Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

Please compare and contrast Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences with Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence.

Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and Sternberg's triarchic theory of intelligence both propose that there are several different types of intelligence. Gardner's theory proposes that there are between seven and nine different types: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial-visual, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, naturalist, and existential. Sternberg's theory proposes that there are three different types: contextual, experiential, and practical.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence both indicate that there are many ways to be smart, and multiple dimensions of intelligence. Both men felt that traditional measures of intellect were too simplistic and sought to dig deeper into the different components of intellectual ability. Both theories also place greater significance on creativity than more traditional views on intellect. Despite broad similarities, however, the two theories are quite different. Generally speaking, Gardner’s theory is more of a departure from traditional views on intelligence than Sternberg’s is. The theory of multiple intelligences is more comprehensive, humanistic, and fluid—there are eight dimensions of intelligence compared to Sternberg’s three:

Theory of Multiple Intelligences:

  1. Verbal-linguistic intelligence: language based intelligence; the ability to (in writing or verbally) articulate ideas and understand written and verbal information
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence: analytical ability and critical thinking, closely connected to one’s level of competence in recognizing patterns in a set of data
  3. Spatial-visual intelligence: ability to make sense of images and spatial relationships
  4. Interpersonal intelligence: ability to understand others’ feelings and thoughts, and interact positively in a social environment
  5. Intrapersonal intelligence: self-awareness; degree of understanding of oneself and one’s motivations, reactions, and beliefs
  6. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: motor skills and physical ability
  7. Musical intelligence: musical talent based on the ability to recognize and implement different elements of music
  8. Naturalist intelligence: understanding of and ability to positively interact with the natural world (animals, plants, etc.)

Triarchic Theory of Intelligence:

  1. Contextual: most traditionally accepted measure of intelligence, largely focused on the ability to analyze and understand data; easily quantified with standardized tests and classic IQ tests
  2. Experiential: speculative, creative intelligence; the ability to come up with new ideas and innovative ways of solving problems. This dimension is focused on an individual’s aptitude at predicting outcomes, and on the creative process.
  3. Practical: real-world intelligence, largely focused on one’s ability to implement solutions and make decisions that result in positive outcomes

The elements of triarchic theory are in some ways analogous to certain types of intelligence in Gardner’s theory; but perhaps the most significant point of divergence between the two theories is that Gardner asserts that each type of intelligence is separate and distinct (although some may in reality be somewhat correlated). Being gifted in one area does not generally equate to high intelligence across the board. Lower aptitude in certain areas than others does not indicate lower intelligence on the whole. In contrast to Gardner’s viewpoint, Sternberg’s dimensions of intelligence are just that—dimensions, that when considered in combination give a more comprehensive view of cognitive ability. It should be noted that in triarchic theory, the three types of intelligence are not unrelated. This theory is also more amenable to being measured with more traditional tests of intellect. The theory of multiple intelligences is a bit harder to quantify than triarchic theory. It also allows educators to better tailor instruction to the needs of individual students, in that it is far more focused on the whole person rather than cognitive ability alone.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sternberg and Gardner both expanded the idea of intelligence from the traditional idea of an IQ that can be measured in psychometric tests. According to Sternberg's triarchic model, there are three components of intelligence, which are also overlapping. The first component, referred to as "analytical," refers to the ability to use information to reason abstractly and is similar to the idea of IQ. The second component, synthetic, refers to the ability of someone to adapt to new situations and to generate creative ideas. This ability is not measured by traditional psychometric tests but can be essential to problem solving. The third ability, referred to as practical, involves molding one's environment and finding a good fit with one's environment. This ability can be thought of as having "street smarts" and the ability to use one's strengths to overcome one's weaknesses. Gardner believed that intelligence can be taught and is not static in nature.

Like Sternberg, Gardner believed that there are multiple kinds of intelligences. In his view, there are seven different intelligences, including linguistic, logical-mathematical, body/kinesthetic, musical, spatial, interpersonal, and interpersonal. People have different profiles with regard to these intelligences, and each person has strengths and weaknesses.  These intelligences are part of Sternberg's triarchic model. Both theories are similar in that they see intelligence as multi-faceted and dependent on context. They are different in that Sternberg defines intelligence, while Gardner looks at the ways in which intelligence is used. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both Gardner and Sternberg were interested in exploring exactly what it means to be "smart." Gardner took the notion of intelligence and broke it down into nine areas: musical-rhythmic, visual-spacial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential.

Sternberg also broke down intelligence, though he was less interested in kinds of intelligence and more interested in how different cognitive functions integrated together. He viewed intelligence as having three components: metacomponents that are our stream of consciousness directing our thoughts and actions, performance components that are the processes we carry out, and knowledge-acquisition components that govern how we learn.

One key distinction between the two exists in quantification. Gardner was still considering measuring levels of intelligence relative to one another, whereas Sternberg moved away from quantifying and towards qualifying. In other words, if the traditional question is how smart am I?, Gardner asked the question how am I smart? and Sternberg asked the question what is smart?

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg are experts in their field and there is a basic similarity between their theories in that they both believe in a broader definition of intelligence than traditionally recognized. Both believe there are far more complex functions involved.

Both men were  recognized as being exceptional from an early age.

An accomplished child pianist who considered playing piano professionally, Howard Gardner focused his research on

the nature of human intelligence, the nature of and development of abilities in the arts and how they relate to and reflect intelligence, and on educational processes.

Robert Sternberg showed his interest in the study of intelligence from a young age when, at age 12, having received low IQ scores due to his anxiety, he was able to use his own methods. In his seventh grade year he designed a test of his own -  "The Sternberg Test of Mental Ability."

Sternberg purports that life and experiences create a whole person through

a composition of creativity, emotional balance, and cognitive abilities

Gardner has a view that there is a strong link between specific brain function and ability in particular areas which identifies seven distinct types of intelligence and each person has a level of each. Critics of Gardners multiple intelligences, particularly Sternberg,  argue that evidence to prove his theory is lacking, mainly due to the link to culture and application in specific circumstances. Both men  do recognize the importance of cognitive abilities but differ on  interpretation. They both understand that a person can appear more intelligent in one field over another. Gardner focuses on academic ability far more than Sternberg.

Sternberg's theory then has a more practical application, helping people develop as a whole which, in turn will allow them to develop appropriately for their surroundings, regardless of their academic - or supposedly lack of academic- intelligence.

Sternberg is more widely acclaimed than Gardner as his theories have proven themselves simply in application, something that Gardner has been unable to do.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team