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Social Intelligence: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:03 Feeling Awkward
  • 0:33 Social Intelligence Defined
  • 2:14 Social Intelligence &…
  • 4:05 Social Intelligence Theories
  • 6:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson explores social intelligence and how it may or may not relate to personality. Specific topics include a definition, aspects of social intelligence, and theoretical views on what social intelligence is and how it works.

Feeling Awkward

Have you ever felt extremely awkward in a situation, not knowing the right thing to say or how to interact with a group of people? Maybe you accidentally did or said the wrong thing. Not only can this be an embarrassing situation, it shows a moment where your social intelligence failed you. People have many different abilities regarding social intelligence, from the ''life of the party'' to the ''tactless boor'' or even the ''wall flower,'' but what is social intelligence really?

Social Intelligence Defined

Social intelligence is a person's ability to interact well with others, often called people skills or tact. It is a learned ability involving situational awareness, understanding of social dynamics, and a decent amount of self-awareness. There are four contributing aspects of social intelligence defined by researchers:

1. Communication Skills

These involve the ability of a person to listen well, understand the words and emotional content of what they hear, speak well with others, express their thoughts and emotions clearly, and use tact when speaking with others.

2. Social Roles and Rules

These involve knowing the different, usually unspoken, rules of various types of interactions and situations as well as how to play an appropriate role in a variety of interactions. You wouldn't normally act the same way in a board meeting as you would if you were watching a football game with friends.

3. Understanding the Motivation of Others

This involves reading the subtext of a conversation and understanding why a person is saying something or behaving in such a manner. Imagine a person with tears streaming down their face, yet they tell you that everything is fine. While this is an easy situation to read, high social intelligence can help decipher even the most subtle situations.

4. Impression Management

This skill involves understanding the reaction of others to you and behaving in a way to make the impression you want. Do you go into a job interview dressed well and acting confident and professional, or do you wear jean shorts and sweat profusely with nervousness?

Social Intelligence and Personality

Theorists disagree on the role social intelligence plays in personality. Some strictly define it as just one form of intelligence, which was outline by Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, which has been simplified to Karl Albrecht's six dimensions of intelligence, known as A.S.P.E.A.K, where each letter stands for a particular kind of intelligence, including:

  • Abstract, or logical reasoning, mathematics, and symbolic information processing
  • Social, or interaction with others
  • Practical, or problem solving for real-life situations
  • Emotional, or self-awareness and ability to control one's emotional and behavioral reactions
  • Aesthetic, or an understanding of relationships between objects, design skills, and comprehension of form
  • Kinesthetic intelligence, or awareness and skill in moving the body or controlling objects through space

However, other theorists see social interaction as a manifestation of an individual's personality because it employs many cognitive processes integral to personality formation, such as perception, memory, and problem-solving skills. Those ascribing to the cognitive view of personality, the belief that personality is composed of perception, memory, and problem-solving cognitive systems, tend to explain differences in personality as different sets of knowledge and skill seen most clearly when people interact with one another.

George Kelly, another leading researcher in social intelligence and personality, claimed people use their self-knowledge and awareness of the world around them to generate hypotheses of social interactions that either were reinforced when the interaction occurred or proven wrong. This requires additional cognitive processes to understand and accommodate the new information.

Social Intelligence Theories

We've just looked at the cognitive view of personality and social intelligence, but what other theoretical views are there?

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