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Applying the Neurosciences to Educational Research:

Can Cognitive Neuroscience Bridge the Gap? Part I

Michael Atherton (
University of Minnesota

Recent findings in Cognitive Neuroscience are likely
to have important implications for educational theory
and practice. It is critical to determine whether these
research findings are sufficient, in and of themselves,
to have a veridical impact on curriculum and policy.
The ways in which neuroscience research will impact
the field of education is discussed and Gardners
theory of Multiple Intelligences is examined as a
case study of the impact of neuroscience on
educational practice. It is concluded that experts who
are well versed in both neuroscience and educational
research and theory are needed and that the
development of an independent discipline,
Educational Neuroscience, will best bridge the gap
between the two fields.

The application of research findings from the

neurosciences to education of has been marked by
controversy and misapplication. On one side of this
controversy is a large industry of brain-based
consulting services and literature that is catering to the
curiosity and fascination of educators hoping to find
scientific grounding for established educational
practices, or more optimistically, searching for
revolutionary solutions to contemporary educational
problems. On the other side, is the solitary voice of
John Bruer who has been urging caution and pointing
out the more egregious misapplications of the brainbased approaches (1997, 1998a, 1998b, 1999a, 1999b,
1999c, 1999d, 2002). Bruers arguments have been so
persuasive that even some brain-based authors are have
been echoing his calls for restraint (Caine & Caine,
1998; Jensen, 2000).
While the brain debate rages, a small contingent of
psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators are
quietly laying the foundations for a new field:
Educational Neuroscience (EN). Since 1988, when it
was initially titled the Psychophysiology and
Education Special Interest Group (SIG), the Brain,
Neurosciences, and Education SIG of the American
Educational Research Association (AERA) has been
providing a peer-reviewed forum for authors to present
papers linking education and research in the
neurosciences. In Europe, since 1999, the Organization
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
has been sponsoring meetings, conferences, and

publications as part of its Brain and Learning project

(Brain and Learning, n. d.). The OECD project is
intended to encourage research that has benefits for
education, support the application of neuroscience
research findings, and to dispel popular misconceptions
about learning and the brain. In the U.S., at a recent
conference hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of
Education, a new research society, the International,
Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) was
announced (Mind, Brain, and Education, 2004). In
addition to these new organizations, several universities
are initiating graduate programs linking neuroscience
and education; among these are the University of
Cambridge; Harvards Graduate School of Education,
and Dartmouths Department of Education. Despite
these initiatives and programs, many people are remain
nonplussed and question how the neurosciences can
contribute to Education. In this paper I will outline how
and why the impact of EN may be important and
significant. I hope to establish a structural and
conceptual framework that will help illustrate how
research in the neurosciences has and will continue to
have an impact on Education, at what levels its effects
may occur, and the type of questions need to identified
and addressed. In a companion paper Read Diket
(2005) will outline the successes and shortcomings of
Howard Gardners conceptualization of Multiple
Intelligences, a theory
inspired by neuroscience
research that has had an impact on both the philosophy
and the practice of Education.
I foresee Educational Neuroscience (EN) having an
important role and influence in a number of areas in the
field of Education. Functioning from the top-down, it
will influence the theories and philosophies of
education and from the bottom-up it will affect how
teachers teach and how pedagogies are delivered. There
is a similar functionality in the field of Medicine where
basic research influences medical theories and clinical
practices, while at the same time patients and general
practitioners contribute to medical advances from the
bottom-up. While this analogy between medicine and
education may make many educational researchers
uncomfortable in light of the current debate of what
constitutes valid scientific educational research
(Eisenhart, M. & Towne, L., 2003), I believe it to be
particularly insightful. In this paper I will first consider
how EN may impact the theory and philosophy of

