In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Aron Barbey of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explains efforts to understand emotional intelligence.
Aron Barbey is an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Beckman Institute Cognitive Neuroscience group at the University of Illinois where he also heads the Decision Neuroscience Laboratory. His research investigates the principles of brain organization that underlie executive control, reasoning and decision making. He holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Emory University.
Dr. Aron Barbey – Emotional Intelligence
We wanted to know where emotional intelligence resides in the brain, and whether and to what extent the same structures that support general intelligence are also important to emotional intelligence.
To get at these questions, we looked at 152 Vietnam veterans with combat related brain injuries. This was a remarkable group of patients to study because their injuries generally affected discrete regions of the brain. It allowed us to determine the degree to which damage to specific brain areas was related to impairment on specific aspects of general and emotional intelligence. In a previous study in many of the same patients, we had already looked at the brain regions that were important to general intelligence. We conducted CT scans of their brains and a neurologist outlined the specific regions that had been damaged by their injuries. In the new study, we also conducted numerous behavioral tests, to measure their emotional aptitudes and deficits.
Our analysis revealed that there is significant overlap between general intelligence and emotional intelligence, both in terms of behavior and in the brain. Higher scores on general intelligence tests corresponded significantly with higher performance on measures of emotional intelligence. Many of the same brain regions were found to be important to both. Historically, general intelligence has been thought to be distinct from social and emotional intelligence. The most widely used measures of human intelligence focus on tasks such as verbal reasoning or the ability to remember and efficiently manipulate information.
The new analysis reveals that while intelligence, to a large extent, does depend on basic cognitive abilities, like attention and perception and memory and language, it is also closely linked to our ability to manage and understand emotions. We’re fundamentally social beings and our understanding not only involves basic cognitive abilities but also involves productively applying those abilities to social situations so that we can navigate the social world and understand others.