In 1983, Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This book challenged the traditional psychological view of intelligence as a single capacity that drives logical and mathematical thought. Instead, it proposed that all individuals possess seven independent intelligences. These, in combination, enable people to solve problems or fashion products with varying levels of skill.

These "intelligences" are: linguistic and logical-mathematical (the styles of thinking measured most often on psychological tests), musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic (including large and small motor skills), interpersonal (an area of strength for teachers, social workers, and politicians), and intrapersonal (self-knowledge).

Gardner identified these intelligences by synthesizing findings from disparate sources, including research at Project Zero on the development of various cognitive skills in normal children; studies of the breakdown of cognitive abilities in stroke patients and other brain-damaged individuals; work with prodigies, idiot savants, autistic children, and other special populations; and a review of the literature on psychological testing and the relationship between test scores and performance on different tasks.

Although based upon investigations in biology and psychology and intended for psychologists, multiple intelligences (MI) theory has had a wide audience among educators. It has been interpreted and adapted in many different schools and in many different ways, without any training, oversight, or implementation guidelines from Project Zero staff. To learn more about the different ways MI theory has been applied and the type of impact it has had on schools, Project Zero launched an initial study in 1992. Researchers conducted phone interviews with principals from eleven schools that have devised their own programs based on MI theory, and conducted site visits at nine of these schools.

The initial findings suggest that MI helps schools in several ways. It offers a vocabulary for teachers to use in discussing children's strengths and in developing curriculum; it validates the practices of teachers whose work is already synchronous with MI theory; it promotes or justifies education in diverse art forms; and it encourages teachers to work in teams, complementing their own strengths with those of their colleagues. It also encourages schools to devise rich educational experiences for children from diverse backgrounds. Further, in-depth studies of MI schools will be undertaken to add to, and validate, these findings.