The Best Examples of Intrapersonal Intelligence

Some people have the uncanny ability to look inward

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Independent projects can help your intrapersonal intelligence. Aping Vision / STS/ Photodisc/ Getty Images

Intrapersonal intelligence is one example of developmental psychologist Howard Gardner's nine multiple intelligences. It explores how skillful people are at understanding themselves. Individuals who excel in this intelligence typically are introspective and can use this knowledge to solve personal problems. Psychologists, writers, philosophers, and poets are among those that Gardner views as having high intrapersonal intelligence.

Howard Gardner's Inspiration

Howard Gardner is a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He uses the late English writer Virginia Woolf as an example of a person with a high level of intrapersonal intelligence. He has noted how in her essay, "A Sketch of the Past," Woolf discusses the "cotton wool of existence," or the various mundane events of life. She contrasts this cotton wool with three specific poignant childhood memories.

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 articulate them. Many people struggle to identify their deepest feelings, let alone discuss them in a way that others can understand.

Intrapersonal Intelligence Dates Back to Antiquity

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, born 384 BC, was an example. He is widely credited as the first scholar to study logic. Along with Plato and Socrates, Aristotle was one of the founders of Western philosophy. His dedication to the study of reason required him to examine his own internal motivations, giving him great intrapersonal intelligence.

Aristotle's work would go on to make an impact on the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He was an existentialist who exemplified Gardner's theory on existential intelligence. However, Nietzche also wrote about the forms of spiritual metamorphoses necessary to lead a meaningful life. His work would influence the novelist Franz Kafka, who wrote "The Metamorphosis," a 1915 story about a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who awakens to find himself transformed into an insect. But the story is really about Samsa's deep, internal introspection.

Another 19th-century thinker gifted with intrapersonal intelligence is Walt Whitman. The poet and author of "Leaves of Grass," Whitman and other writers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, were transcendentalists. Transcendentalism was a social and philosophical movement that surfaced during the 1800s. It emphasized the importance of the individual and was influenced by Plato.

Intrapersonal Intelligence: The 1900s

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are celebrated as some of the greatest minds ever. But during the 20th century, that honor went to theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. One of history's greatest scientists, Einstein liked to spend time thinking during long walks. On these strolls, he thought deeply and formulated his mathematical theories about the cosmos and the way the universe works. His deep thinking sharpened his intrapersonal intelligence.

Like Einstein, people with high intrapersonal intelligence are self-motivated, introverted, spend lots of time alone, and work independently. They also tend to enjoy writing in journals, which Anne Frank did during tragic circumstances. Before her 1945 death at age 15 during the Holocaust, she spent much of World War II hidden in an attic with her family. While in hiding, Anne wrote a diary detailing her hopes, desires, and fears in such a moving way that the journal remains one of the world's most widely known books. 

How to Enhance Intrapersonal Intelligence

While some people seem to have an innate knack for intrapersonal intelligence, this skill can also be taught. Teachers can help students enhance and strengthen their intrapersonal intelligence by having them journal regularly and write reflections on the topics covered in class. They can also assign students independent projects and incorporate graphics like mind maps to help them organize their thoughts. Finally, just having students imagine themselves as an individual from a different time period can help them focus inward.

Teachers and caretakers should take advantage of any opportunity available to inspire students to reflect on their feelings, what they've learned, or how they might act in different contexts. All of these practices will help them to increase their intrapersonal intelligence.