education and then evaluate the potential influence of

EN on educational practice.
Education and Basic Research in the Neurosciences
Whether basic research in the Neurosciences has any
relevance or application in education is a valid
question. John Bruer has framed the debate with
particular examples of how research findings have been
inappropriately applied. Bruer (1997) believes that
neuroscience is too far removed from day-to-day
instruction to be of much value and that research
findings from Cognitive Psychology already provide a
vast amount of data that is applicable to instruction.
While I agree that neuroscience research has been
misinterpreted, I believe that basic research in the
Neurosciences can and will have a valuable impact on
educational theory and practice in a number of different
I predict that there are three ways in which basic
research in the neurosciences will veridically impact
education. The first is through an interaction between
the disciplines of Psychology, Neuroscience, Cognitive
Neuroscience, and Educational Psychology.
interdisciplinary perspective is widely anticipated and
accepted by a number of authors (Byrnes & Fox,
1998a; Fischer, 2004; Geake & Cooper, 2003;
Goswami, 2004). In seminal articles, Byrnes and Fox
(1998a, 1998b) outlined the role that cognitive
neuroscience could play in education. They argue that
an understanding of brain function is necessary to a
comprehensive theory of learning, cognition, and
instruction and that an understanding of the dynamics
of thought processes in the brain can help to inform and
constrain cognitive and educational theories. In the last
decade technological advances in brain imaging have
allowed cognitive researchers to incorporate neural
processes into their analysis of behavior.
increased resolution has helped researchers to refine
theories in many areas of cognition and education. For
example, the Dual Route Hypothesis assumed that
reading is composed of two distinct processes: visual
word recognition and a phonological process.
Traditional behavioral experiments have failed to
confirm or invalidate this hypothesis. Neuroscience
evidence has helped us realize that there is an
interaction and contribution of both pathways (Booth,
et. al, 2004) and that an understanding of these
processes may help in the development of effective
interventions (Shaywitz, et. al, 2004). These results
conform to our traditional view of science as being a
cumulative evolutionary process in which multiple
disciplines converge on a veridical picture of reality.
However, Byrnes and Fox also identified another

While the interdisciplinary approach outlined above

appeals to many educators and cognitive researchers
who view the contributions of neuroscience as
confirmative and complimentary to existing theories
and research, basic scientific investigation is often
constrained by available technology. Theories are
derived from what can currently be observed or implied
from observation or experimental results. As advances
in technology increase the resolution of observations,
theories may need to be revised or discarded when new
data conflicts with prior assumptions. There are a
number of obvious examples in medicine and
astronomy (McClellan & Dorn, 1999). Byrnes and Fox
(1998b) acknowledge this possibility by suggested an
alternative to the interdisciplinary view that would have
far greater impact on education:
However, an increased emphasis on the brain
might eventually precipitate the onset of a
revolution if neuroscientific studies were to
generate a steady stream of disconfirming
birth of evidence against the prevailing views
(p. 435).
I believe that research in cognitive neuroscience will
both precipitate and necessitate a shift in the underlying
theories of cognition and education in much the same
sense as that proposed by Kuhn (1970). It is clear that
our conception of the mind as a serial Von Neumann
computer is not confirmed by contemporary research
findings in psychology and neuroscience, that existing
theories of cognition may not map well on to the
neurological processes of thought (Fiez,. 2001), and that
new models of cognition are emerging (Atherton,
2002). Other authors have begun to question the
fundamental assumptions of Constructivist and
Progressivist approaches to education (Berninger &
Winn, in press; Egan, 2002; Klahr & Nigam, 2004;
Mayer, 2004; Ravitch, 2000) and it is likely that
cognitive neuroscience research can contribute to
confirming or disconfirming evidence to support either
traditional perspectives or revolutionary ones. At a
recent American Educational Research Association
(AERA) meeting a session titled Attentional Processes,
Salience, and Transfer of Learning: Perspectives from
Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, and Mathematics
Education showed converging evidence that by
focusing attention on specific aspects of the learning
situation performance and transfer could be enhanced
(Ellis & Lobato, 2004; Hannula & Lehtinen, 2004;
McCandliss, 2004; Schwartz, 2004). These findings
may contradict radical Constructivist assumptions that
learning can only be constructed by the learner
(Martinez-Delgado, 2002; Steffe & Kieren, 1994).
Thus, new data may require the modification of our
theories or result in a major paradigm shift. Bruer has
questioned what explanatory value neuroscience

