What types of intelligences are there?
Each psychological theory of intelligence has its own specific number and its own specific IQ test models to measure intelligence. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences states there are 8 independent intelligences. But the most accepted theoretical models, the factorial theories of intelligence, say otherwise. Thurstone and later Carroll, building up on Spearman’s theory, established 8 primary intellectual abilities as well, whilst in the model used by the Wechsler (WAIS) IQ Test, there are just 4.
Depending on the theory or the framework used to understand intelligence, the number of “intelligences” is one or the other.
The only factor or intelligence that is “constant” and immutable across most of these theories is G or general intelligence, which would be the cognitive ability that sits at the top of all the others.
In order to understand what “types of intelligence there are” and what they mean, we need to understand what the term itself, “types of intelligence” means, especially from a psychometric point of view.
Let’s dive in!
What are “types of intelligence”?
What defines that an intelligence or cognitive ability is different and unique from the rest?
“Types of intelligence” is a term used by the general public to refer to the different cognitive abilities and skills humans have, like spatial intelligence, mathematical intelligence, and so on. This is true as well in psychology, and what people call “types of intelligence” are in reality measurable psychometric factors, although the connotations of the definition will vary depending on the theory of intelligence we use as the frame of reference.
In Gardner’s theory of intelligence, these “types of intelligence” are completely independent among them. According to him, there is not one single intelligence, but several different ones. He hypothesized a set of 8 different intelligences, and he claimed all of them were independent, that is, people could be “smart” in some intelligences/areas and dumb in others.
However, there is strong psychological and psychometric evidence that this is not the case.
Gardner’s theory is widely considered invalid due to the lack of evidence it has, indeed, all the available research points in the opposite direction to what Gardner claimed.
The theory that has gotten the most support is the three-stratum theory of intelligence.
Simply put, there is just one intelligence, and it’s called G, which stands for general intelligence.
However, there are other different cognitive sub-abilities as well and there are specific types of cognitive tests to measure each of them individually. But the greatest difference with Gardner’s theory is that, in reality, these cognitive sub-abilities are not independent, instead, they are correlated among themselves.
These other cognitive sub-abilities are correlated among themselves, meaning that “smarter” (smarter in G) people are also smarter in all of these sub-intelligences on average, whilst the opposite is also true.
However, as we explained before and as we touched upon on our article about whether IQ measures intelligence, that correlation is not perfect. If it was, it would not make any sense to say that those sub-abilities exist; they would in reality be all exactly the same thing.
Think about it. If you were trying to measure X and Y, and you realized any values X takes are also taken by Y, and it happens absolutely always, wouldn’t that mean X and Y are the same thing?
Psychologists do not understand the neurological mechanisms of intelligence yet, the best we can do is to try to study it from the framework of psychometrics.
Psychometrics aims to understand how things work by statistically measuring observable human traits, or in other words, by statistically measuring the external and observable outcome of those neurological mechanisms we cannot see.
If the measured outcomes of X and Y are always the same, then that means they are indeed the same (remember we don’t know what X and Y are, because we cannot see the brain and its processes from within, we can only measure the external outcomes of those processes from the outside).
If, however, X and Y are the same only 50% of the time/measurements, then we know they somehow have something to do with each other. They are correlated in some way, but at the same time, they also have a certain degree of independence from each other.
So that’s exactly the case with these “subintellectual abilities” in the G theory of intelligence.
They are correlated to a certain degree. And that correlation indicates that they share something/some mental processes in common, which is called G.
These “types of intelligence” are also different than the ones Gardner envisioned. For instance, Gardner thought that there is such thing as “musical intelligence”, among many others. Well, these in reality do not exist; they have not been observed to exist as “cognitive abilities”. Indeed, some of the things Gardner called “intelligences” are in reality skills, skills built upon other cognitive abilities, such as working memory or spatial intelligence.
Coming back to the original question, “types of intelligence” are the different cognitive tasks that can be psychometrically measured and that correlate with G but still present a certain degree of uncorrelation/independence.
“Types of intelligence” are cognitive tasks that possess a certain degree of uncorrelation from other “intelligences/cognitive abilities”, leading to the existence of several “types”, for instance, spatial intelligence would be one type of “intelligence” or “cognitive ability” and working memory, the ability for short-term recall and storage of information, would be another one.
They can be measured alone, independently of G or general intelligence, but they are correlated to and dependent on G.
Each theory of intelligence has its own number or classification of these “different types of cognitive abilities”, and most of them include the same types but with different names or slight variations in meaning or the way they are classified.
As mentioned before, one of the most popular theories claiming the existence of multiple intelligences is Gardner’s. In the next section, we are going to introduce and describe it, keep in mind it has no empiric support at all.
What intelligences are there according to Gardner?
According to Gardner’s theory, there were 7 basic types of intelligence, which are independent from one another. An 8th intelligence was added later.
