We tend to use the word intelligent as a way of trying to define generally how smart someone is.
But the truth is, it isn’t that simple.
In fact, intelligence is incredibly multifaceted.
To give you an idea, scientists have identified over a thousand genes that are implicated in our intelligence.
There are many different ways in which people are clever.
This article will delve deeper to look at how we define intellect and the different types of intelligence.
How do you define intelligence?
Your intelligence is essentially your general cognitive abilities.
But you might be surprised to hear that there isn’t even a consensus on how to define intelligence.
Most definitions though tend to include these three elements:
- The ability to learn from experience
- The ability to recognize problems
- The ability to solve problems
But as you can see, that’s still quite a wide definition.
In a nutshell, it is your ability to gain and apply skills and knowledge.
In practical terms, that includes lots of elements such as your memory, abstract thought, reasoning, understanding, etc.
There are different ways to be smart
Our minds might automatically jump to the Einstein types when we contemplate intelligence.
But the reality is that being good at things like math and science is only one expression of it.
We see reflected all around us the different ways in which people are intelligent. But some can still go undervalued.
I recently wrote an article on the difference between intelligence and IQ (FYI: it’s a huge difference!).
In it, I gave the example of those people who we consider book-smart, but who seem totally lacking in common sense.
The world is full of these sorts of examples.
People who could write a symphony but may struggle to boil an egg. Those who could easily solve a complex puzzle, but are totally lacking in basic social skills.
We all excel in different areas and potentially struggle in others.
The complexities of intelligence mean that you’re not just smart or not smart — our intelligence shines in different ways.
And it’s these differences that intelligence types attempt to highlight and categorize.
How many types of intelligence are there?
The short answer is, more than you probably imagine.
But just like our definition of intelligence, this isn’t something that is universally agreed upon.
The theory of multiple intelligences was first introduced by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner.
In his 1983 book “Frames of Mind,” he argued that there are eight types of human intelligence.
Each one represents a different way people best process information.
This theory was later expanded to include one more type of intelligence, taking the total up to nine.
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Ok, so what are these nine different types of intelligence that have been identified?
Here are the different ways you can be intelligent according to the theory:
- Spatial intelligence
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
- Linguistic intelligence
- Logical-mathematical intelligence
- Interpersonal intelligence
- Intrapersonal intelligence
- Musical intelligence
- Naturalistic intelligence
- Existential intelligence
Let’s take a look at what they all mean in more detail.
1) Spatial intelligence: How well you can picture things in your mind’s eye
This type of intelligence is about how good at picturing and visualizing you are.
It’s your ability to think in multiple dimensions in an abstract way.
You have good spatial intelligence if:
- You are good at directions
- You’re good at parking
- You read maps and charts well
- You are good at doing jigsaw puzzles
- You are good with visual arts and videos
- You can easily recognize patterns
- You enjoy drawing, painting, and pictures
People in the following professions tend to have good spatial intelligence:
- Graphic designers
- Interior designers
- Aviation experts
2) Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: How well you use your body
This type of intelligence involves abilities we might not automatically think of as having anything to do with intellect:
Demonstrating physical and athletic prowess.
You have good body-kinesthetic intelligence if:
- You have good hand-eye coordination
- You have good dexterity
- You have good motor control
- You excel in sports and athletics
- You prefer to learn by doing than being told
- You enjoy making things with your hands
People in the following professions tend to have good body-kinesthetic intelligence
- Physical therapists
3) Linguistic intelligence: How good you are with language
These are arguably your natural communicators in the world.
This type of intelligence rests upon how well you use words, both in written form and verbally.
You have good linguistic intelligence if:
- You are good at writing
- You are good at crafting and telling stories
- You are good at reading
- You retain information well (whether it’s something you read or are told)
- You are good at explaining things
- You can be quite persuasive
- You are good at debating
People in the following professions tend to have good linguistic intelligence:
4) Logical-mathematical intelligence: how good you are at reasoning and using logic
Of all the intelligence types on the list, perhaps this is the one we may most classically associate with intelligence.
It’s the people I said earlier that we think of as “book smart”. It’s also the area of intelligence best identified through IQ tests.
Essentially it is how good you are at logically analyzing things, uncovering patterns, and investigating things scientifically.
You have good logical-mathematical intelligence if:
- You excel in problem-solving
- You are good at abstract thinking
- You can figure out complex math problems
- You like doing experiments
People in the following professions tend to have good logical-mathematical intelligence:
- Computer programmers
5) Interpersonal intelligence: How good you are with people
Maybe you’ve heard it said that someone is a “people person”. If so, then they probably rate highly for this next type of intelligence.
It’s how effectively you interact with others.
You have good interpersonal intelligence if:
- You are sensitive to others’ moods
- You are good at assessing emotions
- You can read people well
- You find it easy to understand and relate to people
- You’re good at seeing different points of view
- You are good at conflict resolution
- You communicate well, both verbally and non-verbally
People in the following professions tend to have good interpersonal intelligence:
- Therapists, psychologists, and coaches
6) Intrapersonal intelligence: How self-aware you are
This type of intelligence is all about the relationship you have with yourself.
It’s how well you pick up on your own feelings, thoughts, and ideas.
You have good intrapersonal intelligence if:
- You enjoy self-reflection
- You feel like you understand yourself
- You are always analyzing yourself
- You consider your relationships with other people
- You contemplate your own strengths and weaknesses
- You are prone to daydreaming
People in the following professions tend to have good intrapersonal intelligence:
- Therapists, psychologists, and coaches
7) Musical intelligence: How well you interpret sounds
This type of intelligence is defined by how easily you can identify patterns, rhythms, and sounds.
It involves all things musical such as rhythm, meter, pitch, tone, timbre, and melody.
You have good musical intelligence if:
- You pick up on sounds other people miss
- You’re a good singer
- You play an instrument
- You can easily recall songs and melodies
- You can get your head around musical structure
People in the following professions tend to have good musical intelligence:
- Music teachers
8) Naturalistic intelligence: How in tune you are with nature
This is one of the more recent additions to the types of intelligence and is defined by how well you understand the natural world around you.
That includes plants, animals, and the environment as a whole.
You have good naturalistic intelligence if:
- You like to learn about animals and different species
- You feel very in tune with nature
- You love outdoor activities like camping, climbing, hiking, swimming, and exploring
- You are fascinated by topics such as biology, zoology, and botany
- You are drawn to environmental issues
- You feel very nurturing toward the natural world
People in the following professions tend to have good naturalistic intelligence:
- Environmental campaigners and conservationists
9) Existential intelligence: How much you contemplate the deeper side of life
This type of intelligence was the last one to be added to the original list of types of intelligence.
If you are always pondering life, love, and the mysteries of the universe, then you most likely excel in this type of intelligence.
It’s all about the “big questions” in life.
You have good existential intelligence if:
- You enjoy contemplating the meaning of life
- You think a lot about where we go after we die
- You like to see things from another perspective
- You think a lot about other people and their wellbeing
- You think about how what you’re doing now will impact your future
- You wonder how people came to be here
People in the following professions tend to have good existential intelligence:
- Religious leaders
To conclude: Our attempt to categorize intelligence isn’t so easy
Gardner’s attempts to separate the many ways intelligence shows up have been controversial for some.
His critics argue there isn’t enough empirical evidence to support the idea of intelligence types.
But one of the strengths of the theory is that it encourages us to think outside the box when it comes to defining intelligence.
We aren’t tempted to narrowly define what being smart looks like.
Because the truth is that intelligence shows up in a whole rainbow of abilities and mental skills.