research can provide beyond that provided by the

psychological study of behavior. I believe that the
increased resolution provided by neuroimagery and
other new technologies will impact education by
challenging our fundamental philosophical assumptions
about pedagogy and in turn impact how we train
educational researchers, professionals, and ultimately
I also see a third avenue though which basic research in
neuroscience will impact education. It is important to
keep in mind that education is an applied field that has
a tremendous impact on the lives of children. Often,
the window of opportunity to optimally develop skills
such as literacy or language is narrow, sometimes as
limited as three or four years. It is critical then, when
neuroscience research suggests positive interventions,
that we verify whether these interventions might be
efficacious. Delaying the application of effective
instructional interventions should not be delayed while
we develop a complete understanding of
underlying neurological and psychological processes.
However, we also want to avoid the implementation of
program or policies that are trendy or socially attractive
but may have limited efficacy. Given that education
is a complex social and often political institution I am
not suggesting that instructional methods suggested be
implemented casually. In medicine the importance of
basic science to medical practice cannot be over
emphasized and yet there is a similarity between the
immediate need for clinical treatments over and above
a comprehensive understanding of the basic science
and physiological processes. I suggest then, that
research in cognitive neuroscience can bypass
theoretical explanation if valid clinical trials in the
schools show sizeable and reproducible effects.
The Influence of Neuroscience in Educational
I also predict that EN will influence educational
practice from a number of directions. From the top
down basic research into cognitive neuroscience will
influence graduate schools of education. From the
bottom up, EN will be influenced by the inquisitiveness
of primary and secondary teachers. Administratively
EN will be impacted by the push for scientifically
grounded pedagogy and the quest by administrators for
efficacious policies. And externally, EN will also be
furthered by the push for inclusion of neuroscience in
primary and secondary science curriculums (Cameron
& Chudler, 2003; Neuroscience Literacy, 2004).
Graduate Educational Programs
It is my contention that EN will also influence how we
train education researchers. Such influence is foretold
by the number of highly ranked graduate schools, such

as Cambridge, Dartmouth, and Harvard that are creating

programs in EN. Even if such programs do not prove to
be a major influence on their own, it is still likely that
they will be replicated by other universities and will in
turn motivate a wider discussion of the relevance of
neuroscience research to the training of primary and
secondary teachers. The founding of the IMBES will
also provide a major forum specifically designed for
presenting educationally relevant research in the
The Influence of Teachers
The primary sources of information for educational
practitioners have been through educational journals
and the popular press. For the most part, these sources
have disseminated various viewpoints representative of
brain-based learning. As John Bruer has pointed out in
a number of publications, the scientific grounding of the
conclusions and recommendations made by brain-based
authors is questionable. Even if the interventions and
procedures were based on correct interpretations and
generalizations of the research, it would be difficult to
assess whether the practices adopted by teachers
resulted in positive outcomes for students, given that so
many factors are confounded by idiosyncrasies and
variation in contexts. The questionable validity of these
influences necessities the development of more
rigorously grounded sources of information. I feel that
this role will be taken on by graduates of EN programs
who will be able to integrate neuroscience and
educational research, as well as actively investigate
educational questions using both behavioral and
neurological methods.
Geake and Cooper (2003) have also identified how
teachers will motivate the incorporation of such topics
into training and development programs.
We assume that education will remain largely
a human endeavor and, to that end, teachers
will always be interested in gaining a better
understanding of the multitude of factors
which govern the learning of their charges.
Such teacher professional development, we
suggest, should embrace an understanding of
development in cognitive neuroscience.
Therefore, we propose that education adopt an
interactive bio-psycho-social model, which
can only come about if educationists engage
cognitive neuroscientists in dialogue to share
each others professional knowledge. (p. 11)
Even if the acceptance of a bio-psychosocial model is
not universal, EN programs will begin to influence how
graduate schools of education approach the teaching of
education in universities and how graduate students in
education think about educational research.

