How does emotional intelligence compare to IQ

Inflation of intelligences

Counselors give tips on how to increase your social intelligence. Manager seminars want to bring the emotional intelligence of executives up to speed. What is it about the increasingly popular alternative varieties of intelligence?

Scientific supervision: Prof. Dr. Elsbeth Stern

Published: 03/25/2014

Level: medium

  • Whether social, emotional or musical intelligence: various types of intelligence are becoming increasingly popular in the media and the general population.
  • As early as the 1980s, the American educational scientist Howard Gardner developed a theory of multiple intelligences. Its seven intelligences include social and physical intelligence.
  • Gardner's theory was received enthusiastically in part in educational circles.
  • In the 1990s, the psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey introduced the term “emotional intelligence” into the scientific discussion. Science journalist Daniel Goleman popularized this concept. Among other things, he emphasized the importance of emotional intelligence for professional life.
  • However, many psychologists criticize these "alternative" intelligence theories. Not only is the term “intelligence” becoming increasingly blurred. There is also a lack of tests with which one can reliably check emotional intelligence, for example.
  • Contrary to what Gardner claims, many intellectual skills are based on a basic cognitive factor, a general intelligence factor. The statistician and psychologist Charles Spearman first discovered this factor.

Neuropsychologist Elkhonon Goldberg of the New York University School of Medicine doesn't think much of the concept of a general intelligence factor called the g-factor. The reason: He is "not aware of a single, specific feature of the brain that could provide an explanation for such a g-factor". In his book “The Direction in the Brain”, he therefore suggests the S factor (S for “smart” / “clever”). It is about executive intelligence, which we intuitively interpret in other people as cunning. It is located in the front part of the brain and helps to control actions on the basis of intentions and decisions.

The "classic" intelligence and its surveyors
  • Charles Darwin's cousin Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) made the first attempt to develop an intelligence test. All his life he was concerned with the question of what enabled some people to achieve ingenious intellectual or creative achievements. For Galton, intelligence was a matter of exceptional sensory ability. Since all information is received through the senses, the more sensitive and precise a person's perception is, the more intelligent they are. Galton also developed a series of tests that recorded reaction times or visual acuity, for example. However, he was disappointed to find that measures such as reaction times were not related to other measures of intelligence.
  • The inventor of the (modern) intelligence test was the French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857-1911). He was faced with the great challenge of developing a test on behalf of the French Ministry of Education that could be used to identify poorly gifted children at an early stage. Unlike Galton, Binet assumed that cognitive skills such as reasoning should be measured with the test items. Its "Metric Scale of Intelligence" is still widely used around the world in a modified form as the Stanford-Binet test.

They are really booming: non-fiction books and guides on ever new varieties of intelligence. Usually the title already speaks of “body intelligence”, “social intelligence” or “competitive intelligence”. The last few decades have seen a real inflation of the concept of intelligence. One of the attractions of the new diversity seems to be that everyone can consider themselves intelligent in at least one area.

The hype started in the early 1980s. It is true that there was a theory of social intelligence in psychology before that. But first the book “Frames of Mind. The theory of multiple intelligences ”(later published in German under the title“ Farewell to the IQ: The framework theory of multiple intelligences ”) made really big waves, which also reached the public. In this work, the American developmental psychologist and educationalist Howard Gardner developed a theory of multiple intelligences.

The starting point was Gardner's dissatisfaction with conventional IQ and performance tests. Wrongly, he believed, they only asked about typical school skills - for example with linguistic and mathematical-logical thinking tasks. He therefore considered such tests to be of little use outside of school. Mathematical and verbal skills are ultimately no more important to success in real life than other forms of cleverness that help solve problems. In general, mathematical and verbal skills are overestimated by only considering them to be relevant to intelligence.

Not one, not two, but seven!

