Exploring Intrapersonal vs Interpersonal Intelligence

At a recent workshop I put on for early childhood educators on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, there was a lot of confusion about intrapersonal intelligence. People were thinking of it as being introverted, or shy and not very social. Many also thought that if you have strong intrapersonal then you must have a less developed interpersonal intelligence. This confusion and misconception comes up often.

I’d like to try to clear this up. While someone with strong interpersonal skills is good at communicating and relating to people, a strong intrapersonal intelligence does not mean you are introverted. It means that you have a good understanding of your emotional state and internal motivations, that you have a good sense of self.

It is possible to be good at both. You can have a good understanding of what you are feeling and why, and still be very outgoing and socially adept. People with both skills probably have a strong sense of empathy and are good at motivating others.

My daughter is a great example. Just when we thought she was potty trained, she regressed. This is not uncommon, but it is frustrating! She must have heard me venting to someone because one day, she looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I go poop in my panties when I’m angry.” I was blown away at her emotional awareness and ability to express it. This is just one example of why I think she has a strong intrapersonal intelligence.

Now she is in kindergarten and attending a soccer program for children from all of the area schools. On the first day of the program, parents of many shyer children she knows walked their children up to her, saying, “look, here’s your friend, let’s go say hello.” It was clear that those parents viewed her as a friendly child capable of making their hesitant child feel included and welcomed. Of course, I was thrilled. It also helped me to see that she has good social skills or interpersonal intelligence.

When it comes to Multiple Intelligences, it may be helpful to think of us all as different cake recipes. We all have the same basic ingredients- flour, egg, sugar, salt, etc. (the same 8 intelligences) but the amount of each varies from cake to cake or person to person.


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