Social is an Intelligence

March 6, 2010

Understanding Multiple Intelligences can be very useful in understanding ourselves, our children, and the people we work with. By understanding these intelligences we can help encourage strengths in others and help others develop skills to overcome or cope with areas of difficulty. According to Howard Gardner, there are 9 scientifically proven intelligences:

  1. Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  3. Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  4. Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  5. Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  6. Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  8. Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
  9. Existential intelligence (Deep Thinking)

Each intelligence uses different parts of the brain.

Being “social” can be defined as: “being with other people and thinking about them thinking about me”. As an intelligence, it comes more naturally to some than others. As with any intelligence, we can strengthen our abilities with practice.

What is often referred to as “people smart”, Gardner calls “interpersonal intelligence”. Most of us can identify which of these intelligences are our strong suits and which are not. “Logical Mathematical Reasoning” is one place I struggle. Many of the children I work with struggle with social skills, or interpersonal intelligence. Some only struggle because they have learned bad habits or haven’t had enough peer experience, guidance, and modeling to learn strong social skills. It’s not that they lack the intelligence, they just haven’t been exposed to the environments necessary to fully develop their intelligence. Even someone with a high aptitude for math may learn very little without attending school. Then there are those who, like me, have trouble learning math even with lots of extra help. Often these are the same people who, like me, might pass test after test with enough help but months later wouldn’t be able complete any of the  problems over again. With enough support I can learn to do complex mathematical formulas, but even though the “number smart” neurons in my brain are able fire, they don’t seem to make permanent pathways – or they just forget which pathways to take and get lost. I think many children are in a similar situation socially. With enough modeling, support, and peer experience, they can catch up to their peers socially so that they don’t stand out and they feel connected. However,  social skills get more complex each year of childhood development  and some kids need support year after year so they don’t fall behind or revert to old behaviors.

As an example, one child I’ve worked with who is diagnosed “asperger’s” begins each year of school as a “perimeter walker” (a child who walks the perimeter of a classroom, a group, or a playground but doesn’t interact). He may stop and watch and look like he’s ready to join, but he won’t. With support from home and small groups focused on teaching social skills and a 1:1 aid staying with him much of the day and encouraging him, he can and does begin to join groups and find people he can connect with. However, once the supports are reduced or a new year begins (with new faces and new routines), he will revert to the perimeter. His “people smart” neurons can fire but they also lose their way without enough practice and support. Unfortunately, the same is true with my “math smarts”.

NOTE: Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education:

Respectful Comments and Questions Encouraged

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