Multiple Intelligences

As a teacher, one thing that’s drummed into you while you’re learning how to teach is that different people learn in different ways.

It’s an idea that I think could also be applied to readers – and used by authors thinking about how to target their books to a particular audience.

learning practical

Like all things to do with education, there’s a huge amount written on the subject – including a lot of jargon. (Educators just love complex theories that baffle the uninitiated.)

But the basic concept is pretty straightforward. For example, I like to learn through a mixture of reading, listening and doing. I don’t have a lot of patience with instruction sheets – I’m like the boy in the picture above, although I will look at the instructions when I’m not sure what to do next (or when it’s all gone wrong).

There are lots of terms that get bandied around but the important one here is multiple intelligences. This is the theory that the brain uses a number of different pathways to learn – and we each combine these ‘intelligences’ in different ratios.

The terms and number of intelligences vary. Some people list three main ones: auditory, visual and tactile. Others – like in the chart below – are more complex:learning multiple-intelligences-infographicBut the other day I started wondering whether we, as writers, can also apply the theory to our readers?

After all, everyone knows that literature is extremely subjective. Something that’s a work of art to me may well leave another person cold.

How much of that, though, is a reflection of our multiple intelligences? People don’t just learn in different ways, they also read in different ways.

Someone with a bias towards auditory (aural/musical) learning might well be the kind of person who verbalises a text – either literally reading out loud or hearing the words in their head. People who are logical/mathematical might like crime novels or anything involving a puzzle (as long as it makes sense and is properly explained).

A kinaesthetic (tactile) learner may reflect that preference in the way they read. Perhaps just it’s the fact they can’t sit still – or maybe they like stories that involve lots of action and dialogue. They’ll be bored rigid by lengthy expositions (like this one), whereas a finely crafted explanation will go down a treat with those of a verbal/linguistic bent. Likewise, readers of a visual inclination might enjoy a detailed description that allows them to really ‘see’ a scene.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple, as people don’t generally use just one intelligence but a combination. However, maybe we can use the theory to analyse our books and think about what type of readers we’re appealing to and using this to fine tune our prose to best effect.

I could go on but hopefully intelligent people like you will have got the general idea by now.

So, that’s my basic take on multiple intelligences. It might not be entirely how a textbook theorist would explain it but this is my version. (I doubt if I’m the first person to think of applying the multiple intelligences theory to reading but I’ve not come across it before.)

The question of whether authors can develop it to apply to readers – and how useful that would be – I’ll leave to you! Any ideas or comments?

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5 responses to “Multiple Intelligences”

  1. A.D. Everard says :

    This is an interesting post and raises an interesting question.

    I’m a writer and author and, although I’ve applied this principle in one area, I have not consciously considered it right across the board.

    The area I applied it to was sex scenes – basically, when writing sex scenes, it’s very easy for the writer to impose only their point of view. Men and women think about sex differently, and you can usually tell which an author is by how they write those scenes. Women will often write about the emotions of it, while men are more interested in physical description.

    Each “side” as it were, of course, appeals to readers in different ways. That’s why you have more women than men reading Mills and Boon and other romance, and more men reading Play Boy or the like.

    My method was to write from both an emotional and physical point of view, and cater to both sides, and that works a treat, I have avid readers of both sexes, which is what I was after. I don’t write just women’s books or men’s books, I write for a wide audience.

    I think I apply the wider methods across the board (now that I reflect on it), in that I write about action and also internal reflection. I very much like to put readers into the story, so I’ll use all sorts of things to do that – touch, smell, thoughts, action, attitude (of course).

    Thinking this way would definitely add extra dimension to a writer’s work.

    Thank you for this article. Cheers! 🙂

    • Huw Thomas says :

      I’m very glad you found the post interesting. I’m not sure how I’m going to apply the theory myself – or whether it’s more something of which we should just be aware.
      Thanks also for raising the point of male/female perspectives. That adds another layer of complexity… then of course we can start to add in cultural background, religious beliefs etc, etc!

      • A.D. Everard says :

        I agree – sort of a never-ending cycle. I guess the thing is to choose your audience and go with that.

        Because I write for men and women, I look to use language and perspectives that will appeal to both. I do choose multicultural names, but fortunately with my science fiction, I can leave Earth’s religions and politics out of it. Whew! 🙂

  2. Sharon Bonin-Pratt says :

    Well considered article and you may be on to something. I always “read” a book in my head though I consider my auditory skills to be my weakest. Am a writer, an artist, and a teacher, but entirely illogical and unmechanical as my family will tell you. But I’m going to think about what you’ve written the next time one of my chapters is up for review in my crit group – some of the comments may be more due to the learning styles of the critters than I’d ever thought about before.
    Best wishes for the new school year.

    • Huw Thomas says :

      One thing that started me off down this train of thought is the huge discrepancies in reviews for the same books. Even ignoring the obvious trolls, I’ve had everything from 2-5* reviews. I’d like to think the people writing the 5* reviews have got it right but maybe they’re all correct – it’s just a matter of perception and those multiple intelligences.

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