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The Social Aspect of Intelligence


Guest articles > The Social Aspect of Intelligence


by: Saif Farooqi


Being intelligent is usually associated with being high on academic and intellectual abilities. Years ago, when the first attempts were made to measure intelligence, it indeed took shape and began to be seen as synonymous with academic abilities. Later, when psychologists further explored the concept, it evolved into many other domains.

Intelligence has been a subject matter that has always created a lot of intrigue. A number of philosophers and psychologists have tried to define it in their own ways. Despite the differences in the views, intelligence broadly fell into the category of abstract and mechanical abilities. In 1905, in France, the psychologist Alfred Binet and physician Theodore Simon, developed the first ever psychological test, known as the Binet-Simon scale, to measure intelligence. The test was developed to identify children who needed special attention for education in schools.

The test contained a number of age-graded items, which includes some questions related to vocabulary and general knowledge as well as some performance tasks. The test would give a score, termed as intelligence quotient or IQ, which was the measure of the individual’s intelligence. This score was compared with a set of norms according to which the individual would get to know whether his/her intelligence is high, low, or average.

The Binet-Simon scale was later translated and modified by the Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman and named as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale became highly popular and began to be widely used. It is still used today in its revised form.

The popularity of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale led to the widespread use of IQ. IQ is the ratio of an individual’s mental age and chronological age. Other psychological tests, to measure intelligence, that were developed later, also used the concept of IQ. IQ became a standard way of measuring intelligence and it began to be applied in various settings. It began to be used in education to distinguish between different levels of students. It began to be used for recruitment purposes, and it even began to be used as a factor for diagnosing certain developmental disorders.

Despite its widespread use, the concept of IQ faced a lot of criticism. Intelligence with respect to IQ got limited to cognitive abilities, such as memory and problem solving. These abilities were found to be related to only academic abilities and had nothing to do with day to day life situations. IQ turned out to be just the measure of academic abilities and could only predict academic success, while ignoring other aspects of life. This did not sit well with many theorists, as, according to them, intelligence is not only about academic abilities; it is much more beyond it.

Keeping this in view Edward Throndike came up with the concept of social intelligence, which he said is very different from the general perspective of intelligence. He defined social intelligence as, the ability to understand and manage people, and to act wisely in human relationships. Social intelligence also includes the ability to perceive one’s own and others’ internal states, motives, behaviors, and to act towards them optimally on the basis of that person. According to Throndike, social intelligence is not about academic abilities and is an important factor of success in various life situations.

David Wechsler, one of the most well known theorists of intelligence, distinguished between intellective and non-intellective elements of intelligence. The intellective elements include the usual academic abilities and the non-intellective elements include affective, personal, and social factors.

Wechsler defined intelligence as the global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, think rationally, and deal effectively with the environment. In this definition, the “dealing effectively with the environment” part in some way reflects the social aspect of intelligence. But, it cannot be said to be similar the concept of social intelligence, which was introduced by Throndike, because Wechsler described it simply as a general aspect of intelligence applied to social situations. Nevertheless, he did slightly touch on the part of the social aspect of intelligence and even suggested that the non-intellective elements of intelligence are very essential to succeed in life.

The Harvard psychologist and educationist, Howard Gardner, in his disagreement with the concept of IQ, came up with his theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner suggested that instead of one kind of intelligence, being related to academic abilities, people actually have many intelligences. Among the eight to nine intelligences, suggested by Gardner, two of them are interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence.

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people. It includes sensitivity to facial expressions, voice, and gestures; the capacity for discriminating among many different kinds of interpersonal cues; and the ability to respond effectively to those cues in some pragmatic way.

Intrapersonal intelligence is self-knowledge and the ability to act adaptively on the basis of that knowledge. It includes having an accurate picture of oneself; awareness of inner moods, intentions, motivations, temperaments, and desires; and the capacity for self-discipline, self-understanding, and self-esteem.

Gardner categorized these two intelligences as personal intelligences. Personal intelligences broadly include knowledge about the self and others, and, as it can be seen, is the same as social intelligence.

From Gardner’s personal intelligences, John Mayer and Peter Salovey coined the term emotional intelligence. They defined emotional intelligence as the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. According to Salovey, emotional intelligence can be subdivided into five domains, which are: knowing one’s emotions, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships.

Daniel Goleman further elaborated and extended the concept of emotional intelligence. He introduced a number of behavioral measurements of emotional intelligence and gave many empirical evidences of the benefits of emotional intelligence. To denote the measure of emotional intelligence, he devised the term emotional quotient or EQ, which countered to the concept of IQ.

Goleman defines emotional intelligence as the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships. Through his research he showed that emotional intelligence is highly beneficial in the areas of education, work, and mental health. He suggested as well as provided research evidences that when it comes to long-term success and success in varied life situations, being high in emotional intelligence is more important that being high in academic abilities.

The immense popularity and widespread applications of emotional intelligence has firmly established the existence of the social aspect of intelligence. More and more research is now being done within this domain of intelligence, which  further shows that intelligence is not limited to abstract and mechanical abilities.

According to Goleman, the social aspect of intelligence constitutes of social awareness and social facility. Social awareness includes instantaneously sensing another’s inner state, understanding others feelings and thoughts, and being able to handle complicated social situations. Social facility builds on social awareness to allow smooth and effective interactions.

While academic abilities are important in their own right, it is in no way synonymous with intelligence. Being intelligent may very well mean being academically adept, but it is not limited to it. This is because being intelligent also means that a person is empathetic, sensitive, influential, inspiring, compassionate, exciting, humorous, charming, etc., all are which characteristics of the social aspect of intelligence.


Saif Farooqi is a PhD in Psychology, in the area of Intimate Relationships, from the Department of Psychology, University of Delhi, India. He is involved in writing psychology-based articles. He is also involved in a number of independent researches in varying areas such as Loneliness, Interpersonal Relationships, Educational Psychology, Culture, Health Psychology, and Parapsychology. He also conducts workshops and awareness programs on career development, personality, and communication, in schools and colleges.

Saif's blog "Life, Psychology, and A Lot More”, comprising of articles on a wide range of topics has accomplished worldwide popularity. He also has a Facebook page called, "Interesting Facts About Psychology", in which he posts relevant information on a regular basis.

Currently, he is also working as an Assistant Professor at Gargi College, University of Delhi, India, where he teaches the courses of General Psychology, Experimental Psychology, Social Psychology, and Applied Social Psychology.

Contributor: Saif Farooqi

Published here on: 13-Oct-13

Classification: Psychology



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