IQ vs. Multiple Intelligences and Assessment

Written 2001

Formatted 2009

  Recent research has led to a recognition that should have been obvious all along, that intelligence is not a single concept, but that there are many types of intelligence within the human mind. This recognition has been termed "Multiple Intelligences."  
The leading theory of multiple intelligences is the theory developed by Howard Gardner which breaks human cognition into 7 to 9 intelligences. Each intelligence is its own dimension separate from the other intelligences.

Multiple Intelligences:


Invalidity of Addition

The recognition that intelligence is made of separate dimensions, intelligences, invalidates IQ theory. IQ theory views intelligence as one single dimension. The measuring of IQ is done linearly, in one dimension. IQ testing simply adds the various components together, much as one might add each new coin in a collection, or each new gallon of gas put in your tank. Scoring IQ tests involves adding in a single dimension.

However, since intelligence is multidimensional, it makes no sense to add linearly in one dimension. Use a box as an analogy. Measure the length of its sides and add those numbers together. What useful information do you now have? None really! Boxes of many different sizes and shapes will all give the same linear measure.

Many who work in education would like to discard the inane obsession with trying to describe something as complex as intelligence with a single number. It doesn't really make sense to take a multidimensional, nonlinear, complex system, like intelligence, and sum it up with a single number. However, since so many people want a single number answer, below are some comments on more reasonable measures.

A jab: Mensa, the organization of people who believe themselves intelligent , use the linear addition of the IQ paradigm to reduce the multidimensional aspects of intelligence to a single number. What should we make of the most intelligent people using a mathematically invalid procedure to describe themselves?

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Vector Concept

If you are measuring a container, such as a box, or how far can a given mind reach, there are a few questions you can ask. One would be, "what is the longest object I could put in that box?" Or, "what is the longest distance across this container?" In mathematics, this idea is known as a vector. Assuming your box to be rectangular you may measure the edges and then use the Pythagorean theorem to determine this distance:

L^2 + W^2 + H^2 = D^2.

To apply this idea to intelligence, would require measuring each intelligence separately and vector addition to add the intelligences together. This implies you are asking the question, "What is the farthest that this mind can reach?" (A pretty brazen question, isn't it?)

Volume Concept

Another question you might ask about your container is, "How much can it hold?" This is known as volume. Again addition won't do the trick. If your container is rectangular you can find volume by measuring each dimension and multiplying those numbers together: V = LWH.

To apply this to intelligence, would require measuring each intelligence independently, and then multiplying those numbers together. This would be to ask the question, "How much understanding can this mind hold?" Notice this is a different question.

Vector math:



Both the vector concept and the volume concept carelessly assume that the separate intelligences will function together. Although this is a weak assumption, it would replace the clearly faulty assumption that intelligence exists in a single dimension.

Also, intelligence is only as good as the culture and environment it must function in. Each culture places different value on different strengths and intelligences. America places inconsistent emphasis on the intelligences. In school, language and math are the two most emphasized intelligences, but interpersonal and kinesthetic tend to be unsupported, even opposed. In business, interpersonal tends to be the most valuable intelligence, and some highly paid careers depend primarily on kinesthetic intelligence.


  • Measuring intelligence linearly in one dimension is mathematically invalid.
  • It is best not to reduce any multidimensional, complex system, such as intelligence, to a single number.
  • But vector math and volume math are valid measures of simple multidimensional systems.

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