How Are You Smart?

Critical thinking reveals the influences of multiple intelligences

Posted Jul 26, 2017

 Luskin Learning Psychology Series, No. 38                         

 How Are You Smart?

The Media Psychology Effect Explores Multiple Intelligences, Diverse Learning Styles, the Importance of Identity and Tranformation as ingredients for Pathways to Success

                                                       by Dr. Bernard Luskin

     Before 1967 and Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s study titled Project Zero, the public largely accepted the idea that one's intelligence could be easily measured by a test resulting in an Intelligence quotient number (IQ). The IQ test, developed at the beginning of the 20th century by French psychologist Alfred Binet, became the standard means of assessment to determine how smart you were. A high IQ score meant that you were smart, A low score…well, you understand the implication. A high IQ number opened doors to many opportunities in life and a low IQ number frequently limited one’s opportunities.

     Project Zero led the way in popularizing the concept of multiple intelligences (MI) and the premise that individuals may have different types of specific intelligence with the potential for a high degree of development, allowing one to excel in a particular field but not necessarily to that same high degree in another field (Gardner, 1989). Gardner’s project postulated that the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical “general” intelligence, normally measured by IQ tests, might not be the best measure of a person’s life or career potential. Today, the concept of multiple intelligences is widely acknowledged. However, traditional methods of assessing and quantifying general intelligence and aptitude by assigning a number score continue to be a major influence in our decision making systems

      To be sure, IQ testing may be reasonably accurate at predicting how well you can do on certain school subjects but a score number that quantifies verbal and mathematic skill may not be the best assessment tool to gauge your artistic, environmental or emotional abilities. The single number IQ does not accurately measure your ability to compose a symphony, win a political campaign, conceive an architectural design, or manage difficult situations and difficult people.

     If you accept the premise of multiple intelligence then you must reframe the question from “How smart are you?” to “How are you smart?” This will give you a way to identify areas where you have your higher abilitiesl.

     The emergence multiple intelligence theories, the acceptance of diversity in learning, alternative learning styles and the possibility of different measures of success are challenges as the metrics and analytics used in identifying, defining and measuring student success evolve. It is interesting to look at what is being examined in the perspective of multiple intelligence and see if the metrics are statistically accurate and the results measures what is relevant when applying the analytics to achievvement or accomplishment. When using statistics it is always important to be aware that you can be statistically accurate and actually wrong.

Critical Thinking and Multiple Intelligences

     The acceptance of multiple intelligences expands our view of the nature of intelligence.

     Multiple intelligences provide an effective common sense approach to what intelligence really means. Today there is wide agreement that the achievements of iconic figures such as Mozart, Henry Ford, Gandhi, Einstein or Churchill display examples of different types of intelligence. It is increasingly acknowledged that we each have different combinations of ways in which to be intelligent (Gardner, 1993). The emerging view is that success comes from refining and utilizing combinations of specific intelligences across a lifetime. This type of thinking should be considered in evolving definitions of student success or pathways to success in careers or in life.

Multiple intelligence in a nutshell

     All human beings may possess a unique blend of any number of specific intelligences. Isaac Asimov told me at dinner one evening that he felt that there could be a hundred types of intelligence. Gardner has argued that that some types of intelligence are associated with the arts; others may be identified as personal intelligences, and some as emotional or environmental intelligences.

Examples of some of the intelligences include:

Linguistic intelligence, Logical-mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, visual-spatial intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, emotional intelligence, environmental intelligence, and there are more.

Diversity of Learning Styles

     Different intelligences, life requirements and environments also support the idea of diverse learning styles. Therefore, the acceptance of multiple intelligences also presents a significant challenge to established traditional educational models. If you accept the idea that a person can combine a unique array of specific intelligences, or abilities, you would need to accept that there is a need for a wide variety of learning approaches to enable an individual to realize his or her potential. My point is that diversity in learning styles requires taking into account the specialness of each individual.

     It can be argued that MI theory now has growing acceptance because it mixes well with the current self-esteem movement. If Ann doesn’t do very well in algebra but can play the piano beautifully, she is as intelligent as Mary who gets straight A's in math. The theory may seem to support the egalitarian view that no one is superior to anyone else in terms of being smarter…just different. Implementation of the theory may require much time and be expensive. For instance, a typical project to teach about the ocean might ask the learner to write about sea life (linguistic intelligence), draw a sea creature (spatial intelligence), role play a sea creature (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence), use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast ships (logical intelligence), produce sounds by tapping glasses containing different amounts of water (musical), or work with a group to design a ship (interpersonal intelligence). One of the difficulties with accepting the theory of multiple intelligences is that each type of intelligence may be difficult to assess one way or the other and some specific types of intelligence, such as experiential, existential, intuitive or emotional are hard to measure.

