Naturalistic Intelligence in Perspective Taking

The ability to perceive and understand one’s environment is an essential skill of Warfighters.  They must be able to detect subtle differences in their surroundings while easily identifying people and objects that do not belong.  Therefore, this capability often proves to be a lifesaving one.  Yet, from where does this ability stem?  Are some Warfighters’ perception skills innately better than others?

Perception as an Inherent Ability

Perception requires using the five senses to collect, organize, and identify a constant influx of sensory information.  All this information is then converted into neural signals which the brain is able to interpret. The military often requires intensive training in perception skills because such abilities are so imperative (Schacter et al., 2009).  Though these programs result in increased perceptual aptitudes, there are always Warfighters who far exceed the capacities of their counterparts in perception-based skills.  Warfighters who are always acutely aware, intensely attentive, and have overall exceptional perceptual abilities seem to possess what is known as naturalistic intelligence.

Naturalistic Intelligence Defined

Naturalistic Intelligence is the eighth intelligence identified by Howard Gardner in his “Theory of Multiple Intelligences.”  This intelligence is characterized by the ability to correctly and easily identify various elements of nature.  People with naturalistic intelligence are drawn to nature and the elements of which it consists. They are able to notice subtle differences in their environments such as minuet variations in patterns of plant growth or sighting differences in rock formations.  This ability, however, can extend beyond the natural world.  Those with naturalistic intelligence can easily spot dissimilarities among the material world such as color variations in seemingly identical articles of clothing or stitching intricacies among foot tracks left behind by a pair of shoes (Checkley 1997).

Considerations for Future Training Programs

Though training can indeed be immensely effective in developing perceptual skills, it seems that those Warfighters with naturalistic intelligence will always prove superior in this ability.  Therefore, perceptual training programs should allow for course expansion to include a focus on Gardner’s theory of naturalistic intelligence.  This may be achieved through a variety of measures ranging from tangible to speculative.   On the tactile level, students could perform activities such as identifying and categorizing  varying physical attributes of nature.  A more theoretical approach, however, would allow the students to consider how the knowledge which they have acquired will ultimately impact the natural world.  If the naturalistic intelligence could be increased within a Warfighter then the need for training perceptual skills would be obsolete.  Naturalistic intelligence would allow perceptual abilities to simply become instinctive (Sabol & Wisher 2001).

-Tegan Brown


Kathy Checkley. (1997). The First Seven and the Eight: A Conversation with Howard Gardner. Educational Leadership, 55(1), 8–13.

Sabol, M. A., & Wisher, R. A. (2001). Retention and Reacquisition of Military Skills. Military Operations Research, 6(1), 59–80. doi:10.5711/morj.6.1.59

Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Introducing Psychology (First ed.). Worth Publishers.


About the Author:


Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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