‘Social Intelligence’ in Research

Jun 1 06:54 2016 Sandeep Atre Print This Article

Body-language, emotional-intelligence, Social intelligence, detecting-deception

Social Intelligence,Guest Posting as a concept, was propounded by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920. In his own words, Social Intelligence is “the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls, and to act wisely in human relations”. So, by the very definition, the concept relates to both the cognitive aspects (the ability to understand people) and practical aspects (ability to deal with and respond towards them).

In years to come, Moss and Hunt defined it on similar lines as “the ability to get along with others” and P. E. Vernon in 1930s carried it forward by describing it as “Social intelligence is reflected in the general ability to get along with people in general, social technique or ease in society, knowledge of social matters and susceptibility to stimuli from other members of a group, as well as insight into the temporary moods or underlying personality traits of strangers”.

What followed was a lull in terms of specific research on the concept, until Gardner in 1980s proposed a novel model of multiple-intelligences with interpersonal and intrapersonal as two of them. They, together, are seen in terms of social intelligence. In his words, “social intelligence allows people to take advantage of the resources of others. We are finding that much of people’s effective intelligence is, in a sense, outside the brain. This means, you can use intelligence for other people, if you know how to reach it and how to use it. Therefore, the best strategy is to mobilize other people around you.”

So, according to him, interpersonal intelligence covers the ability to read other people’s moods, motives and other mental states; and intrapersonal includes the ability to access and assess one’s own feelings and to draw on them to guide behavior. He also believed it to be the basis of EI with a greater focus on cognition and understanding than feeling.

Researchers Ford and Tisak found both convergent and divergent validity for social intelligence. They also found that social intelligence was a better predictor of a behavioral measure of social effectiveness than was academic intelligence. In fact, overall in that decade, researchers agreed that social intelligence is distinct from general intelligence and may serve as a better predictor of behavior.

In early 1990s, Researcher Zaccaro and his associate saw social intelligence in terms of two aspects:

(a) Social understanding and

(b) Situational-appropriate behavior.

According to them, socially-intelligent individuals are aware of the social situation, including the problems and needs of others (social perceptiveness). They are also able to behave appropriately for different social situations (behavioral flexibility).

Around that time, researchers Kosmitzki and John described a socially intelligent person as the one who:

  • Understands people’s thoughts, feelings and intentions well;
  • Is good at dealing with people;
  • Has extensive knowledge of the rules and norms in human relations;
  • Is good at taking the perspective of other people;
  • Adapts well in social situations;
  • Is warm and caring; and
  • Is open to new experiences, ideas and values.

In late 90s, Salovey and Mayer in their work considered emotional intelligence as a part of social intelligence. According to them, it includes the ability to monitor feelings and emotions of themselves and others. It is the ability to distinguish between signals and use this information to manage thoughts and actions of others. Social intelligence is the ability to use emotional intelligence in social situations. It incorporates interaction with others and readiness to estimate the social situation around.

But the problem in calling Social Intelligence as‘intelligence’ was to test it on the criteria of ‘intelligence’ given by researchers Boyatzis and Sala. According to them, to be classified as an ‘intelligence’, a concept should be:

1) Behaviorally observable

2) Related to biological and in particular neural-endocrine functioning. That is, each cluster should be differentiated as to the type of neural circuitry and endocrine system involved

3) Related to life and job outcomes

4) Sufficiently different from other personality constructs so that the concept adds value to understanding the human personality and behavior

5) The measures of the concept, as a psychological construct, should satisfy the basic criteria for a sound measure, that is show convergent and discriminant validity.

The person who solved this problem was Daniel Goleman. He has surely been the person who has contributed most towards the research on biological and in particular neural-endocrine functioning in context of the social intelligence. In his seminal book, he discussed the ‘social intelligence’ in terms of neurology, thus fulfilling the second criterion of Boyatzis and Sala for social intelligence to qualify as an intelligence. His contribution to establishing social intelligence as a domain is huge.

In the years to come, researchers like Karl Albrecht reworked the model of multiple intelligences and propagated that human beings have six basic dimension of intelligence. Social Intelligence featured as one of them and is defined as “Interacting successfully with others in various contexts”, with a close term Emotional Intelligence defined as “Self-insight and the ability to regulate or manage one’s reactions to experience”. Researcher Seal and his associates believed that the term was defined as the behavioral manifestations of the interpersonal awareness of others’ emotions, needs, thoughts, and perceptions as well as navigate the larger social environment and working with others.

In another important twist, in their succeeding works, Goleman (2006) and Boyatzis and Goleman (2006) reclassified their array of competencies and clusters into two distinct aspects. The interpersonal clusters (social awareness and relationship management) were relabeled social intelligence (SI) competencies; and the intrapersonal clusters (self-awareness and self-management) were relabeled emotional intelligence (EI) competencies.

The new term, emotional and social intelligence (ESI) helps to differentiate the behavioral manifestations of the intrapersonal awareness and management of emotions within the self (EI) from the behavioral manifestations of the interpersonal awareness of others’ emotions, needs, thoughts, and perceptions as well as navigate the larger social environment and working with others(SI).

This integrated concept of ESI offers more than a convenient framework for describing human dispositions—it offers a theoretical structure for the organization of personality and linking it to

a theory of action and job performance. This helped it get positioned as a competency as well. As, according to Boyatzis, a competency is an “underlying characteristic of the person that leads to or causes effective or superior performance” therefore, an ESI competency got defined as an ability to recognize, understand, and use emotional information about oneself (EI) or others (SI) that leads to or causes effective or superior performance.

The correlation of social and emotional intelligence approach is clearly reflected by Bar-On, who uses the concept of emotional and social intelligence. This model includes set of interrelated emotional and social competencies that determine how effectively we understand and express ourselves, how we understand and get along with other people and how we handle daily activities.

