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An investigation concludes that intelligence is essentially social

An investigation concludes that intelligence is essentially social

May 26, 2024

Research on brain injuries and the abilities of American war veterans of the Vietnam War who had suffered contusions or gunshot wounds to the skull has thrown new and revealing facts about the nature of human intelligence .

The intelligence and the social

A study from the University of Illinois has found that certain brain areas that participate in human social activity are also fundamental to general and emotional intelligence.

This discovery strengthens the idea that the intelligence emerges from the social and emotional context of the person .

"We try to understand the nature of intelligence and to what extent our intellectual capacity is based on the cognitive skills we use to relate socially," he says. Aron Barbey , professor of neurosciences and one of the scientists who led the research.

Intellect and social context

Academic literature in social psychology explains that human intellectual abilities emerge from the everyday social context, according to Barbey.

"We need a prior stage in our development of interpersonal relationships: those who love us care and are interested in us, if this does not happen, we would be much more vulnerable, we would be defenseless." Subject-society interdependence continues in the adulthood and remains transcendental throughout life.

"Close people, friends and family, alert us when we may be making a mistake and sometimes they help us if we commit them," he says. "The ability to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships, essential to relate to the immediate context is not a specific cognitive ability that stems from the intellectual function, but the relationship is reversed. Intelligence can arise from the basic role of social relationships in human life, and consequently they are closely linked to emotional capacity and social skills. "

How the investigation was done

The study analyzed a total of 144 American war veterans with cranial injuries caused by shrapnel or bullets. Each lesion had its characteristics and affected different brain tissues, but due to the nature of the lesions that were analyzed, the adjacent tissues were unharmed.

The injured areas were mapped by the use of tomography, to then regroup the data to offer a comparative brain map.

The scientists used different tests and carefully designed tests to assess the intellectual, emotional and social skills of the veterans. Then they looked for patterns that linked injuries in certain brain areas with deficits in the ability of subjects to develop in the intellectual, emotional or social.

Questions about social problems were based on the resolution of conflicts with people close to them.

As previously reported in previous research on intelligence and emotional intelligence, scientists found that the areas of the frontal cortex (the frontal part of the brain), the parietal cortex (upper part of the skull), and the temporal lobes (the lateral part of the brain) , behind the ears) participate in the resolution of everyday social conflicts.

The brain regions that assisted social behavior in the parietal and temporal lobes are located in the left cerebral hemisphere. On the other hand, the left frontal lobe and the right one also participated in social functioning.


Neural connections that are considered fundamental for interpersonal skills were not identical to those that favor general and emotional intelligence, but the degree of overlap was significant.

"The results suggest that there is an integrated information processing architecture, that social skills are based on mechanisms dedicated to general and emotional intelligence," says Barbey.

"These conclusions are consistent with the idea that intelligence is largely based on emotional and social skills , and we should understand intelligence as a product of cognitive integration, instead of discriminating between cognition and emotions and the process of social transformation. These are conclusions that fit with the social nature of the human being: our life takes place while we try to understand others and solve certain social conflicts. Our research suggests that the architecture of intelligence in the brain can have a large social component. "

In another 2013 study, Barbey arrived at similar results. On that occasion he stressed that general intelligence had a strong link with emotional intelligence, analyzing both with IQ tests and damaged brain areas.

Also, in 2012, Barbey mapped for the first time the distribution of tasks related to intelligence in the brain.

Bibliographic references:

  • A. K. Barbey, R. Colom, E. J. Paul, A. Chau, J. Solomon, J. H. Grafman: Lesion mapping of social problem solving. Brain (2014). DOI: 10.1093 / brain / awu207.
  • Original study: // ...

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