Educational Administrators and the Influence of

Unfortunately, much of the information that has
reached those overseeing educational policy has been
dominated by brain-based approaches. Even more
unfortunately, much of this content has been published
by professional organizations (Brandt, 1998; Caine &
Caine, 1997; Jensen, 1998; Sousa, 1995; Sylwester,
1995). Even when such organizations occasionally
recognize the need for caution (Education Commission
of the States, 1996), they may still be prone to publicize
the overgeneralization of the implications of
neuroscience research for education (Newman, 1997).
It is not clear whether this tendency to endorse brainbased interpretations is intrinsic to the nature of these
organizations or due to the paucity of valid research
linking neuroscience to education. With new initiatives
such as the National Science Foundations Science of
Learning Centers (Science of Learning Centers,
2005) and the Dana Foundations Alliance for Brain
Initiatives (Brain Center, n. d.) and other novel and
important EN research on the horizon it will be
interesting to see how these organizations respond.
What is clear is that the next decade will result in a
wealth of information about educationally related
neuroscience which can provide a valuable resource for
policy makers.
Can Cognitive Neuroscience Bridge the Gap?
To this point I have outlined on the Neurosciences may
impact Education, now I must address our initial
question: can Cognitive Neuroscience effectively
bridge the gap between research in the Neurosciences
and Educational practice. To answer this question, it is
important to identify what Cognitive Neuroscience is.
Cognitive Neuroscience is a field that examines the
neurological and genetic underpinnings a wide range of
psychological processes such as cognition, emotion,
motivation, personality, intelligence, as well many
other topics.
Researchers working in Cognitive
Neuroscience can be found in a number of traditional
university departments: Neuroscience, Psychology,
Child Development, Genetics, and Economics to name
a few. The underlying requirements for studying
cognitive neuroscience is a basic understanding and
focus on neurological processes, an understanding of
neuroscience research techniques and methodology,
and a familiarity with particular areas of cognitive
research literature. Can such knowledge and research
effectively link the neurosciences and education? My
answer: not necessarily.
While Bruer (personal communication, October 7,
2004) and other authorities (Dumit, 2005; Keil, 2005)
may still question the legitimacy and interpretation of

some imaging research techniques and the underlying

philosophy of cognitive neuroscience (see Bennett &
Hacker, 2003), the field while young, has addressed or
answered many of the methodological and theoretical
issues (Harley, 2004; Heeger & Ress, 2002 Henson,
2005; Logothetis, Pauls, Augath, Trinath, &
Oeltermann, 2001), moved on to more complex
questions (e.g., Friston, 2002; McCandliss & Noble,
2003; Poldrack & Wagner, 2004; Rueda, et. al., 2004),
and cautious optimism is expressed by others (Better
reading through brain research, 2004; Huttenlocher,
2003; Munakata, Casey, & Diamond, 2004). As I
mentioned previously, the ultimate utility of Cognitive
Neuroscience to education may well be determined by
clinical validation in the schools while the
methodological and philosophical issues continue to be
I have outlined a number of avenues through which
neuroscience research has will impact education:
through interdisciplinary research conducted by teams
of researchers; via the impact on educational theories;
through the direct development of interventions
empirically verified in the schools; via Graduate
programs of Education; through direct application by
teachers through the brain-based literature; and by
direct application through educational policy and
administration. These sources of influence share a
common a link between cognitive neuroscience and
education, but none of them insures that results from
cognitive neuroscience research will be faithfully
applied in the schools. Interdisciplinary research may
provide the greatest opportunity for impacting
education, but as Bruer argues there is a huge archive of
important findings from Cognitive Psychology that
have yet to be applied to educational practice. Without
an understanding of how the schools function, even the
best and most important research may never reach
beyond the pages of professional journals. Given that
Education is a massively complex social and political
institution, it is my prediction that inroads to
educational progress via cognitive neuroscience will be
made primarily by those who are experts in both
neuroscience and education, namely Educational
Neuroscientists who will understand the history, theory,
and political dynamics of education, the findings of
Cognitive Psychology, and be able to conduct
empirically valid cognitive neuroscience research in
instructional settings.
Many of the reasons for the need of Educational
Neuroscientists are illustrated by Dikets analysis of
Gardners theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI; 1983).
While hugely influential, MI remains a theory with little
empirical verification, even though many educators
have designed curriculums and instructional techniques

based on it. Gardners theory could have benefited

significantly by empirical verification by scientists who
understood both education and were capable of
designing experiments that could establish an
association between Gardners separate intelligences
and their hypothesized corresponding modules in the
brain. However, although MI was based on theoretical
concepts of brain organization, the theory itself failed
to operationally define testable hypotheses that would
have linked educational constructs and interventions to
observable neurological structures or functions in a
way that would have provided a strong link between
neuroscience and education. MI provides an important
example of how Educational Neuroscience can play an
important role in Education.

