The structure of human intelligence is a controversial issue given that the development of objective measurements (like those in neuropsychology and neurobiology) is quite a difficult scientific task. Nowadays, the theory of multiple intelligences has gained new power and new supporters, but it is not clear yet whether it addresses simply elaborates earlier models or provides a more comprehensive perspective on the structure of human cognitive abilities.
The present paper is intended to compare three major models of human intelligence and present the above mentioned debate in order to shed more light on the point of appropriateness of the multiple intelligences approach. The triarchic model of intelligence, created by Robert Sternberg, identifies three sides of intelligence: analytical, or the ability to divide a complex problem into smaller parts and logically deal with each of them; creative, or the capacity of understanding new information and generating new alternatives for problem-solving; practical, or the so-called “common sense”, that retains the person within the frames of societal norms/public beliefs and views (not merely in the realm of ethics, but also in daily routines) (Sternberg, 1985, p. 3; Fancher, 1985, p. 152).
The scholar observes that “to be successful in life the individual must make the best use of his or her analytical, creative and practical strengths, while at the same time compensating for weaknesses in any of these areas” (Sternberg, 1985, p. 173). Such “compensation” includes “working on improving weak areas to become better adapted to the needs of a particular environment, or choosing to work in an environment that values the individual’s particular strengths” (Sternberg, 1985, p. 174).
As one can understand, the major characteristic of the specified approach is its flexibility to that it can be adjusted to both individual and broader sociocultural contexts (Fancher, 1985, p. 169). Charles Spearman proposes a bifactorial model of intelligence and asserts that there are two types of intelligence: “g”, or the general intelligence, and “s” that stands for specific abilities (Spearman and Jones, 1950, p. 72). Human intellectual abilities, according to Spearman, are to be measured as the “g” intelligence, as it deals precisely with the processing of general information.
Furthermore, Spearman maintains that “g” and “s” supplement one another, as his experiments in formal training demonstrate. His studies also suggest that the general intelligence can not be developed through frequent use and the result of formal training is habit rather than the enhancement of the cognitive abilities (Binet and Simon, 1983, p. 112; Spearman and Jones, 1950, p. 89). The formation of habit rather coincides with the notion of the specific intelligence.
Similarly to Sternberg, Spearman maintains that the two factors necessarily compliment one another; on the other hand, Sternberg holds that each side of human intelligence can be trained, whereas Spearman recognizes that learning is a development of specific habit. Therefore, Spearman’s views are to certain degree determinist as they indicate that human intellectual progress refers to habit-shaping (Fancher, 1985, p. 223).
Gardner’s model of multiple intelligences is nowadays considered the most comprehensive theory that addresses all abilities and aspects of learning (Nucci, 1997, p. 83). According to Gardner, “the seven intelligences are linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal” (Gardner, 1993, p. 36). The scholar states that “logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligences are overemphasized in traditional models of human intelligence, but that this is a cultural artifact; in different life circumstances, different intelligences would gain higher priority” (Gardner, 1993, p. 314).
Each type of intelligence is actually equal to another in terms of importance, but if necessary, each type of intelligence could be improved in the case of strong intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, Gardner observes that the extended development of the inborn talents is likely to bring much greater fulfillment. As one can understand, given his positive psychological view on human intelligence as multifaceted construct, Gardner’s theory can be considered the most comprehensive and applicable in the modern educational settings, as it implies the identification and appreciation of unique talents in each student (Gardner, 1993, p. 42).
Gardner also holds a broad view on human intellectual functioning and is actually the first scientist to prove that intelligence is not limited to analytical skills and creativity. In fact, the development of scientific though, as one sees from the three models, creates a need for adopting multiple intelligence model. As Gardner writes in his book, before the 1950s the conceptual foundation of human intelligence was laid, but the basic perspectives could not be viewed as comprehensive.
For instance, human intelligence at that time was often reduced to erudition, inquisitiveness, memory, ability to process and keep in mind large amounts of information and so forth (Gardner, 1993, p. 34). Later, “used first clinically for “at risk” Parisian elementary schoolchildren, the intelligence test became “normed” on Californian middle-class children and was administered quite widely […]By the 1920s and 1930s, intelligence tests (and their product, an individual’s IQ) had become deeply ensconced in American society” (Gardner, 1993, p. 39).
However, the test first included predominantly mathematical problems, as math was considered as a subject available only to highly intelligent individuals; later, the test was declared simplistic and reductionist and thus revised. Similarly, the structure of human intelligence was revised as well, as increasingly more psychologists recognize that human abilities to understand others, to perceive and reproduce music properly, to formulate one’s thoughts and emotions in an articulate way also refer to intelligence and could be distinguished as its integral parts.
It needs to be noted that in spite of their diversity, all intelligences have the same functions and work by the scheme that implies the analysis of incoming information, planning and implementation or the response to such information, regardless of its nature. As Gardner himself writes, “most theories of intelligence- whether singular or multiple- have assumed that intelligences are simply biological entities or potentials, which exist “in the head” (and “in the brain”) and can be measured reliably, independent of context” (Gardner, 1993, p. 2). Tools of measurement might vary, but all entities defined by Gardner can be described within their own contexts, rather than reduced to traditional statistics: e. g. linguistic intelligence can be judged by experts in poetry and philology and so forth, interpersonal – from the position of the person’s success in establishing healthy relationships with others and so on.
At the same time, the singular approach to intelligence reduces human abilities and talents to mechanistic behavioral skills (as one can conclude from Spearman’s account), whereas the psychology of talents and giftedness insists on the existence of certain initial abilities, which form in children in the period of strengthening of synaptic networks (1-5 years). Furthermore, the multiple intelligence perspective appears to be applicable in educational settings.
In reality, most modern educational institutions for children in the United States are oriented to recognizing the diversity of students’ minds and on the parallel development of those brain entities which seem weaker in certain learners to the required minimum – for instance, both sports and literature courses are compulsory; as a result, in comparison to earlier generations, modern youngsters who graduate from schools receive much more comprehensive development and become more productive members of society (according to Sternberg, American progress owes to great extent to the 1960s revolution in schooling and teaching philosophy/techniques (Sternberg, 1985, p. 118).
To sum up, psychologists should fully adopt the multiple intelligence model, as after carefully reviewing the existing methods of child upbringing, teaching, training as well as novel memorization techniques, they can assume that the entire modern didactics is based upon the notion of independent intelligences and the necessity of elaborating them in learners’ minds. The overview of the three major models shows that there is a threat of excessive reductionism and underestimation of human multifaceted cognitive abilities when taking into consideration exceptionally singular (or less complicated) models.