The term intrapersonal intelligence may be most connected with Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner is an American psychologist whose 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences has shaped the way some educators view learning patterns of children. Though Gardner’s theories do not have universal acceptance, many educators and social scientists use or are drawn to the idea that people may have different types of intelligence, and may be particularly strong in certain types, while weak in others.
Interpersonal intelligence is one of Gardner’s terms for people who seem extremely good at facilitating relationships. These may be extroverted folks who love social environments, and in school and work they may prefer collaborative working and learning strategies. In contrast, intrapersonal intelligence describes those people who are highly self-aware. They actually may be poor at interpersonal intelligence, though this is not always the case.
The person with intrapersonal intelligence can be introverted, prefers to work alone, and has clear knowledge of what he or she needs in most settings. This knowledge is based on a very keen understanding of self. Such people may be excellent at self-reflection and possess clear goals for the future. They also may be highly motivated people because of what appears to be an innate understanding of what they need.
Some people who agree with Gardner’s theories believe that those who possess this type of intelligence in great degree need opportunities to work alone, but may require some extra care because of a high level of perfectionism associated with this form of intelligence. Children who seem very self-reflective but that lack interpersonal skills might be served by being encouraged to work in group settings from time to time to develop other intelligences. The inherent danger of intrapersonal intelligence is that the person becomes too reclusive because he or she is most satisfied by his own thoughts or work. Helping such people learn not to isolate themselves and to tolerate others who may have different goals can be valuable.
Some learning disabilities and conditions are described by an apparent lack of intrapersonal intelligence. For instance, people with autism may not be able to distinguish self from environment, and may also lack interpersonal intelligence. Yet there are plenty of people who do not have significant intrapersonal abilities and are not learning impaired.
While there is argument on whether Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences is truly scientific or accurate, there’s no doubt that intrapersonal intelligence can be important. Many people seem not to know themselves to any great degree and this can lead to choices that are inconsistent with life goals or a failure to develop reasonable goals. Lack of self-reflection may also contribute to common situations where people make the same poor choices repeatedly.