Malcolm in the Middle and the Existence of Multiple Intelligences

The characters of Malcolm in the Middle would be proof of a psychological theory about the existence of multiple intelligences.

Gabriela Castillo

Malcolm in the Middle

Malcolm was always the genius of his family in the series Malcolm in the Middle. We all know that, and there’s really no need to debate it. However, that doesn’t mean that the rest of his family members were unintelligent people. Rather, intelligence is linked to other areas of life that unfortunately are not as praised.

If this theory were true, it would mean that the series is a great proof of the existence of another theory that talks about multiple intelligences. It tells us that there is not a single type of intelligence but several, which are necessary for different branches of life and of which we are all fond, although to different degrees.

But let’s take it step by step.

How Could We Define Intelligence?

When we talk about intelligence, what concept would come to mind first? Perhaps that of a person who has extensive knowledge about various topics and who can answer certain questions. But… wouldn’t that be more of a person with good memory?

We could say that intelligence is the mental capacity to perform a certain action effectively and with the least amount of errors, but… wouldn’t that have more to do with skill?

Malcolm in the middle

Therein lies our point: there really isn’t a correct way to define intelligence, because it is composed of both skill and memory, as well as other psycho-emotional tools such as the capacity for understanding and information processing. And even after all that, the concept would be so complex that we couldn’t even define it in the simple word “intelligence”.

According to the Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary, intelligence can be defined as the ability to understand or comprehend; to solve problems; to have knowledge, understanding, and an act of understanding; the sense in which a proposition can be taken in an expression; skill, dexterity, and experience; among other concepts.

And if we think about it more deeply, it would be logical to think that there is not a single type of intelligence but several, since all the skills we perform day by day require each concept in the definition of the word.

Perhaps Malcolm, in the series, had a greater affinity for logical-mathematical intelligence, and that would better explain why he was always outstanding in subjects related to hard sciences; however, if we think about his talent in the humanities… well, it left a lot to be desired.

Not so with the rest of his family, who were aces in various areas of life very different from Malcolm’s, explaining to us that although they did not think in the same way as him or synthesize information as quickly, that did not mean they were not intelligent and very capable in other spaces.

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Malcolm and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

It was psychologist Howard Gardner who opened the world’s perspective regarding the existence of more than one type of intelligence by launching his theory on multiple intelligences, stating that human beings possess all intelligences but in varying degrees.

According to him, the types of intelligence that exist are:

  1. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: This pertains to the physical abilities that people possess and that allow them to perform activities that demonstrate physical performance, such as any sport. Hal, the patriarch of the Wilkerson family, would have this intelligence more developed.
  2. Interpersonal intelligence: This has to do with the ability to better understand other people, which allows people to have better communication among themselves and more effective treatment. Lois, the matriarch, would have this part more developed as she understands her children better and is a good leader when she wants to be.
  3. Musical intelligence: As the name suggests, this intelligence is more closely linked to this beautiful art, although it is not limited to it, but allows people to understand the world in a more abstract, more lyrical and connected way, especially to sounds. Dewey would be more involved in this category.
  4. Naturalistic intelligence: This focuses more on the connection that humans have with the environment that surrounds us, to better understand the changes in the earth and climate, the affinity towards other living beings, and the interest in each of them. With his great talent for cooking and ingredients, Reese would be linked to this area.
  5. Creative intelligence: This has to do with the ability to anticipate the scenarios that arise in our daily lives to avoid problems and provide more solutions than other people do not envision, although it is also very necessary in the arts. Francis, with his ability to give excuses at will, would be linked to this area. However, this intelligence is not really related to Gardner’s theory but to others that came later.
  6. Linguistic intelligence: It can be quite linked to interpersonal intelligence, although it depends a lot on its use since it is primarily linked to speech factors and various levels of expression. Malcolm would have this intelligence well developed.
  7. Logical-mathematical intelligence: This is precisely the one that is more related to hard sciences and the ability of some people to understand the world through them and to provide solutions to problems with a more quantitative thinking. Malcolm also stands out in this area.
  8. Spatial-visual intelligence: would be, in short, the ability to visualize objects and their relationship to space and the environment.
  9. Intrapersonal intelligence: The ability to know oneself, to better understand one’s needs, thoughts, and emotions.
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And, as mentioned previously, humans don’t possess just one type of intelligence according to this theory, but rather a combination of all of them at different levels.

Let’s think of it as if we were a video game character: we have the ability to run, jump, punch, etc., but we excel at some of these abilities more than others depending on the role we choose. In this case, the situation is similar, although it’s not something that depends on our control.

Problems With the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

The main criticism that many scientists have made of this theory has to do with the lack of a way to verify whether it is accurate or not. In other words, Gardner did not create a personality test that effectively showed that humans possess more than one type of intelligence, so it cannot be truly validated.

However, the current tests that exist to measure “intelligence” or, more accurately, the intelligence quotient (IQ), are also not very valid in our day and age because they ignore several abilities that have to do with humanities, such as artistic or interpersonal skills.

This could be an important indicator of what society values in “intelligence”: for governments in recent years, it has always been more important to value people with outstanding logical-mathematical intelligence since most of the careers that benefit both society and individuals the most are related to this ability.

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On the other hand, careers related to humanities almost always fall in the lower standards of careers with higher job opportunities and economic growth, since the skills in these areas are almost always ignored or considered mere hobbies.

What is a reality in this matter is that there is still a lot of research to be done in this area, so nothing is conclusive. However, with examples like “Malcolm in the Middle,” there are increasingly more people who choose to believe that there is indeed more than one type of intelligence, and that this could better explain why some of us are more suited for certain tasks than others.

What do you think about all of this? Do you believe in the existence of multiple intelligences? Or do you believe that there is only one type of intelligence and that not everyone is capable of excelling in it?

Story originally written in Spanish by Alejandro Vizzuet in Cultura Colectiva.