To remedy this grievance, Gardner said he sifted through hundreds of studies to identify various forms of cleverness. He also scrutinized the lives of historically outstanding talents such as Einstein and Picasso. At the end of the effort there was a list of seven forms of intelligence, which he later expanded. They included, among other things, artistic and physical cleverness. In addition to dancers and athletes, dexterous surgeons also have access to the latter. Gardner also listed one form of social intelligence: people with a high level of talent in this area are particularly good at empathizing with others.

The theory of multiple intelligences was welcomed enthusiastically by educators and parents. The message that people each have unique abilities fit in well with the educators' experience that children often learn in very different ways. Some schools and kindergartens around the world have taken up Gardner's ideas and followed his recommendation to promote the various types of intelligence.

Gardner's theory also gave birth to a much better known concept, the theory of emotional intelligence. The psychologists John Mayer from the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey from Yale University brought the term into the scientific discussion in 1990. They meant, among other things, the ability to correctly perceive one's own feelings as well as those of others. The term was popularized by the science journalist Daniel Goleman in his book "Emotional Intelligence" in the mid-1990s. Similar to Gardner, Goleman questioned the sole importance of conventional intelligence tests for success in life and instead emphasized the great influence of the emotional mind. In professional life, for example, it is important to be able to deal with criticism. It should be used constructively instead of being discouraged and flooded with negative feelings. Meanwhile, emotional wisdom is on everyone's lips. As the psychologist Detlef Rost from the University of Marburg writes in his “Handbook of Intelligence”, numerous shallow books on the subject are offered to all professional groups, but also to teachers and parents - as a “better” substitute for “classic” intelligence.

As popular as the new types of intelligence may be, massive criticism has been raised, especially from psychologists. Some complain that the concept of intelligence is becoming increasingly watered down and blurred. The American psychologist Edwin A. Locke of the University of Maryland criticizes, for example, that it is completely arbitrary to describe the most diverse habits and abilities as intelligent. A weighty objection is also that no test has so far been able to reliably test the various types of cleverness. It is true that Peter Salovey and John Mayer have developed a test to measure emotional intelligence. Among other things, it asks how well one is able to recognize emotions in faces. In contrast to classic intelligence test tasks, there are no clearly right or wrong answers when recognizing emotions and dealing with them. This is problematic, as Detlef Rost notes.

Even the results of empirical research have so far offered little support for the theories of Howard Gardner and Co. For example, Gardner claims that the multiple intelligences are only slightly interrelated. In addition, they are relatively independent of general intelligence. But in 2006 researchers working with psychologist Beth Visser from the Canadian Trent University Oshawa came to a different conclusion. They tested the various types of cleverness in 200 adults. They found that skills with a cognitive component such as visuospatial intelligence or social intelligence were by no means independent of one another. In addition, they were related to the general intelligence of the subjects.

The results of Beth Visser and her colleagues spoke once more for what has long been known in psychology: There is probably a kind of basic cognitive ability that underlies various mental skills. Musical abilities, for example, do not exist independently of this general intelligence, as Detlef Rost emphasizes.

The English psychologist and statistician Charles Spearman (1863-1945) had already come across a basic cognitive ability while studying performance tests: the people who did well in a cognitive test tended to excel in other tasks that required abstract thinking. Spearman then developed a special mathematical procedure. The idea behind this is that tests that are highly correlated are likely to measure the same underlying skill. Spearman called this basic cognitive ability the “general factor” or “g-factor” of intelligence. Even today, the theory of a basic cognitive ability is one of the most widespread intelligence theories.

And here lies another problem for the alternative intelligence theories. The g-factor and conventional intelligence tests are not entirely undisputed. In the eyes of many psychologists, however, they can very well achieve what Gardner and Goleman deny them: They can very well predict how well someone will cope with life. A higher general intelligence is - at least statistically - associated not only with greater success in school and at work, but also, for example, with greater life satisfaction and health. It is so far more than questionable whether the theories of Gardner and Goleman offer any additional explanatory value.

But even if there should only be "one" intelligence. Nobody doubts that people have valuable skills and talents beyond classic intelligence.

for further reading:

  • Rost, Detlef H .: Handbook of Intelligence, Weinheim 2013