Emotional intelligence — the ability to process emotional information to navigate social settings well — has been tied to specific regions of the brain and appears to be greatly connected with overall intelligence, a new study has found.
The findings, published in the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, are based on an analysis of 152 Vietnam veterans with combat-related brain injuries by University of Illinois scientists. They provide the first detailed map of the brain regions that contribute to emotional intelligence and suggest a significant overlap between general intelligence and emotional intelligence.
"This was a remarkable group of patients to study, mainly because it allowed us to determine the degree to which damage to specific brain areas was related to impairment in specific aspects of general and emotional intelligence," said lead researcher Aron K. Barbey, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Illinois.
For the study, researchers examined CT scans of the veterans' brains to identify regions areas essential to specific cognitive abilities, and those tied to general intelligence, emotional intelligence, or both.
They found that regions in the frontal cortex (behind the forehead), known to be involved with regulating behavior, and parietal cortex (top of the brain near the back of the skull), which processes feelings of reward and memory, were important to both general and emotional intelligence.
Barbey said the new findings will help scientists and clinicians understand and respond to brain injuries in their patients, but also illustrate the interdependence of general and emotional intelligence in the healthy mind.
"Historically, general intelligence has been thought to be distinct from social and emotional intelligence," he said. “Intelligence, to a large extent, does depend on basic cognitive abilities, like attention and perception and memory and language. 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."
This study was conducted in part at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health.
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