In practice, they can complement each other as they complement to the abstract intelligence. Human being is a solid personality whose career is hardly separable from personal or family life. Emotional intelligence is essential for human life, because it helps to perceive, understand and manage emotions. It represents a personal, natural wisdom that allows him to live life joyfully, to overcome and solve everyday problems and achieve success.

Social intelligence is the ability to relate to people, perceive social situations and properly interpret them and react accordingly. It is the ability to create harmonious interpersonal relationships and the ability to solve conflicts. One component cannot exist without the other.

This definition can be elaborated to “how people handle themselves and their relationships”, according to Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee. So, ESI is a set of competencies, or abilities, organized along two distinct aspect (emotional and social) in how a person: (a) is aware of himself/herself; (b) manages him/herself; (c) is aware of others; and (d) manages his/her relationships with others.

Building upon and integrating the competency research, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee presented a model of ESI with 18 competencies arrayed in four clusters and two aspects.

Researcher Shaun identified socially intelligent people as:

  • They have confidence in social circumstances.
  • They have and demonstrate a genuine interest in their fellow beings.
  • They are capable of adapting, understanding and responding effectively.
  • They express their emotions and feelings clearly and appropriately with assertiveness.
  • They have an awareness of the internal and external locus of control.

Karl Albrecht, around 2009, elaborated the five major dimensions of social intelligence as situational radar, presence/bearing, authenticity, clarity and empathy (can be seen as an acronym SPACE).

  1. Situational Radar (Awareness): the ability to read situations, understand the social context and choose behavioral strategies that are most likely to be successful
  2. Presence: the external sense of one’s self that others perceive: confidence, bearing self-respect, and self-worth.
  3. Authenticity: the opposite of being phony. Authenticity is a way of behaving which engenders a perception that one is honest with one’s self as well as others.
  4. Clarity: the ability to express one’s self clearly, use language effectively, explain concepts clearly, and persuade with ideas.
  5. Empathy: the ability to create a sense of connectedness with others; to get them on your wavelength and invite them to move with and toward you.

In that decade, the consistent aspects of social intelligence among all researches were: the knowledge of the social situations, accurate interpretation of the social situation and the skills to behave appropriately in that social situation. Hopkins and Bilimoria opined that to be considered socially intelligent one has to be good at human relationships. Crowne defined it as the ability to interact effectively with others in any social situation. Emmerling and Boyatzis  describe social intelligence competency as the ability to be aware of, understand and act on emotional information about others that leads to effective performance.

Thus, what was proposed by Thorndike during the first half of the 1900s was initially perceived similarly as a single concept by fellow researchers. However, later others began to see social intelligence as a set of two personal intelligences, divided into interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences that include knowledge about oneself and others.

Many scholars proposed a number of different ways to be socially intelligent. It has been thought of as the ability to accomplish interpersonal tasks and to act wisely in relationships. It has been seen as a capability that allows one to produce adequate behavior for the purpose of achieving a desired goal. It is thought that SI involves being intelligent in relationships.

Some researchers even believed that the social facets of intelligence may be as important as the cognitive aspects. However, most of them agreed that the Social Intelligence includes knowledge of the social situations and the skill to perceive and interpret the situations accurately, for leading one to successfully behave in the situation. In other words, it has always been seen as an ability to interact effectively with others.

In an important research, Süß, Weis, & Seidel focused on more of a potential-based concept of SI, rather than behavior-based approaches and the broader concept of social competence (i.e., including both cognitive and non-cognitive abilities and skills).

In the potential-based approach, SI encompasses only the cognitive abilities as necessary prerequisites for social competent behavior. Consequently, social competent behavior is part of the external criterion, not the construct. Social competent behavior, on the other hand, depends on cognitive (i.e., SI) and non-cognitive prerequisites (e.g., intentions, motivation, personality traits, values, norms, etc.).

Thus, SI has been specified as a multidimensional cognitive ability construct that relies on an integrative model derived from a literature review. This model integrates both theoretical and operational definitions of SI. In its current version, the model distinguishes between the following cognitive ability domains and has been in part supported by data in a multitrait-multimethod (MTMM) study by Weis and Süß in 2007. So SI is about five qualities:

Social understanding (SU) also social inference, social interpretation, or social judgment) represents the ability to understand social stimuli against the background of the given social situation. It also includes diversely labeled requirements such as the recognition of the mental states behind words, the comprehension of observed behaviors in the social context in which they occur, and the decoding of social cues.

Social memory (SM) represents the ability to store and recall objectively given social information that can vary in complexity. The concept of SM was originally introduced by Moss and also appeared in works of Sternberg, Conway, Ketron, and Bernstein as memory for names and faces.

Social perception (SP) represents the ability to perceive socially relevant information quickly in more or less complex situations. SP is distinguished from SU by only relying on objectively present information in order to exclude interpretative requirements.

Social flexibility (SF) is the ability to produce as many and as diverse solutions or explanations as possible for a social situation or a social problem. The concept was originally introduced in Guilford’s (1967) structure of human intellect model in the domain of divergent production of behavioral contents.

Social knowledge (SK) includes knowledge of social matters, the individuals’ fund of knowledge about the social world, or knowledge of the rules of etiquette. Unlike the remaining dimensions, SK highly depends on the social values of the environment and is not considered as a pure cognitive dimension.

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Sandeep Atre
Sandeep Atre

Sandeep Atre, PhD is the Founder-Director of Socialigence. He is also one of the Founder-Directors of CH EdgeMakers – a leading ‘Coaching and Training’ group of Central India. In his career of close to one and a half decade, he has trained thousands of students, and professionals of more than fifty corporate & institutional clients.

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