1. Linguistic intelligence:
Linguistic Intelligence is a part of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory. It refers to the ability to process and produce information of linguistic nature. People with high linguistic intelligence are better at learning languages, writing, or speaking. An example of people with outstanding linguistic abilities would be William Shakespeare, Oprah Winfrey, or the Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson.
People with high linguistic intelligence will usually tend to choose careers in which this ability is central to the performance of the job. These include law, journalism, or writing.
2. Logical-Mathematical intelligence:
Logical-Mathematical intelligence refers to the ability to process information of logical and mathematical nature, as well as to solve mathematical problems and operations. People with high mathematical intelligence are better at developing and solving complex and abstract problems. Two examples of people with high levels of this intelligence would be Albert Einstein and Bill Gates.
All the careers requiring high logical skills are a good choice for people with high levels of logical-mathematical ability, these include computer science, engineering or math, among others.
3. Spatial intelligence:
Spatial intelligence is a powerful construct. It is present in Gardner’s theory as well as in other theories of intelligence, including the G theory, which is the most valid one to date. It has been proven to be tightly related to general intelligence and to be a very strong predictor of success and performance in engineering.
Spatial intelligence refers to the mental ability to visualize, understand and manipulate information of visual and spatial nature, such as 2D and 3D objects. Visualizing things in your mind makes use of this ability. Two good examples of people with high spatial intelligence would be Frank Lloyd Wright and Amelia Earhart. According to Gardner, people with high spatial intelligence should be best fit for careers in which this ability is at the core of the application of knowledge and skill, such as in architecture, design, engineering, and science. Surgeons, for instance, need to have high levels of spatial intelligence for their jobs.
4. Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence:
This intelligence is known for being part of Gardner’s. It is the ability and skill to use one’s own body to solve problems. It could be understood as the ability to perform accurate movements with one’s body in relationship to the surrounding environment.
Some good examples of this intelligence would be NBA players, like Michael Jordano r LeBron James.
The careers that are most suited to these people are those of sport or athletic nature.
5. Musical intelligence:
As the name itself points out, musical intelligence refers to the ability to process and produce musical information, such as notes or tones.
People who have high musical intelligence, such as Beethoven and Ed Sheeran, have an incredible ability to recognize and create musical pitch, rhythm, timbre, and tone.
Some of the potential career choices of this group of people could include DJ, singer, or composer.
6. Interpersonal intelligence:
It is the ability to understand other people’s intentions, desires, and motivations. That is, it is the ability to relate to others.
Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa could be good examples of people with high interpersonal intelligence.
Career paths such as sales, psychology, or HR, are good potential options for people who are high in this skill.
7. Intrapersonal intelligence:
It is the human capacity to introspect, understand, regulate and tame oneself. For instance, the ability to delay instant gratification could be a good example of a manifestation of this ability.
Aristotle and Maya Angelou are good examples of people with high intrapersonal intelligence. They have a heightened ability to recognize and understand their own moods, desires, motivations, and intentions.
Some potential career paths for people who are high in this ability could include therapist, entrepreneur, and counselor, among others.
8. Naturalist intelligence:
This intelligence was added later to Gardner’s theory. It refers to the skill to recognize and classify species of flora and fauna. Charles Darwin would be a remarkable example of someone with this type of intelligence. The occupations that are most suited for these people are botanist, biologist, meteorologist, or geologist, among others.
Is Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences true?
Gardner’s theory was never validated and it absolutely lacks evidence and support. Therefore, no, Gardner’s theory is not true, and it was acknowledged by Gardner himself.
Many people find the idea that there are several intelligences very appealing because it breaks with the less attractive idea of IQ determinism and opens the possibility of being smart to everyone (thus it is also a framework of beliefs that serves to protect one’s ego); according to Gardner, everyone can be smart in his own way.
But as previously mentioned and outlined, it is false that there are several intelligences, at least in the way Gardner described them.
What psychology has observed is that there is only one intelligence; general intelligence or G, which refers to the human ability to reason logically.
It is true that there are other cognitive abilities other than G, but all of them are interrelated, which means that they are, to a certain degree, the same, that is, they are manifestations of G.
Note we wrote “to a certain degree”, this is because they also possess a determined degree of independence, which leads to the fact that there can be people of equal intelligence who are good at certain things whilst other people who are bad or average at those things but good in other realms.
So what different types of intelligence are there according to the valid theories?
There are many valid frameworks that have different classifications. Some tests used in schools use math, linguistical and spatial ability subtests to infer G (general intelligence) and to give an overview of the cognitive aptitudes of the test-taker, whilst others use cognitive abilities such as working memory or abstract reasoning items to infer it.
Also, some of the classifications established by these theories can be very similar in the concepts or constructs (that is, in the intelligences) they include, but might differ in how they organize/classify them hierarchically.
