What is Social Intelligence by danman21

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									                                                       an idea  for the greater good

What is Social Intelligence?
three 12-year-olds are heading to                domains intermingle, just as the brain’s         by an attractive face, we have the low road
a soccer field for gym class. Two athletic-       social real estate overlaps with its emotion-    to thank.
looking boys are walking behind—and              al centers. In my book Emotional Intelligence,       The “high road,” in contrast, runs
snickering at—the third, a somewhat              I folded social intelligence into my model       through neural systems that work more
chubby classmate.                                of emotional intelligence without making         methodically and step by step, with deliber-
    “So you’re going to try to play soccer,”     much of that fact, as have other theorists       ate effort. We are aware of the high road,
one of the two says sarcastically to the         in the field. But as I’ve come to see, simply     and it gives us at least some control over
third, his voice dripping with contempt.         lumping social intelligence within the emo-      our inner life, which the low road denies
    The chubby boy closes his eyes for a         tional sort stunts fresh thinking about the      us. As we ponder ways to approach that
moment and takes a deep breath. Then             human aptitude for relationship, ignoring        attractive person, we take the high road.
he turns to the other two and replies, in a      what transpires as we interact. This myopia          Conventional ideas of social intelligence
calm, matter-of-fact voice, “Yeah, I’m going     leaves the “social” part out of intelligence.    have too often focused on high-road talents
to try—but I’m not very good at it.”                 The ingredients of social intelligence       like social knowledge, or the capacity for
    After a pause, he adds, “But I’m great at    as I see it can be organized into two broad      extracting the rules, protocols, and norms
art—show me anything, and I can draw it          categories: social awareness, what we sense      that guide appropriate behavior in a given
real good….”                                     about others—and social facility, what we        social setting. Although this cognitive
    Then, pointing to his antagonist, he         then do with that awareness.                     approach has served well in linguistics and
says, “Now you—you’re great at soccer—                                                            in artificial intelligence, it meets its limits
really fantastic! I’d like to be that good                                                        when applied to human relationships.
someday, but I’m just not. Maybe I can get                                                        It neglects essential noncognitive abili-
a little better at it if I keep trying.”                                                          ties like primal empathy and synchrony,
    At that, the first boy, his disdain now                                                        and it ignores capacities like concern. A
utterly disarmed, says in a friendly tone,                                                        purely cognitive perspective slights the
“Well, you’re not really that bad. Maybe I                                                        essential brain-to-brain social glue that
can show you a few things about how to                                                            builds the foundation for any interaction.
play.”                                                                                            The full spectrum of social intelligence

                                                                                                                                                   Lane Brookshire
    That short interaction offers a masterly                                                      abilities embraces both high- and low-road
display of “social intelligence.” By keeping                                                      aptitudes that have been key to human
cool, the aspiring artist resisted the pull to                                                    survival.
anger from the other’s sarcastic taunt and                                                            Back in the 1920s, when Thorndike
instead brought the other boy into his own          Social awareness refers to a spectrum         originally proposed measuring social intel-
more friendly emotional range.                   that runs from primal empathy (instan-           ligence, next to nothing was known about
    “Social intelligence shows itself abun-      taneously sensing another’s inner state)         the neural basis of IQ, let alone about inter-
dantly in the nursery, on the playground,        to empathic accuracy (understanding her          personal skill. Now social neuroscience
in barracks and factories and salesrooms,        feelings and thoughts) to social cognition       challenges intelligence theorists to find a
but it eludes the formal standardized            (“getting” complicated social situations).       definition for our interpersonal abilities that
conditions of the testing laboratory.” So           But simply sensing how another feels,         encompasses the talents of the low road—
observed Edward Thorndike, the Columbia          or knowing what they think or intend,            including capacities for getting in synch,
University psychologist who first proposed        does not guarantee fruitful interactions.        for attuned listening, and for empathic con-
the concept, in a 1920 article in Harper’s       Social facility builds on social awareness       cern. Without them the concept remains
Monthly Magazine. Thorndike noted that           to allow smooth, effective interactions.         cold and dry, valuing a calculating intellect
such interpersonal effectiveness was of vital    The spectrum of social facility includes         but ignoring the virtues of a warm heart.
importance for success in many fields, par-       self-presentation, influence, concern, and
ticularly leadership. “The best mechanic in      synchrony (interacting smoothly at the           Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., is the author of the
a factory,” he wrote, “may fail as a foreman     nonverbal level).                                bestsellers Emotional Intelligence (Bantam
for lack of social intelligence.”                   Both the social awareness and social          Books, 1996) and Social Intelligence (Ban-
    Now, almost a century later, “social         facility domains range from basic, “low-         tam Books, 2006), from which this essay is
intelligence” has become ripe for rethink-       road” capacities, to more complex “high-         adapted. He has been awarded the American
ing as neuroscience begins to map the            road” articulations.                             Psychological Association’s Lifetime Achieve-
brain areas that regulate interpersonal             By “low-road,” I mean the neural cir-         ment Award and is a Fellow of the American
dynamics. Psychologists argue about              cuitry that operates beneath our aware-          Association for the Advancement of Science.
which human abilities are social and which       ness, automatically and effortlessly, with       You can learn more about Goleman and his
are emotional. Small wonder: The two             immense speed. When we are captivated            work at www.danielgoleman.info.

44 Greater Good Fall / Winter 2006-07

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