To me, MI theory makes sense. Multiple intelligences have been widely accepted and little by little, formal education is evolving to acceptance.


     In an interview with Stedman Graham, a leading author and figure in promoting pathways to success, I realized that Stedman is one who has not allowed the challenges of his past circumstances to dictate his future. His position in our conversation was that one should “…live out of your imagination and not your history.” He told me about a Gallup survey revealing that about 25% of Americans feel they are victims of circumstance. The California Dream Act is recent legislation taking center stage as a pathway to education for immigrants and is an example of an effort to address this situation. Graham’s primary theme is that you can make success happen by finding your motivation and linking it to your specific intelligence. He is eloquent about using the formidable tool set you are born with to help you achieve what you desire.

     Many key theorists reinforce the theme that motivation and the search for self-actualization offer the pathway to success in careers and in life. You can learn much from appllying your own critical thinking to the foundational works of Abraham Maslow, Edward De Bono, Howard Gardner, Robert and Judith Wright, Carl Rogers and others who have taught me by helping me to understand that positive thinking and the will and desire for personal transformation are the essential elements for planning and achieving ones successful future.

Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Self-talk, Positive Psychology and Your Glass Half Full

     Neurolinguistic Programing (NLP) arose out studies of how verbal and non-verbal language can affect your nervous system and the way you feel. The premise of NLP is that we can control our nervous system so that our responses and actions, though seemingly “natural responses,”, are actually programmed by our behavior and our thinking. We can intentionally program ourselves because we each experience the world subjectively and are able to create our own representations of our own unique experiences.  My belief is that self-talk, positive psychology and a “glass half full” approach is healthy and foundational to enabling those with motivation to achieve success.

Transformational Leadership and Coaching

     Dr. Robert (Bob) Wright,  is CEO of the Wright Graduate University and a leader in articulating the importance of transformational leadership and coaching. He is a primary proponent of positive psychology and Dr. Judith Wright, Chief Academic Officer of the university has globalized the position that positive thinking can help overcome soft addictions and is a blueprint to achieve personal transformation(Wright, 2013).

What needs to change and what needs to remain the same?

     There are many challenges ahead for the application of positive psychology to issues of diversity, multiple intelligences and social circumstances for the purpose of changing and improving higher education. Today we hear about Massive Online Open Courses ( MOOCs) as part of the trend towards access and reduced costs for learning. Others urge reframed definitions of time and money, explaining that “education on demand” via online learning leaves more flexible time for students to earn more money to pay the higher fees and that it opens the door for those at different stages of life and responsibility. In a sense, we have now begun talking about “lifestyle learning.” In various media we hear about Global e-Learning. That “e” is generally meant to refer to electronic, because of the internet and cloud, but also it should also be synonymous with exciting, effective, energetic, emotional and extended learning, all encased within the broader definitions of eLearning (Luskin, 2002). It should also be extended to the acceptance of alternative learning styles and multiple intelligences each of which are factors in today’s discussions.

     Media provides a vehicle for learning. Marshall McLuhan appropriately said, “The media is the massage” (McLuhan, 1985). Learning is at the center of our 21st century global changes. We must continue to refine our thinking and study the question, “How are you smart?”

    To plan for the future, if you use critical thinking in consiering the nature of intelligence, of alternative learning styles, the implications of culture and the diversity of technology and access, my question to you is, “What needs to change and what needs to remain the same?”


Dr. Bernard Luskin has served as Chancellor, President and CEO of eight colleges and universities. He is President-Emeritus of The Society for Media Psychology and Technology, Division 46 of the American Psychological Association, and Professor, Applied Psychology at the Wright Graduate University. Bernie Luskin has been Chairman of the Board of the American Association of Community Colleges and CEO of divisions of Fortune 500 companies, including Philips Interactive Media and Jones Education Networks. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and School Psychologist.

Contributors: Thanks to Dr. Toni Luskin, and Ms. Andrea Rambo for their help in preparing and posting this article.


Bandler, R., Grinder, J. (1979). Frogs Into Princes: Neurolinguistic Programming. San Francisco: Real People Press.

Gardner, H. (1989). Frames of Mind (2 ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1993). Creating Minds. New York: Basic Books.

Graham, S. (1997). You Can Make It Happen. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Luskin, B. J. (2002). Casting the Net Over Global Learning (1 ed. Vol. 1). Los Angeles: Griffin.

McLuhan, M. (1985). The Medium Is the Massage (5th ed. ed.). Toronto: Ginko Press Inc.

Wright, J., Wright, B. (2013). Transformed; The Science of Spectacular Living (1st ed. ed.). Nashville: Turner Publishing Company.