You might still be feeling surprised, wondering how it is possible that several theories that state different things can all be valid at the same time.
Well, it is possible.
The thing is, there is only one intelligence, G, which manifests itself through many of the different skills and cognitive abilities, and aptitudes humans have. All of these theories recognize that basic truth.
Someone who is smart will be good at language, math, spatial reasoning, working memory, and so on.
And the list goes on. There are many different types of cognitive tasks, and all of them are to a greater or to a lesser extent influenced by G.
This means that G can be measured from many different angles or sub-abilities/aptitudes/skills.
Let’s say that there are 20 different cognitive abilities that are significantly related to G, and one theory picks 5 of them to estimate G and another one picks other different 5 of them which are equally related to G.
Both would be valid to estimate G and to generate a cognitive profile of the test-taker.
You can pick any set of abilities, skills, or aptitudes you want to infer G, as long as they are significantly correlated to G.
Some tests measure essentially the same intelligences, but through different types of items.
Therefore, roughly speaking, we can conclude that there are as many “subintelligences” as skills, cognitive abilities, and aptitudes that are related to G there are (roughly speaking).
However, the most widely accepted, valid, and used theory/framework is the three-stratum theory. It is the most accepted and reliable classification of all these different cognitive abilities that there are.
Types of intelligence according to the three-stratum theory
According to the three-stratum theory, the different intelligences/cognitive abilities there are, are:
- Fluid Reasoning
- Comprehensive Knowledge
- Visual Processing/Spatial Intelligence
- Auditory Processing
- Processing Speed
- Working Memory
- Long-term Memory
- and Quantitative Ability
1. Fluid Reasoning
Fluid reasoning could be defined as the mental ability to apply logical rules or knowledge to new situations or problems. It is a synonym for abstract thinking. It is the cognitive ability that is most tightly correlated with G or general intelligence; from a psychometric point, they are basically the same thing. Indeed, it is possible to infer someone’s IQ or G by just measuring his Fluid Reasoning ability, that is basically what the Raven’s Progressive Matrices does.
2. Comprehensive Knowledge
Comprehensive knowledge also referred to as crystallized intelligence, is the amount of knowledge of an individual coming from prior learning. In other words, it is the amount of knowledge an individual has gathered throughout his lifespan. Research has shown people with higher IQs (that is, with higher levels of Fluid Reasoning) tend to have higher levels of crystallized intelligence.
3. Visual Processing
Also referred to as Spatial Intelligence, is the ability to think, perceive and process information of visual and spatial nature. It also involved the ability to recall visual representations via imagery and visual memory.
4. Auditory Processing
It is the ability to process information of auditive nature, to process sound. Some of the sub-cognitive abilities included would be Oral Language Comprehension, Phonetic Coding (the ability to hear phonemes distinctly), Resistance to Auditory Stimulus Distortion, Speech Sound Discrimination, and Memory for Sound Patterns, among others. It correlates with IQ and cognitive ability, however, this aspect of cognition is usually not measured in IQ tests.
5. Processing Speed
Processing Speed is basically the speed at which an individual is able to process information of different natures (eg: spatial and verbal), and it is a very important aspect of overall intelligence and cognition.
6. Short-Term Memory
It is the ability to actively keep in one’s mind information for a short period of time. It would be the equivalent of the RAM memory of computers. Working Memory, would be the ability to not only hold that information but also to manipulate it. Both cognitive abilities Working Memory and Short Term Memory are almost part of the same mental processes; they are linked organically and very interrelated.
7. Long-term Retrieval
Contrary to short-term memory, long-term memory (also called long-term retrieval) is the mental ability to store, consolidate and retrieve information/knowledge over long periods of time. It is what is referred to in a popular way as “Memory” or “Having a good memory”.
8. Quantitative Ability
It is the cognitive ability that allows us to process numerical information and perform operations of mathematical nature. It correlates with General Intelligence (G), but it also correlates in an independent way with success in certain areas, such as math or any other areas that involve the use of math.
Muhammad Ovais is Ph.D. from Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), National Center for Nanoscience and Technology of China. His research interests are in Neurodegenerative diseases, Nanomedicines and Biomaterials. He is the recipient of over 30 international awards including, 2019 Outstanding International Researcher by the Ministry of Education, China and 2019 Premium Award for Best Research Paper by IET-Institution of Engineering and Technology, UK. He owns to his credit over 60 scientific articles including research studies, reviews, editorials and book chapters in peer-reviewed journals/publishers such as, Advanced Materials-Wiley, NanoToday-Elsevier, Nanomedicine-Future Medicine, with h-index of 30. He is the co-founder of Synthon Nanotech, a Netherlands based Startup Company developing peptides and also working as a Tech Ethicist for a US based company GenoEmote; that is developing novel Brain-Computer Interface technologies.