Cognitive Revolution Gardner (1985) concludes that,

much as they would like to, neuroscientists cannot
afford to isolate themselves from others in the cognitive
sciences. (p. 288) In a contemporary vein, educational
researchers can no longer afford to isolate themselves
from data from the Neurosciences. Whether, cognitive
neuroscience research will spark a revolution in
educational theory or be subsumed by the dominate
forces of contemporary educational philosophy and
politics remains to be seen, but it is the success of
Educational Neuroscience that will determine the

In reviewing the connections between Neuroscience

and Education it becomes clear that in the same way
that the Neurosciences can add to our understanding of
Psychology it is important to determine whether our
views of Education can also be enhanced. Cognitive
Neuroscience can address the following questions.
How are memory, perception, reasoning, and
emotion represented in the brain?
What is the interplay between cognition and
How are social behaviors regulated in the brain?
Is human cognition a modular or global process?
How do developmental changes affect cognitive
and emotional processes?
However, there are unique questions relevant to
Education and there is a novel, clearly defined, role for
educational researchers who can delve deeply into the
knowledge of both fields. While specific research
questions can be addressed by interdisciplinary
research, the educational efficacy of the answers must
be addressed by educational neuroscience researchers
and the overarching philosophical questions must be
addressed by individuals who are experts in both
domains. As a preliminary agenda, EN needs to address
the questions such as:
How accurately do contemporary educational
theories and instructional methods fit the recent
research findings from cognitive neuroscience?
Is an understanding of brain structure or function
necessary or useful in the development of
educational theories or policies?
Can neuroscience identify developmental
differences that can or should be addressed by
different instructional techniques?
Are individual differences in learning and
acheivement mirrored by observable differences
in brain structure and function or genetics?
The ability of EN to answer these questions will
determine its value to Education. In his history of the

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Applying the Neurosciences to Educational Research:

Can Cognitive Neuroscience Bridge the Gap? Part II
Read M. Diket (
William Carey College
A Gap to be Bridged
Bruer (1999) argues persuasively against so-called
brain-based recipes for schools and education that are
of limited value to teachers and exposes the scientific
grounding of some valuable contentions within
behavioral research. To scholars familiar with
neuroscience research the limitations of direct
application of basic neuroscience study to learning
claims are quite apparent, conditioned by the design
rigor of scientific research and judicious reporting of
findings. Over-interpretation of fact by educational
proponents invites speculation which in turn leads to
perpetuation of folk theory and compelling fictions that
often gain ready acceptance with the public.
My colleague, Michael Atherton, outlines the role of a
new specialty, Educational Neuroscience, that could
offer a more systematic and defensible ground wherein
the technologies of neuroscience might be employed to
investigate questions of great interest to educators.
Following from philosophical and scientific scrutiny,
Atherton concludes that while Cognitive Neuroscience
and Educational Psychology seek answers to many of
the same empirical questions, questions about the
accuracy of the neurological basses of educational
theory and practice are questions that require a unique
scrutiny and can best be answered by Educational
Neuroscience (Atherton, 2005).
The Case of Gardners Multiple Intelligences
one of the appealing aspects of MI theory was its
reliance on biological evidence. At the time, in the
early 1980s, there was little relevant evidence from
genetics or evolutionary psychology; such speculations
were mere handwaving. There was powerful evidence
from the study of neuropsychology for the existence of
different mental faculties; and that evidence constituted
the strongest leg on which to justify MI theory
(Gardner, 2003).
As a further test of the feasibility of mapping
neuroscience findings directly onto educational
psychology research, I undertook a case analysis of
Gardners theory of multiple intelligences. Gardners
MI was selected as the unit of analysis for two reasons:
(1) MI theory was published in 1983, the same year
that computed tomography (CT or CAT) was made

