Skip to content

Seven different ways of determining intelligence

Find out the multiple ways we classify and ascertain what constitutes intelligence.

Jack Moreh Getty Images

Key Takeaways
  • Between IQ, Triarchic Theories of intelligence and a whole host of other methods, determining intelligence remains a thrilling topic of inquiry.
  • Developmental psychologist, Howard Gardner, originally put forth 7 different types of intelligence which still remain as popular classifications today.
  • The science around multiple intelligences is not conclusive, but have proven helpful to some in the educational system.

Our greatest endowment is our intelligence. This intangible, abstract and hard to pin down concept is responsible for everything we do. Our unique human intellect is what has set us apart from our animal forebears and given us dominion and superiority over the planet. Yet, for being such smart primates we still don’t have much of a consensus on how to determine intelligence.

The goal posts of brainpower have changed throughout time. We’re beginning to realize that there are different modes of how to think and act that are equally valid. Some people believe that the IQ is one of the best ways to showcase how you think. Other pockets of academia believe in Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, which breaks things down into analytic, creative, and practical thinking patterns.

Debates rage on whether creativity can be taught, if brilliance is innate within our genetic code or influenced by our culture and upbringing.

In 1983, Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist, put forth a new classification system that broke things down into 7 different types of intelligence. He’d later go on to add a few more throughout the years. These included naturalistic intelligence, existential and teaching-pedagogical which he considered adding when speaking with Big Think in 2016. While experimental evidence is sparse within this system, many have found it as a helpful litmus test to get a grasp on the way different people think.

US Howard Gardner poses on the stage after receiving the 2011 Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences during the Prince of Asturias awards ceremony on October 21, 2011 in Oviedo. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA

Gardner’s original seven types of intelligence 

Gardner argued that it’s of an evolutionary benefit for people to possess different sets of skills and talents. This common sense fact then translates into different modes of intelligence. The following is a brief overview of each:

  • Linguistic: ability to speak and write well.
  • Logic-mathematical: ability to use logic and mathematical skills to solve problems
  • Spatial: ability to think and reason about objects in three dimensions
  • Musical: ability to perform and enjoy music
  • Kinesthetic (body: ability to move the body in sports, dance, or other physical activities
  • Interpersonal: ability to understand and interact effectively with others
  • Intrapersonal: ability to have insight into the self

The idea of multiple intelligences has influenced some in the field of education. For example, teachers might try to hone a child’s spatial tendencies and steer them towards being an architect. On the other hand, Gardner also warned that these types of intelligences shouldn’t be a limiting factor to how a student is taught. He opposes the idea that there should be a labeling of types of learners. He stated that intelligence is “a biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture.”

If anything, this system gives learners the power to mix and mingle within the different modalities of thought. With this list we’ll be able to build upon our strengths and remedy our weaknesses.

“Harry Potter And The Cursed Child” Opening Day

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 22: J.K. Rowling poses at ‘Harry Potter and The Cursed Child parts 1 & 2’ on Broadway Opening Night at The Lyric Theatre on April 22, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Linguistic Intelligence

Linguistic intelligence is the ability to have a wide ranging grasp over words and the use of language in order to express and understand abstract concepts and other complex meanings. This type of intelligence allows us to be able to understand the fundamentals of grammar and speech, writing and communication.

Linguistic intelligence is an absolute necessity for base human competence. The use of a highly developed linguistic intelligence is evident within the ranks of novelists, public speakers and poets.

Stephen Hawking experiencing weightlessness


Logical-mathematical intelligence 

Logical-mathematical intelligence deals in the domain of quantity, numerics, logical operations and the whole range of abstract mathematics concepts. Logical intellect is a must-have for mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists. They derive meaning from sequential reasoning and abstract patterns.

The quick insight into logical tasks gives them the ability to be very well organized and disciplined. It follows that the analytical part of the brain is given much more of a focus on than the creative aspect.

SpaceX Launches Falcon 9 Rocket

SANTA BARBARA, CA – OCTOBER 07: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (R) separates from the space craft (L) behind the rocket trail and under the stars after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying the SAOCOM 1A and ITASAT 1 satellites, as seen on October 7, 2018 near Santa Barbara, California. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Spatial intelligence

Spatial intelligence is the ability to think in visual terms within areas of two and three dimensions. Core skills that come into play include: spatial reasoning, image manipulation, advanced perception, artistic skills and mental imagery.

Paired with an active imagination, spatial intelligence spills over into many disciplines. Some of these include sculptors, painters, architects and even pilots. This type of intelligence is also an absolute necessity to the creation of new imagery which a great deal of people would have a hard time visualizing.

Prince, Purple Rain c/o Paramount Pictures

Musical intelligence

Musical intelligence is the ability to recognize differences in pitch, timbre, tone, and rhythm within a musical composition. The vast soundscape becomes a kind of playground for those musically attuned. They’re able to demonstrate a connection between the varied sounds, which allows them to reflect, reproduce and even create their own music.

Smarter faster: the Big Think newsletter
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday

This type of intelligence is mastered by musicians, composers and listeners who have a fine ear to the nuisances of sound.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers

SAN DIEGO, CA – SEPTEMBER 30: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up before a preseason game against the Denver Nuggets at Valley View Casino Center on September 30, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Kinesthetic intelligence

Bodily kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to manipulate exterior objects with the use of your body. A person with this type of intelligence has an incredible mind-body sense with excellent coordination. Athletes, surgeons and skilled laborers have developed kinesthetic abilities.


Former President of the United States, Barack Obama, addresses the Nordic Business Forum business seminar in Helsinki, Finland on September 27, 2018. (Photo by Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva / AFP) / Finland OUT

Interpersonal intelligence

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to interact with other people and effectively understand them. A whole host of both verbal and nonverbal cues of communication are needed to have a successful and meaningful interaction.

Things like being sensitive to other people’s moods and temperaments allow someone the ability to entertain multiple perspectives. Good politicians, teachers and actors all display this kind of intelligence.


Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple event on September 12, 2018, in Cupertino, California. – NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images

Intrapersonal intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability – as the Ancient Greek aphorism would say to “Know thyself.” People that are able to understand and control one’s thoughts and feelings can use this knowledge in directing their life. This ability is evident in philosophers, leaders and entrepreneurs. They rarely deceive themselves and are able to stay self-motivated in whatever it is they’re interested in.

We forget how unnatural a lot of formal education is. “Learning how to learn” requires bridging the gap between the abstract and the natural.

Up Next