Defining intelligence is an area that remains open to interpretation. According to Sternberg and Sternberg (2012), intelligence refers to a person’s ability to acquire knowledge from their experiences and their environment. They further note that this can require adaptability to adjust to different contexts, including social or cultural (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012). Superior intelligence is often determined when an individual excels in particular areas including: “attention, working memory, reasoning, problem solving, decision making, and concept formation” (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p. 17). Sternberg and Sternberg (2012) note that understanding the cognitive processes behind these functions aid in determining the individualism behind intelligence in humans.
Another way to define intelligence is to consider the multiple intelligences as outlined first by Gardner in 1983. Gardner suggested that intelligence could be broken down into categories such as verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, emotional, spatial etc. (Furnham, 2009). His list of intelligences grew in number and since him, others have gone on to label more areas of intelligence, the number growing from seven to more than 20, depending on the researcher (Furnham, 2009).
Emotional intelligence is more difficult to study than other areas, such as mathematical or linguistic, resulting in uncertainty regarding the best manner in which to measure it. Due to the argument between intelligence testing needing to be timed tests with correct/incorrect answers and self-report testing being an adequate measure, emotional intelligence testing remains filled with subjective perception, making it difficult to quantify and assess (Furnham, 2009).
I believe that emotional intelligence must be acknowledged as an area of intelligence, allowing for this measurement to fuel overall understanding of human individualities, strengths, and weaknesses. As discussed by Mayer, Salovey and Caruso (2008), individuals have different information processing abilities – this is outside of their ability to gather or collect information.
For example, someone may be highly skilled in gathering facts, and understanding scientific information as it is presented. However, this same person may not understand the nuances of who or how this information is presented. Fact-gathering is only one part of understanding the information that is presented. We know that human communication is not only about the words being communicated. Humans use a wide array of communication tools such as voice inflection, facial expression, gestures, tone etc. to communicate their message (Schooler & Anderson, 2017). Emotional intelligence is what allows a person to grasp not just the words being presented but to also acknowledge those other elements that can dramatically alter the meaning of the words.
Anecdotally, as I watch my toddler grow, develop and begin to understand the world around him I am watching as his different areas of intelligence grow and change. Factual understanding seems to come first: he’s learning words, shapes, colours, and routines. Notably, his ability to adequately share and understand his feelings and emotions is (understandably) still a work in progress. Just like any other area of intelligence, emotional intelligence needs to be taught and nurtured and there are repercussions when it is not. In areas I have worked in I have seen the impact of underdeveloped or stunted emotional intelligence; oftentimes this results in poor communication skills, assumptions of threat or attack, and an inability to appropriately respond to stressful situations, particularly in men and boys. Too often there is too little focus on helping boys develop their emotional intelligence (or even purposefully focusing energy away from natural emotional intelligence development) and we can see the results of this in an abundance of un- and under-addressed mental health needs in the male population.
Furnham, A. (2009). The validity of a new, self-report measure of multiple intelligence. Current Psychology, 28(4), 225–239.
Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2008). Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, 63(6), 503–517.
Schooler, L. J., & Anderson, J. R. (2017). The Adaptive Nature of Memory. Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference, 265–278. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-809324-5.21042-0
Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg K. (2012). Cognition and intelligence. In Cognitive psychology (6th ed., pp. 17–22). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.