commercially available; and, (2) Gardner deemed

biological evidence a necessary foundation (criteria) for
selection of an intelligence into his pantheon, in
particular he looked for potential isolation of structures
and core operations among brain damaged individuals.*
Cognitive neuroscience, coined as a term in the late
1970s, locates its roots in neurology, neuroscience, and
cognitive science (Gazzaniga, Ivry, & Mangun, 2002).
Gardners MI theory (Gardner, 1983) draws from a
generative synthesis of philosophy, anthropology,
sociology, cognitive psychology, developmental
psychology, and neurology (fields contributing to the
then new and hybrid cognitive science, excepting
information-processing approaches that Gardner
considered too mechanistic if not anti-biological). As
was evident in one of the paths taken by cognitive
neuroscience, Gardner drew heavily on findings from
the imaging technology through which scientists
visualized brain structure. CAT scanning provided a
critical medical tool for imaging the structures of
neurological damage in living people and Gardners
work with neurological damage at Boston University
School of Medicine and Boston Veterans
Administration Medical Center was pivotal in
establishing face validity for his theory.
Gardner (1983) lays the groundwork for use of his
theory in educational psychology by including
implications and application of intelligences theory to
education. He discusses cultural and policy issues
through the lens of intelligence archetypes. Though not
all agree with the sum of MI theory, I have heard many
AERA presenters credit Gardner with changing the
paradigm by which educators consider intelligent
behavior. I will return later to this contention of
paradigm change.

Case study, as described by Yin (1994), anticipates a range of

possible audiences. Case study audiences for this paper might include:
primarily, colleagues familiar with various forms of educational
research; and, secondarily, practitioners for whom case methodology
is not a specialty; and, potentially, researchers in fields referenced in
this paper. Accordingly, this paper is developed using the expected
forms and academic regimens familiar to AERA audiences.

Critics of Gardners framing of mind have taken him to

task for semantics and on testability (i.e., Gilman, 2001
and Traub, 1998); and, have criticized elitist
application of his theory in private schools (Eberstadt,
1999). Gardner himself has criticized some
applications, even schools, based supposedly on MI.
Others have questioned the rigor of Gardners criteria
for defining intelligence (i.e., Willingham, 2004).
Critics have suggested that hidden forces (social,
cultural, political, and economic contexts) shape
intellect as does biology and accuse Gardner of nave
realism, of hiding an epistemological stance based in
hermeneutic argument (see, Kincheloe, 2004). Authors
in Multiple Intelligences Reconsidered (Kincheloe,
2004) narrate Gardners theory as Eurocentric,
educationally conditioned by the prevailing values of
western society, despite his many examples from
diverse cultures, even primitive societies.
To date, there has been no direct comparison of
Gardners initial reporting of biopsychological support
for MI in light of twenty something years of cognitive
neuroscience research since Frames was published. In
an exciting interim, studies of efficiency in neural
processing, processing speed, enzyme action, structural
enlargement and changes in connective features under
various conditions, synaptic density, and particularly
the localized activity of specific nerve cells, have been
reported in cognitive neuroscience, along with study of
heritability of traits (particularly as phenotype).
As an amateur geneticist and neuroscientist, I have
tried as best I can to keep up with the cascade of new
findings from these areas. I can say with some
confidence that no findings have radically called into
question the major lines of MI theory. But I can say
with equal confidence that in light of the findings of the
last two decades, the biological basis of MI theory
needs urgently to be brought up to date (Gardner,
Why has Gardner neglected to update his own reporting
of neuroscience evidence for his intelligences? I
believe that Gardner showed that he did his
homework for his criteria for core operations or sets
of operations underlying each intelligence. He made a
serious attempt at a young point in the cognitive
revolution to locate the neural substrates for the core
operations or processes with seven intelligences. He
intuited that some of his readers would find the
technical material hard going, and other readers think it
too simplistic. Therefore, he gives permission for
readers to skip over whole sections dealing with
neurological information. Perhaps that is why he did
not continue to update support for previously presented
intelligences. Gardner kept up with the literature and

