Last Updated 20 Dec 2022

A Comparison of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner and Triarchic Theory of Intelligence by Robert Sternberg

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Over the years psychologists have been searching for the answer to a seemingly obvious question, how does one define intelligence? In common speech the word intelligent is interchangeable with smart, bright, brilliant and a host of other words that are have the connotation of meaning good at school, specifically math and science. People who excel in these subjects are usually highly valued and praised be their teachers, if not their peers, and are told that they will be successful in life because they are intelligent individuals, but what about their classmates, do they lack intelligence? Does the child who consistently out preforms them in art class not have as much intelligence as them? What about the child who can argue circles around his "intelligent" classmates in a literary paper, is he unintelligent?

Modern psychology answers no, they are all very intelligent, but in different ways. This does raise a new question, how exactly does intelligence work. Two of the leading theories of intelligence today are Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences and Robert J. Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Both of these theories state that there are multiple kinds of intelligence and that one may is usually gifted in one area and generally is not as well suited to others, however there are some major differences between the two. Gardner acknowledges eight seven types of intelligence while Sternberg acknowledges three. Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences is better able to explain the widely divergent types of skills present in humans because of its more extensive intelligence types.

Sternberg's first type of intelligence is the componential/analytical type, which is, in short, is the ability to pick apart problems and solve them in ways that are hard to see. According to this model, analytically gifted people are exceedingly good at solving challenging puzzles, but lack creativity; they receive good grades and are considered "smart" by their teachers and peers (Sternberg, 32). There are a few problems with this idea, however. One famous example of someone who was undeniably analytically intelligent is John Nash, the famous mathematician, who was able to solve incredibly complex problems in ways no one thought were possible, and he had an obsession with creating original work, he almost did not graduate Harvard because he could not find something original enough to right a dissertation on (A Beautiful Mind).

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Also, there are many people who are not good at school but fit this model. People with an inclination towards counseling and therapy typically do not excel in school, especially in math and science, but they solve complex emotional problems and typically they do not come up with original ideas. Gardner explains this by saying that those with an inclination towards counseling are usually interpersonally or intrapersonally intelligent and so they are able to understand the nature of the mind better than others, but are not necessarily very good at solving complex problems in other fields, a math equation for example (Jacobus 518-519). Another type of intelligence proposed by Gardner is the logical-mathematical type, which has to do with abstract thinking, numbers and critical thinking (Jacobus, 513-14).

Also, spatial intelligence describes people who are good at navigating and using maps (Jacobus 515). This is not something that is taught in school and while interesting and unconventional routes to a destination can be created by the spatially intelligent, there is no room for originality in the process of getting from point A to point B. So as has been demonstrated, there are three distinct types of intelligence in the Gardner model that are present within Sternberg's componential/analytical type of intelligence, and there are also examples of exceptions to his definition, which shows how much more accurate the Gardner model really is.

The second type of intelligence present in the Sternberg model is the experimental/creative type. This is supposedly the type of intelligence responsible for creativity and being able to solve novel problems and it is often found in those who study the arts (Sternberg, 54). This type of intelligence is more correct in that it acknowledges that people with widely divergent skill sets may have it. For example, it could be correctly stated that a scientist who solves the problem of how to support life on Mars, a very novel problem that involves originality, is gifted in experimental/ creative intelligence, and based on the definition this would be valid. However, a musician who composes a symphony could also be said to have this kind of creative intelligence and this would also be correct. Creativity is not unique to any one area of study, some require it more than others but all allow room for it. Likewise, lack of creativity can be found in every field as well.

Modern pop music, for example, is almost completely devoid of creativity. While creativity is undeniably an important skill calling it a type of intelligence seems a bit of a stretch, after all, all improvisation has to stem from some knowledge of the subject, one does not simply wright and eloquent, creative story with no background knowledge of the writing process or language. The Gardner model is based on fields of study rather than broad terms that can be found anywhere one looks. In this case the Gardner model and the Sternberg model do complement each other to a certain extent, there can be people who are mathematically intelligent in the Gardner model who are also creatively intelligent in the Sternberg model, and likewise those who do not have creative intelligence can still be spatially intelligent, but including the measurement of creative intelligence in the Gardner intelligence model feels unnecessary.

While the idea of creative intelligence is a valid one and it does seem to exist the Gardner model divides individuals in to much more specific groups of intelligence types which better defines what the individuals in those groups would probably good at.

The third type of intelligence in Sternberg's theory is the practical/contextualintelligence. This type of intelligence is basically a measure of how well one is able to apply the previous two types of intelligence in his model, in colloquial terms this is usually referred to as "street smart”.

This type of intelligence applies to those who are not particularly good problem solvers and are not very creative, but they know how to do well in life despite this, examples of this may be people who, while not particularly knowledgeable in a subject, have effective methods of study and are able to do well on tests or people who are able to impress employers in an interview despite being under qualified for the position (Sternberg, 84). While street smarts are undeniably important it does not seem like it is a type of intelligence in and of itself. How one uses their knowledge seems to have more to do with their personality than there level of intelligence.

To use the two previous examples, the reason one person developed more effective study habits may be because they are simply a studious or someone who is obsessed with their grades and so they will have spent more time studying and developing effective strategies than their peers who either understand the material naturally and do not require as much study time or those who simply do not care as much about their grades. Also, someone who is able to do well with job interviews may simply be a very personable individual who is comfortable in that setting, not necessarily someone who uses a type of intelligence to manipulate the interviewer.

Many of the traits Sternberg uses to describe people with this type of intelligence can also be used to describe the interpersonal and intrapersonal types of intelligence present in Gardner's model of intelligence. For example interpersonal intelligence can explain how one is easily able to read others and interact with them so easily. While the idea of practical intelligence certainly has some logic to it, it seems far more likely that it is simply the person's personality, rather than their intelligence, that explains all of these traits.

As was said before, the Gardner theory lists seven distinct types of intelligence that are present in humans. The Sternberg model includes all of these seven types, in vaguer terms, except for one. The idea of kinesthetic intelligence is not present in the Sternberg theory, which is a major flaw. Most people do not see athletics as a kind of intelligence, partly because athletes are often stereotyped as not doing well in school and because in most cases the basic rules of a sport are easy to understand and follow.

However, athletics require one to know their own bodies, be aware of their abilities and have extreme control over their movements (Jacobus, 512). There is some level of problem solving that goes on, though it happens so quickly it is not easily explainable by the person preforming the action. An example of this type of problem solving is throwing a football; the quarterback must decide which receiver has the best chance of catching the ball, the angle and distance he must throw the ball so the receiver will be there to catch it at the proper time, he must be aware of his surroundings to avoid the sack and sometimes he must throw the ball while in motion himself and adjust the throw for his own movement.

If one where to try to quantify all these things it would require an impressive knowledge of statistics, physics and geometry, but a professional quarterback makes them in a matter of seconds, in his head at least fifty times in a single game. This is a type of intelligence that is not easily taught which is why some discount it as a type of intelligence, but the skills athletes use are so unique and require so much skill it seems impossible that it is anything but a form of intelligence. The inclusion of kinesthetic intelligence in the Gardner theory of intelligence shows that it is a more complete model of intelligence than the model set forth by Sternberg.

The two models of intelligence that have been discussed in this paper both explain why people are better suited to some things than others, but one is vague and does not explain the preference of one field of study over another in people who supposedly have the same intelligence type and the other divides intelligence by area of study, eliminating this problem. The Gardner model of intelligence is by far more accurate and useful for determining the intelligence type of an individual, which can be incredibly useful in education. The Sternberg model is simply to general and incomplete to be of much use.

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