quiet the room simply by raising her eyebrows. Indeed, that is what most of us experienced. A library was a space filled with books and periodicals. It was a place where we went to do research, to look for books, or maybe it was just a quiet and calm setting where we could study or do our homework. Of course, the library was also a place where we could link up with our friends, but it was a pretty solemn place, so after that linking we would need to go elsewhere to talk and laugh.

That traditional library, whether in a school to be used by students or located in a neighborhood and open to the community, was designed to support the way that intelligence and learning have historically been viewed. From the advent of libraries thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt and Greece, when words were written on clay tablets or papyrus, until the 21st century, libraries have been designed for a singular, linguistic, view of intelligence. Dictionary.com says that a library is “a room, a set of rooms, or building where books may be read and borrowed.”

Today, however, we understand a great deal more about learning than when libraries were first created. We know that each of us possess  more than a single intelligence, so we recognize that the design of traditional libraries fails to support different ways of learning. Going beyond being a repository for books and magazines, what if we designed a library to support how people learn?

A learning library is designed to enable to use their multiple intelligences (MI) in acquiring information and solving problems. While a library can be linguistically-based, it should also offer people opportunities to use their logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalist, intrapersonal, and interpersonal intelligences in learning. Its art and furniture will be attractive and reflect that we each have a different intelligence profile. I know that creating this kind of library is possible and I have seen the positive impact that it can have on learners and learning because we created an MI library in the school that I led.

In 2006, the New City School in St. Louis, MO had been using MI for 20 years. We knew the power of enabling students to learn through all of their intelligences and we also saw how students’ use of MI made their learning more engaging and fun in classrooms. Consequently, when we decided to build a new library, it was obvious that enabling students to use their MI should be integral in our design.

Our MI library opened in 2006. It has thousands of books and scores of periodicals, but that’s just the beginning, because it also contains pathways for other intelligences. The library includes a space for creating art with white-board walls and tile floors, huge fish tanks and a bird-nesting area outside a second-floor window, a musical area with earphones, board-games and tables, games that require use of small muscles and coordination, chairs and comfortable spaces for alone-time, other chairs and desks to support collaboration, private rooms and meeting spaces, and small amphitheater for student presentations and performances. Designed by architect Kevin Kerwin, the space is remarkably inviting and attractive, and is also used for faculty, parent, and community meetings. An article from the School Library Journal that describes it can be found here: https://www.slj.com/2013/12/industry-news/a-meeting-of-the-minds-the-first-multiple-intelligences-library/#_ .

It’s worth noting that we intentionally did not put computers or technology in our library (other than those needed to monitor book usage). Our feeling was that kids’ access to technology was pervasive, and we wanted to provide a space that allowed – required – them to use other intelligences. We have not regretted that decision.

While ours was the first MI library, I recently learned that MI was incorporated in the Jackie and Hal Spielman Children’s Library section in a public library in Port Washington, WA. It is described here: https://nyrej.com/port-wash-library-lhsadp-stalco-scc-finish-2-8m and in more detail here: https://www.newsday.com/long-island/li-life/port-washington-children-s-library-1.20609067. The article notes that the library was designed to stimulate children’s curiosity and desire to learn, and it is clear that they have succeeded in doing this. I know that this was also the case at New City School: Our library was everyone’s favorite place and was always filled with learning and smiles!

When we conceive of a library that supports how people learn, we go far beyond collections of pages. How would you design a learning library?


New York Children’s Library Inspired by MI

In June 2019, the New York Real Estate Journal posted an article about a major redevelopment of the children’s section of the Port Washington Public Library in Port Washington, NY. According to a quote from Nancy Curtin, Port Washington Public Library director, the goal of the project was to create a modern library space that took into account the many ways children learn. At the heart of the new library is a “Tree of Knowledge,” inspired by the theory of multiple intelligences. The colorful tree is made of eight branches–one for each intelligence–each of which leads to a different learning area within the library.


Port Washington Public Library Children's Room 925 med

It is exciting to see multiple intelligences present in such an important learning hub for children of all ages. We hope that the children and families of Port Washington, NY will be inspired to take an MI approach to learning and knowledge.


Photo credit to the New York Real Estate Journal

To read the article in full, click here: http://nyrej.com/port-wash-library-lhsadp-stalco-scc-finish-2-8m

Mensa Research Journal Devotes Issue to Work of Howard Gardner

The latest issue of the Mensa Research Journal, Mensa’s triannual publication of scholarly articles related to intelligence, is devoted to the work of Howard Gardner. This dedication follows Howard Gardner’s receipt of the Mensa Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. The issue features eight research articles related to the theory of multiple intelligences, including a previously unpublished address Howard Gardner delivered upon receiving an honorary degree from José Cela University in Madrid, Spain, and the Prince of Asturias Prize for Social Science in Madrid, Spain.

mensa journal


Photo sourced from mensafoundation.org

Click here to read more about the issue: https://www.mensafoundation.org/about-the-mensa-foundation/news/inside-mrj-49-1/

Harvard Gazette Interviews Howard Gardner About His Life and Work

In the summer of 2017, Howard Gardner had a series of conversations with reporters from the Harvard Gazette, Harvard University’s official news website. The topics of these discussions ranged from Gardner’s early life and family to his lifelong scholarly work.

In May 2018, the Gazette released an in-depth profile of Gardner based on these conversations. We are pleased to share this interview with you, accessible by clicking here. In this piece, Gardner talks about the influences, challenges, surprises, and regrets that have influenced his personal life and career trajectory as a scholar and researcher.

(Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer)


MI After 35 Years

On Saturday, March 24, 2018 Dr. Gardner and three of his colleagues, Dr. Branton Shearer, Dr. Thomas Armstrong, and Dr. Tom Hoerr presented at the ASCD Annual Conference in Boston, MA. Below is an excerpt from the ASCD newsletter, Volume 27, Number 6, written by Dr. Hoerr, that provides a portrait of the event.