expected others who might challenge neurological

criteria to do likewise. Surprisingly, only those aspects
of his work congruent with current findings have
received serious attention as of late (for example,
Antonio Damasios work with emotion and Michael
Posners work on attention). There is another intriguing
explanation. In Changing Minds, Gardner (2004),
Gardner says, I am not comfortable with proposals for
direct brain and genetic experiments to correct cognitive
defects. Yet I have no doubt that these neural
enhancementsas they are now calledwill be
attempted (p. 201).
Was MI a manifest for paradigm change?
In education, Gardners concept of MI reopened the
dialogue on intelligence. Psychometric approaches had
deadened dialogue to discussion of subcomponents.
Gardners vision for multiple intelligences was
carefully crafted according to Kuhn (see Kuhn, 1962,
1970) so as to challenge prevailing thinking with some
hope of success. Apparently, like Kuhn, Gardner sought
to align science, policy, and education by making
transparent the changing of mindset or perspective. In
Kuhns case, challenge to the tacit workings of a field
was fraught with hazard from experts who carefully
guarded their gates. Kuhn was not recognized for his
contribution to the philosophy of science in his Stanford
professorship, though he received promotion based
upon his contributions in science education. Gardners
work has, from its offering, been of great interest to
education. Neither theorist had perceptible impact on
developments within the field of cognitive
In 2003, the Brain, Neurosciences, and Education
special interest group in the American Educational
Research Association joined with the Multiple
Intelligences SIG in sponsorship of an expert panel
discussing Does evidence from the neurosciences
support the theory of multiple intelligences. Panelists
Antonio Damasio and Michael Posner, both credited
with significant contributions to the field of cognitive
neuroscience (Gazzaniga, Ivry, & Mangun, 2002)
commented on Frames of Mind (Posners paper from
the session is pdf downloadable from the B, N, & E
webpage at
Posner (2003) remarks that neuroimaging studies have
used activation tasks that can be seen as involving all of
these forms of intelligence (Posner, p. 2). He credits
Gardner with making an important link between two
approaches to psychology: cognitive processing/human
behavior and psychometrics concerned with individual
differences. He cautioned that the neural networks had

not proven to be separate as different brains,

remarking on the significant communication occurring
between nodes and among networks. He discusses
neural efficiency with developmental implications,
chemical neuromodulators implicated with attentional
and executive function, and genetic findings suggestive
of high heritability for an executive attention network.
All of these findings are new since Gardner wrote his
MI theory. Posner notes that the theoretical integration
Gardner sought twenty years ago for MI and cognitive
psychology still has not been achieved in psychological
Mapping evidence in cognitive neuroscience onto
MI theory
In Frames of Mind, Gardner treats most of the tough
areas in cognitive neuroscience:
neural plasticity and flexibility and critical
periods in development;
environmental effects on development;
evolutionary evidence;
anthropological variation;
computer modeling;
attentional and motivational models;
wisdom, causality, and speculation
goal-oriented behaviors;

Visual spatial

clarification of the structure of human

proclivity and propensity;
general laws of knowing;
molar capacities and more accurate
assessment of breadth in human knowing;
cellular grammar, memory, and symbolic
executive functioning; phenotype and genotype
and aspects of promise;
long-term prognoses following injury to the

Gardner hazarded a return to ancient phrenological

themes. He even raised the question of whether his
notion of multiple intelligences was a convenient fiction
or supportable hypothesis. Therefore, Gardner
associates substantial neurological evidence for a spatial
intelligence, and strong biological support for a
linguistic intelligence in Frames of Mind. These two MI
candidates fair well in recent accounts from cognitive
neuroscience (Gazzaniga, Ivry, & Mangun, 2002).
Visual perception relies on identifiable cortical
pathways. Cognitive neuroscience offers substantial
support for a neurophysiology of language based in
functional neuroimaging (also consulted were Zeman
(2002) and Lyon & Rumsey, 1996)).

Neurological support for MI category in 1983

Ambiguity of evidence on
hemispheric specialization with
brain damaged patients;
functional impairment to
posterior region with instances of
neglect of field; lesions in the
right parietal regions; right
temporal excisions impair
recognition of nonsense figures
and dot patterns; suggestive
findings for inferior temporal
neuron participation in coding
physical attributes of visual
stimuli; blindness and visual
impairment, i.e., the exploitation
of physical cues, mental rotation,
suggests that spatial
representation derives from visual
and tactile experience; wide
individual differences for visual
recall and perception of form;
idiots savants

*Cognitive Neuroscience Evidence

Contributory evidence:
Disorders of perception;
anatomical pathways; parallel
processing in the visual system;
cortical functioning;
documentation of visual areas
(also Zeki, 1993;Zeki, 1999);
human brain electrophysiology;
episodic encoding and retrieval
studies with imaging techniques
(particularly, event-related
responses); semantic encoding
and retrieval; cordical
disconnection in animals and
humans/split-brain patients
(visual system is more strictly
lateralized than other sensory
systems); perception of faces;
single-cell studies in primates of
interhemispheric processing;
performance on psychometric
spatial-tests; functional
asymmetries in perceptual
representations in the normal



