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Developmental Psychology and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Originally developmental psychology was concerned with infants and children (child psychology). Today, developmental psychology encompasses infants, children, adolescents, adults, and aging (the entire lifespan). Developmental psychology enhances other fields of psychology such as cognitive, comparative, ecological, and social psychology. This is accomplished through the areas of study in developmental psychology: motor-skills, other psycho-physiological processes, cognitive development (problem solving, moral understanding, and conceptual understanding), language acquisition, social development, personality development, emotional development, self-concept, and identity formation (1).

One of the great theorists in the area of developmental psychology is Howard Gardner. He has won several academic awards for his work, especially his work in multiple intelligences. He graduated from Harvard then became a professor there a few years later. His work in the study of multiple intelligences has been a catalyst in education and course design around the world. His book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, was listed as one of the top 50 psychology books (2). He was also listed in Fifty Modern Thinkers in Education (3).

Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple intelligences (1983), explains Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences which differentiates intelligence into diverse “modalities” rather than intelligence being a singular property. His theory concentrates on seven areas of intelligence: rhythmic (musical), spatial (visual), linguistic (verbal), logical (mathematical), kinesthetic (bodily), interpersonal, and intrapersonal. He later said that he also considered naturalistic and existential as intelligences (4). One belief is that everyone is good at something. Their intelligence may be very strong in one or more of the intelligences and very weak in others but everyone has their own individual way of thinking and learning.

An example is a young man that could not learn to read and write. He was pushed through the educational system as a “problem child”. He made it through the eighth grade without learning to read and write. It’s both amazing and sad that the educational system, at the time, could keep advancing someone who could not do the work. A couple of years after he dropped out of high school (early freshman year) he was filling out paperwork for his first bank account. When asked his middle name, he could not spell it. At the age of sixteen, he knew that this was a travesty.

He later got a job in construction and it was amazing how fast he picked up on the job. In block/brick laying, squaring the corners is very important and he was the best. His boss would call on him to do this on every new job. When calculating how many shingles would be needed to roof a building, he could calculate the amount within a few shingles (not packs). Had he had more attention while attending school, the teachers would have learned that both his spatial and logical intelligences were very high and designed his studies accordingly.

Not every learner (child or adult) should have their course built around them but they should have a course designed to meet the needs of the different intelligences. Discussion should include part or all of these (given time restraints): visuals, printed words, sound, motion, color, realia (real objects, not models), and varied instructional settings (5). These features in instructional design may not help every learner but they will help more than single-approach designs.

The outcome of this could be higher student retention because the student would be learning instead of giving up because the work was too hard or impossible for them to understand. Also, the likelihood of the student acting out in a rebellious way would be decreased. In most, not all, cases of bad behavior from a student, there is internal turmoil either from frustration of not understanding or from understanding so well that they become bored. The educational system needs to increase their awareness of this situation and design curriculum that will reach the majority of the students.

Whether the school is public, private, child, or adult; the classrooms are filled with unique individuals striving to learn. Their uniqueness should be taken into account in every phase of the academic process.

(1) List found on Wikipedia website under definition of definition of “developmental psychology”,
(2) Tom Butler-Bowdon (2007). “Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind” in 50 Psychology Classics. London & Boston: Nicholas Bradley.
(3) M. Kornhaber (2001). Palmer, Joy, ed. “Howard Gardner” in Fifty Modern Thinkers in Education. New York: Routledge.
(4) Howard Gardner (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books
(5) www,

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