Last month featured a really interesting presentation at the ASCD Annual Conference, “MI After 35 Years.” Yes, it’s been 35 years since Howard Gardner’s book, Frames Of Mind, changed how we view intelligence. Recognizing that intelligence is problem-solving, Garner identified the many different ways – the multiple intelligences – that people use to solve problems. Real-world problems, Gardner knew, are not limited to multiple-choice questions. Philosophically, understanding MI means that intelligence is not uni-dimensional and that each person possesses an array of intelligences. Pragmatically, understanding MI, we don’t ask “Who’s the smartest student in the class?” Rather, we ask, “How is each of these students smart?”

Branton Shearer, Thomas Armstrong, and I each spoke about MI from our perspectives, and then we were joined by Howard Gardner, who fielded questions from the audience and facilitated a discussion. I am biased, I know, but it was a great affirmation of the power of MI.
MI Group_HG, Branton Shearer, Tom Hoerr
L to R: Armstrong, Hoerr, Shearer, Gardner.

Branton Shearer, creator of the MIDAS, an MI assessment tool, shared his experiences from administering the survey and seeing its utility as a tool to aid in learning. Thomas Armstrong, author of Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, talked about how MI is research-based yet many psychometricians find it difficult to grasp. For sure, change is hard! I spoke from the perspective of leading an MI school for 30 years. I saw the power of MI each day, I said, in students’ learning and teachers’ teaching.

When Howard Gardner spoke, he noted that MI encompasses both individualization and pluralization. In using MI, we can individualize how we teach; we are able to teach to students in the ways that they learn. And MI pluralizes because it offers a variety of ways for students to learn and to show what they know. In using MI, we learn more about our students and we are better able to serve them.

This enthusiasm about MI – both from the four of us who presented as well as the 130+ in the audience – was evident. This causes one to wonder, “What happened to MI? and “Why aren’t there more MI schools?” (I used to hear that a lot when I lead New City School.) Branton Shearer offers a very good explanation of this in the following article!

Thomas R. Hoerr, PhD
Scholar In Residence at UM-St. Louis
Emeritus Head of the New City School
Facilitator of the ASCD MI Professional Interest Community


To view the entire newsletter, click here: http://custapp.marketvolt.com/cv.aspx?cm=1148481588&x=46336138&cust=24175573

Study Finds Game-Based Learning Can Increase Intelligences in Students

In January 2018, M. Esther del Moral Pérez, Alba P. Guzmán Duque, and L. Carlota Fernández García published an article titled, “Game-Based Learning Increasing the Logical-Mathematical, Naturalistic, and Linguistic Learning Levels of Primary School Students” in the Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research. Howard Gardner comments below:


In the educational literature, there is continuing discussion of whether games can contribute to learning and, if so, in what ways.  As the title indicates this study of game-based learning provides suggestive evidence that three discrete intelligences can be enhanced by weekly hour-long sessions.



Game-based learning is an innovative methodology that takes advantage of the educational potential offered by videogames in general and serious games in particular to boost training processes, thus making it easier for users to achieve motivated learning. The present paper focuses on the description of the Game to Learn Project, which has as its aim not only to promote the use of serious games and digital mini-games for the development of Multiple Intelligences, but also to analyse whether this methodology results in increased learning. Teachers assessed the level achieved by primary education students (N=119) in each learning category, before and after participating in the project, by means of a qualitative instrument. Finally, after corresponding analysis through descriptive statistical techniques, bivariate correlations, and ANOVA, the results showed significant differences between children’s learning levels in logical-mathematical, naturalistic and linguistic abilities before and after their participation in this innovative project, thus revealing a widespread increase in every indicator.

To read the full article, click here: Game-Based Learning Increasing the Logical-Mathematical, Naturalistic, and Linguistic Learning Levels of Primary School Students.

Naturalist Intelligence in the Age of the iPhone

In January 2018, Laura Jeliazkov published an article titled “An iPhone in Hand…Worth Two in the Bush?” in The Darthmouth newspaper. In the article, Jeliazkov considers the modern attachment–or perhaps addiction–to our mobile devices and the seemingly endless digital media they offer. As a way of understanding our cognitive relationship to our devices, Jeliazkov cites Naturalist Intelligence. Howard Gardner comments below:


Since the original publication of Frames of Mind, I have added only one intelligence to the original seven—that of the naturalist. (Though, I have speculated about other possible intelligences.) As described in recent publications, the naturalist intelligence initially evolved so that we humans could make consequential distinctions in our natural environment—what to eat, what to spurn, what to hunt, what to avoid, how the weather might change in the next day or the next month.

In the modern era, however, most of us do not have to use the naturalist intelligence to survive in our built-up urban environments. But I’ve argued that the mind and brain capacities that evolved initially for life in the tundra are now readily called upon as we decide what to buy at the supermarket, what clothing to wear, how to decorate our homes, etc.

And now, there is a new powerful force in the environment: our smart devices, with their numerous (soon, innumerable) apps. In dealing with these devices, we not only make available all items for which one could conceivably shop. But also, as is pointed out in the accompanying article by Laura Jeliazkov, we have the opportunity to present and re-present ourselves as often as we want—as well as the chance to get the reactions of others—in words, in still pictures, or in live video. That’s a lot for the naturalist intelligence to do—as Jeliazkov suggests, perhaps too much! While I don’t remember it, she quotes me as saying, “If we went back into the woods to be with our naturalist intelligences, people would have time to think again. But today this may not be possible.”


To read the full article, click here: http://www.thedartmouth.com/article/2018/01/an-iphone-in-hand-worth-two-in-the-bush