Intrapersonal Intelligence

The Ability to Look Inward

A woman reading her ipad
Independent projects can help your intrapersonal intelligence. Aping Vision / STS/ Photodisc/ Getty Images

Intrapersonal intelligence is one of Howard Gardner's Nine multiple intelligences. It involves how skillful an individual is in understanding himself. People who excel in this intelligence typically are introspective and can use this knowledge to solve personal problems. Psychologists, writers, philosphers, and poets are among those that Gardner sees as having high intrapersonal intelligence.


Gardner, a professor in the Harvard University education department, uses English writer Virginia Woolf as an example of someone who shows a  high level of intrapersonal intelligence. Gardner notes that in her essay called, "A Sketch of the Past," Woolf "discusses the 'cotton wool of existence' -- the various mundane events of life. She contrasts this cotton wool with three specific and poignant memories of childhood." The key point is not simply that Woolf is talking about her childhood; it's that she is able to look inward, examine her innermost feelings and describe them in an articulate way.

Famous People Who Have High Intrapersonal Intelligence

  • Anne Frank: This young girl, who died during the Holocaust, spent much of World War II hidden in an attic with her family, yet Frank wrote a diary detailing her wants, desires and fears in such a ponient way that it has become one of the world's most widely known books, according to Wikipedia.  
  • Walt Whitman: A poet and author of "Leaves of Grass," Whitman and such other writers and poets as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were transcendentalists, a mid-19th-century American movement that emphasized the importance of the individual.
  • Aristotle: One of the greatest Greek philosophers, Aristotle was the first person to study logic, and, along with Plato and Socrates, was one of the founders of western philosophy. 
  • Albert Einstein: One of history's greatest scientists, Einstein did a lot of his thinking during long walks, where he thought deeply and came up with his mathematical theories regarding the cosmos and the way the universe works.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: A German philosopher who lived during the middle and late 19th century, Nietzche was an existentialist and could be listed in Gardner's theory for his existential intelligence. However, Nietzche also wrote such works as "The Metamorphosis," a story about a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes to find himself transformed into an insect. But, the story is really about Samsa's deep, internal introspection. 

    These poets, authors and scientists excelled at looking inward to solve problems or discover truths about themselves. As these examples show, people with high intrapersonal intelligence are self-motivated, introverted, spend lots of time alone, work independently and enjoy writing in journals.

    Ways to Enhance Intrapersonal Intelligence

    Teachers can help students enhance and strengthen their intrapersonal intelligence, by:

    • assigning independent projects
    • having students write in a daily or weekly journal
    • incorporating mind maps
    • having students write reflections on topics studied in class
    • having students imagine themselves as an individual from the period being studied

    Any chance you have to get students to think introspectively and reflect on their feelings, what they have learned or how they might act in different contexts will help them to increase their intrapersonal intelligence.