Emotional smarts and general intelligence may be more closely linked than previously thought, new research suggests.
In a group of Vietnam veterans, IQ test results and emotional intelligence, or the ability to perceive, understand and deal with emotion in oneself or in others, were linked. And in brain scans, the same regions of the brain seemed to perform both emotional and cognitive tasks, the study found. The findings were published in the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience.
"Intelligence, to a large extent, does depend on basic cognitive abilities, like attention and perception and memory and language," said study coauthor Aron Barbey, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, in a statement. "But it also depends on interacting with other people. 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."
In the past, scientists believed that emotional intelligence and general intelligence were distinct, and books and movies are rife with depictions of intellectually brilliant but socially clueless nerds.
But Barbey and his colleagues wondered whether emotional intelligence and IQ were more tightly coupled than previously thought. To find out, the team used emotional intelligence, and intelligence tests drawn from 152 Vietnam veterans.
Barbey's team found that as IQ test scores went up so did measures of social abilities.
Next, they studied brain scans from the veterans. Participants had suffered injuries in different parts of the brain, so the researchers created a map of the brain, then broke it into tiny sections. They then compared emotional and general intelligence test results between those with and without injuries for each individual section.
Those with brain injuries in the frontal cortex and the parietal cortex had impairments in both general and emotional intelligence. The frontal cortex plays a key role in regulating behavior, planning and memory, while the parietal cortex plays a role in understanding language.
The findings suggest that social savvy and general smarts are more tightly connected than previously thought.
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Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.