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Chapter 6: PERSONAL INTELLIGENCE, Pages 133 -167

Written by Lee Crandall Park, Johns Hopkins University & Thomas Joseph Park, University of Illinois of Chicago

(from Psychological Mindedness: A Contemporary Understanding. Edited by Mary McCallum, University of Alberta & William E. Piper, University of Alberta. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1997, Mahwah, New Jersey/London.)

Personal intelligence refers to information-processing capacities about psychological characteristics of self and others. Gardner (1983) described two kinds of personal intelligence. Intrapersonal intelligence is defined as a capacity for "access to one's own feeling life—one's range of affects or emotions: the capacity instantly to effect discriminations among these feelings and, eventually, to label them, to enmesh them in symbolic codes, to draw upon them as a means of understanding and guiding one's behavior" (p. 239). More recently Gardner (1993a, 1993b) stated that having an accurate model of oneself, which is necessary for effective decision making, is also an essential element of intrapersonal intelligence. Interpersonal intelligence is defined as "the ability to notice and make distinctions among other individuals and, in particular, among their moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions" (1983, p. 239). This intelligence includes the "capacity to place one's self into the skin of specific other individuals" (p. 250). Such capacity can involve the ability to understand and predict the behaviors of others, to work appropriately and cooperatively with others, as well as to empathize—that is, to accurately experience the feelings and motivations of another person from the perspective of that other person (1983, 1993b).

Gardner first identified personal intelligence in his landmark book, Frames of Mind: TJie Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983). He defined human intelligence as: "The ability to solve problems, or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural or community settings." (1993b, pp. 7, 15-16). Gardner provided detailed evidence that there are at least six relatively independent or modular categories of intelligence: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and personal. He identified these intelligence constructs using specific prerequisites and criteria including: (a) evidence for basic information-processing mechanisms that are activated by certain kinds of internally or externally presented information, (b) isolation of a function by brain damage, (c) the existence of exceptional individuals, (d) a distinctive developmental history; (e) evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility, and (f) human and primate experimental evidence (Gardner 1983,1985,1993b). Gardner conjectured that there may be specific subunits of these intelligences as well as additional intelligences. Although personal intelligence, the ability to know oneself and others, is considered to be the most advanced of the intelligences, regulating the other categories of intelligence to some extent, researchers find it difficult to study. To our knowledge, only one rudimentary scale exists for measuring it in a clinical setting.

Gardner reasoned that the expression of personal intelligence, probably to a greater degree than other intelligences, is markedly vulnerable to cultural and caregiver influences, requiring appropriate life experiences for full and healthy development. It is probable, for instance, that a skill for consistent, accurate empathy in adulthood requires a history of healthy reinforcement and education during the developing years (Brothers, 1989; Damon, 1990; Hunt, 1990) regardless of an exceptional inborn talent for experiencing others.

The theory of multiple intelligences generated considerable interest and debate. In general, educators have been in favor of the theory because the concept of modularity is in alignment with their experience that each individual has his or her own unique combination of talents and liabilities, and can greatly benefit from identification of these characteristics (Chion-Kenney, 1994). In contrast, psychometricians emphasize the concept of a unitary general intelligence or g factor that can be measured for everyone using a standardized test such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS; Fraser, 1995; Hermstein & Murray, 1994).

In the following sections, we provide an explanatory evolutionary history for personal intelligence, and argue that this form of intelligence is not simply a passive talent but involves very active information-gathering mental activities based on instinct. We discuss possible advantages and disadvantages of personal intelligence, and we provide examples of the molding, and at times perversion, of personal intelligence by interpersonal and cultural influences. Finally, we show how these concepts may apply to borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NFD), including a discussion of our recent clinical study of BPD using an exploratory measure to estimate personal intelligence.


Evolution and Social Intelligence

Gardner (1983, 1994) emphasized that a proposed intelligence becomes much more plausible if evolutionary antecedents can be identified. A hallmark of primate evolution is the capacity for a complex social life (Brothers, 1989; Cheney & Seyforth, 1990; Goodall, 1986; Lovejoy, 1981; Ristau, 1991). This faculty, termed social intelligence, involves impressive precursor characteristics of personal intelligence (Brothers, 1990). Small (1990) summarized studies demonstrating primate social intelligences as "a knack for functioning as a social group, day in and day out, a special kind of intelligence—a social acumen calling for a good memory, the ability to recognize and categorize others and the capacity to act on that knowledge" (p. 40).

In a fascinating example of research in this area, Cheney and Seyfarth (1990) demonstrated the ability of vervet monkeys to maintain and recognize complex social relationships involving kinship, friendship and dominance rank, to form social bonds, to work collaboratively, to remember many details about one another and about rules, and to act accordingly. For example, when a mother vervet monkey hears the recorded distress cry of her infant, she turns to look in the direction of the sound, but other females in the group look at the mother.

Evidence for the development of social intelligence in primates suggests that until the appearance of more recent hominids, social intelligence was only a rudimentary form of personal intelligence, focused on behavioral information about others but not on examination of minds of either self or others. For instance, Cheney and Seyfarth (1990) demonstrated that vervets are able to acquire sophisticated social knowledge and to make use of limited abstract concepts, yet they do not show evidence of perceiving the mental states of others or of examining their own mental states.

The emergence of personal intelligence appears to be a recent development, probably coinciding with the enormous increase in size and complexity of the human brain during the Pleistocene epoch. Brain size doubled from 700 ec in early Homo two million years ago, to 1400 ec in Homo sapiens. This period was associated with the development of behaviors requiring increasingly sophisticated uses of social intelligence including bonding, food sharing, warning patterns for predator avoidance, group hunting and scavenging, and language development (Andrews & Stringer, 1993; Fisher, 1982; Leakey & Lewin, 1992; Lovejoy, 1981; Stanley, 1992). Perhaps most significant for personal intelligence were the developing patterns of physical and psychological bonding. Lovejoy (1981) proposed that a major characteristic of physical bonding was increasingly strong biological-sexual fidelity. The rationale for this development is that the bonded pair could more adequately provide for a family group that included extremely helpless offspring. Such bonding appears to have been a necessary precursor for intense personal relationships involving intimacy, empathy, and a sense of responsibility (Fisher, 1982). It was postulated that this was an aspect of an accelerated evolutionary brain-human environment feedback loop that promoted the capacity for differentiated feelings, for grasp of the individual differences of others, and for a developing sense of self (Wills, 1993). It was even suggested that such aspects of social intelligence may have been the major factors contributing to the development of consciousness, giving evolutionary advantage to individuals who could thereby better grasp the intentions, thoughts, and feelings of others (Humphrey, 1976).

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