Can Neuroscience Provide Empirical Support for MI Theory?

In March 2017, Dr. Branton Shearer and Dr. Jessica Karanian published a paper titled The Neuroscience of Intelligence: Empirical Support for the Theory of Multiple Intelligences? in Trends in Neuroscience and Education, Volume 6. In the paper, Dr. Shearer and Dr. Karanian use neuroscience to provide empirical support for the theory of multiple intelligences. The abstract for the article appears below:


The concept of intelligence has been strongly debated since introduction of IQ tests in the early 1900s. Numerous alternatives to unitary intelligence have achieved limited acceptance by both psychologists and educators. Despite criticism that it lacks empirical validity, multiple intelligences theory (Gardner, H. (1983, 1993) Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books), has had sustained interest on the part of educators worldwide. MI theory was one of the first formulations about intelligence to be based on neuroscience evidence. This investigation reviewed 318 neuroscience reports to conclude that there is robust evidence that each intelligence possesses neural coherence. Implications for using MI theory as a bridge between cognitive neuroscience and instruction are discussed.


To read the full publication, visit the following site:

New Research Supports Existence of a Music Center in the Brain

Natalie Angier’s article New Ways Into the Brain’s ‘Music Room’ discusses new findings from Dr. Nancy Kanwisher and Dr. Josh H. McDermott that suggest that there are neural pathways that react almost exclusively to music. Unlike previous studies that failed to find a distinct, anatomical music center in the brain, Kanwisher and McDermott’s study showed that music circuits occupy a different region of the brain’s auditory cortex than speech.

When I proposed the theory of multiple intelligences many years ago, one of the most important criteria for the identification of an intelligence was its localization in the brain. To be sure, this was not the only criterion:  some abilities (e.g. face recognition) that are localized are insufficiently broad to qualify as an intelligence;  and some intelligences have a broad or varied representation in the brain.

It’s long been known that musical abilities have a cortical representation that differs from language abilities:  that is why one can have aphasia without amusia, or amusia without aphasia.  But the new approach to brain imaging developed at MI has made a notable discovery; there are distinct neural pathways in the auditory cortex which respond preferentially to the sound of music, and those pathways are clearly different from those that respond to preferentially  to linguistic sounds.  Notable is the testimony of Elizabeth Margulis of the University of Arkansas. She points out that proponents of musical intelligence used to have to claim that music’s specialness derives from its integration of parts of the nervous system that had evolved for other purposes.  But now, says Margulis, “when you peer below the cruder level seen with some methodologies, you find very specific circuitry that responds to music over speech”.

I have always maintained that no single line of evidence can prove or disprove MI theory; there are no decisive experiments. Rather, what determine the validity of the theory is the steady accumulation of empirical evidence from a variety of sources and a variety of sciences.  This research, from the laboratory of distinguished MIT research Nancy Kanwisher, is one more brick of evidence in favor of the edifice of multiple intelligences.


Is the Brain a Computer?

In June of this year, Gary Marcus, an NYU professor and contributor to The New York Times, published a piece entitled “Face It, Your Brain Is a Computer”. What follows is Howard Gardner’s response to this article.


When I am describing my view of intellect,  I often contrast it with the standard view of intelligence. And I invoke a computer metaphor. The old view posits a single all purpose computer: if it computes well, you are smart in everything; if it compute poorly, well, you are out of luck—all cognitive doors are closed.

My view, in contrast, posits the existence of several computers.  Each computes a certain kind of information in a way appropriate to that computer.  And so the musical computer deals with sounds, rhythms, timbres,  harmonics, while the spatial computer deals with the arrangement of objects or movements in local or global space.  A corollary is that the strength (or weakness) of one computer does not entail similar or different evaluations of the strength of another computer. Person A can be strong in spatial and weak in musical intelligence;  person B can display the opposite profile.

Clearly, the invoking of computers is a metaphor.  No one believes that an IBM computer (or several) or a microchip (or hundreds) is literally located in the skull.  Rather, the argument between Marcus’ view, on the one hand, and my view, on the other, is whether it is more helpful to think of one all purpose computer, or several more specific and more dedicated computers.

An analogy may be helpful . We all learn about the world through our sense organs. But there is a big difference between the claim that all sensory organs work in basically the same way, and the claim that each sensory organ has evolved so as optimally to handle certain kinds of inputs in certain ways.  I find the latter view much more useful.

Marcus raises a broader question (“Does it make sense to think of the brain as a computer?”) and has a simple answer (“Yes it does”).  But as he himself points out, we now recognize different kinds of computer with different kinds of computations. MI theory simply extends this form of conceptualization to the variety of cognitive processes of which human beings are capable.

-Howard Gardner