Speed of processing linguistic

messages; brain impairment; idiot
savant; odd effects in localization
noted with hemispheric removal
in young children (plasticity to a
point), deafness, difficulties in
phonological discrimination and
production associated with
lesions; syntactic processes
mediated in Brocas area;
dispersement of syntactic
processes in the left hemisphere;
animal studies; cultural based
differences in centers used to
decode language (linguistic or
ideographic dependences);
aphasia and signal
impoverishment differences
associated with Brocas area and
Wernickes area lesions
Gardner notes that in pragmatic
functions, linguistic autonomy
becomes less convincing

*Neuroscience evidence from Gazzaniga, Ivry, &

Mangun (2002) unless otherwise indicated.
The advantage of having a dual system is obvious.
The right hemisphere maintains a veridical record of
events, leaving the left hemisphere free to elaborate
and make inferences about the presented material. In
an intact brain, the two systems complement each
other, allowing for elaborative processing without
sacrificing veracity(Gazzaniga, Ivry, & Mangun,
2002; p. 437)
Other intelligences candidates are not treated as
portentously in cognitive neuroscience literature. For
example, cognitive neuroscience support for bodilykinesthetic, musical, logical-mathematical, and

Counter evidence: hemispheric

communication and transfer of
Contributory evidence: Cerebral
organization; theories of language
(word & concept storage);
Wernickes aphasia;
computational modeling; imaging
techniques & semantic modeling;
evidence for lexical levels;
perceptual analyses of linguistic
input; input signals in spoken
language; neural substrates with
speaking and processing of
words; cultural variation in
orthography (correspondences
between letter/symbol and
sound);neural substrates
identified processing written
word; lexical access; work with
dyslexic patients/evidence for
dual routing; models for word
recognition; role context in word
recognition; temporal intervals
with word recognition; modular
models; neural substrates of
syntactic processing; some
theories of speech; neural
substrates of speech production;
neuropsychology of language &
language disorders;
neurophysiology of language
(functional neuroimaging/
metabolic correlates,
electrophysiology, event-related
Counter evidence: models of
distributed network; question
modularity, favor interactivity

personal intelligences must be teased out of chapters on

the control of action, higher perceptual functions, and
emotion. Evolutionary perspectives lend some
credibility to the MI naturalist intelligence, as does
evidence linking neural substrates with organization of
conceptual knowledge (particularly, category-specific
deficits) deriving from Elizabeth Warrington and
colleagues work of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The case for MI continues to be compelling as an
object of study
Gardner challenged intelligence testing and gained
admittance for direct study of the brain among
phenomena considered in education. Though cognitive
neuroscience maps onto some components of his
theory, there is no neurological confirmation for


practices stemming from MI, his suggestions or

derivative contentions. Educational practitioners cannot
proceed directly from theoretical representation to
practical application of cognitive neuroscience
findingsthat leap necessitates experimental work
with exemplary instructional practices and imaging
technologies in an education and neuroscience
collaboration. Some candidates for practice that might
be investigated in educational neuroscience are student
processing of individual findings stemming from
instrument for MI profiles by Shearer (1999) and the
highly read text for practitioners authored by
Armstrong (1994).
What can we learn from the case on Gardners MI?
Cognitive neuroscience offers examples of theoretical
congruency across fields of study when embedding the
linguist Chomsky and philosopher Fodor as informants
in its quest for direct knowledge of the human brain.
With Gardner, neuroscience findings and theory could
be mapped onto his MI theory because neural criteria
constituted a common element. Other candidate
theories might be examined through a cognitive
neuroscience lens using a mapping strategy; for
example, Robert Sternbergs Triarchic Model, neoPiagetian development, and Vygotskys Zone of
Proximal Development provide intriguing scenarios of
mental operations.
What cognitive neuroscience has not investigated until
recently within its field are instructional interventions
influencing development of potential and mediation of
difficulties. AERA members have heard in recent years
from pioneers and about new laboratories designed to
investigate the merits of various interventions. The time
has come for a fourth frame of Educational
Neuroscience to join with other frames posed by
traditional educational research, cognitive psychology,
and cognitive neuroscience.
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