Naturalist Intelligence

The Ability to Interact with Nature

Naturalist Intelligence. PHOTO 24/ Stockbyte/ Getty Images

Naturalist intelligence is one of Howard Gardner's nine multiple intelligences. It involves how sensitive an individual is toward nature and the world around her. People who excel in this intelligence typically are interested in growing plants, taking care of animals or studying animals or plants. Zookeepers, biologists, gardeners and veterinarians are among those that Gardner sees as having high naturalist intelligence.


Gardner added naturlist -- and existential -- intelligence to his original seven intelligences in his 2006 book, "Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice." He laid out his original theory, and his seven initial intelligences, in his 1983 work, "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences." In both books, Gardner argued that there are better -- or at least alternative -- ways to measure intelligence than standard IQ tests in both regular and special education.

Gardner says that all people are born with one or more "intelligences," such as logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic and even musical intelligence. The best way to test, and develop, these intelligences is by practicing skills in these areas, says Gardner, and not through paper-and-pencil tests.

Famous People With High Naturalist Intelligence

In "Multiple Intelligences," Gardner gives examples of famous scholars with high naturalist intelligence, such as: 

  • E.O. Wilson: The world's greatest naturalist, and the father of sociobiology, wrote a 1990 book, "Ants" -- one of two books for which he won the Pulitzer Prize -- that explained how these insects create social structures, organizations and hierarchies -- traits that were once thought only humans possessed.
  • John James Audobon:  This naturalist created a collection of paintings, "Birds of America," published in four volumes from 1827 to 1838. Audobon is considered the father of the conservationist movement and inspired millions to take to the woods, lakes and mountains in search of rare bird sightings.

"Persons with a high degree of naturalist intelligence are keenly aware of how to distinguish the diverse plants, animals, mountains, or cloud configurations in their ecological niche," Gardner says.

Enhancing Naturalist Intelligence

People with naturalist intelligence are interested in conservation and recycling, enjoy gardening, like animals, like to be outside, are interested in the weather and feel a connection to the earth. As a teacher, you can enhance and strengthen your students' naturalist intelligence by:

  • Holding class outside
  • Giving lessons on weather and nature
  • Performing skits about nature and cycles
  • Observing nature
  • Keeping a nature journal

Gardner suggests bringing what he calls the "summer culture" into the rest of the year -- and into the learning environment. Send students outside, take them on short hikes, teach them how to observe and identify plants and animals -- and help them get back to nature. This is the best way, says Gardner, to increase their natural intelligence.