Are multiple intelligences a neuromyth?

Yesterday I read this complaint by Howard Gardner in the Washington Post:

More than 35 years ago, I introduced the theory of multiple intelligences, a critique of the notion of a single intelligence adequately probed by a single short answer test. In its place, I proposed that human beings have a number of relatively independent intellectual capacities. And in supporting this assertion, I drew on evidence from several scholarly disciplines, including the brain science of the day.

Never did I come close to asserting that these intelligences are inborn or genetic, or that they are completely independent of one another, or that people can be described as having one intelligence or another to the exclusion of the remaining ones. Nor did I make specific suggestions about education. I simply stated that individuals have different profiles of intelligences and that this claim should be taken into account when one is teaching, studying, assessing.

Yet, in an article published in 2019 in a well-regarded journal, I found multiple intelligences (MI) theory classified as a neural myth. And this article spurred me to look more carefully at how such myths are identified and dissected.

I have to agree, we didn’t call it a myth neither in our 2015 book and didn’t discuss it in our neuromyth section but in the (possible) myths about learning section. We also mentioned that Gardner has often complained that his theory has been misused as a kind of learning styles theory.

We concluded ‘nuanced’ stating:

We are more inclined to regard multiple intelligences as a kind of philosophy rather than a proven theory. We refrain from calling it a myth, but it is a theory that has the potential to become a myth, if taken too seriously.

But since our book, a lot has happened. In 2016 Gardner looked back at his professional and academic life and declared his theory as outdated and admitted that he never tested his theory.

So I agree with this tweet by Dan Willingham:


But while a lot of people have seen the first and last part of the tweet, I also agree with the middle part.

3 thoughts on “Are multiple intelligences a neuromyth?

  1. This is utterly ridiculous. NO THEORY IS EVER PROVEN. So when you state it is “not a proven theory” you have completely removed any credibility for discussing any issues of science. Multiple Intelligences is a myth.

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