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The prime function of speech and language is to communicate precise information from one individual to another; its development was closely tied to the unique expansion of social intelligence in our species (Andrews & Stringer, 1993; Pinker, 1994). Speech occurs at a rate of about 15 to 25 sounds per second, permitting a data transmission rate three to ten times faster than for any other primate (Lieberman, 1991). There is much evidence supporting Chomsky's theory (1975) that the brain has an inbuilt capacity for syntax and that we are uniquely programmed for language acquisition when raised in a language-using culture. The brain mechanisms that developed for language facilitated the development of other crucially important capacities such as planning ahead, skillfully influencing others, enhanced memory, potential for sophisticated abstract concepts, and the ability to examine our own mental processes (Lieberman, 1991). Language is a major vehicle for learning and using symbol systems, which is essential for effective expression of personal intelligence in one's culture.

Social intelligence was studied in humans prior to Gardner's introduction of the concept of personal intelligence (Stemberg & Smith; 1985; Taylor & Cadet, 1989; Walker & Foley, 1973; Wyer & Srull, 1989). The range of definitions is varied and includes (a) abilities to understand, to get along with, to deal with others; (b) abilities to make use of prior knowledge about people; and (c) abilities to accurately perceive the feelings and motivations of people (Hunt, 1928; Moss & Hunt, 1927; Strang, 1930; Thomdike, 1920; Wedeck, 1947). Stemberg and Smith (1985) described testing instruments developed to measure social intelligence in humans, including photographs of individuals and of couples who may or may not be emotionally involved with one another, self and observer ratings of interpersonal sensitivity, and tests for nonverbal sensitivity. None of these approaches were shown to reliably measure individual differences in social intelligence. Because of the complex factors involved in developing testing instruments and the subtleties involved in tuning into self and others, relatively intimate and longitudinal knowledge of a subject may be necessary for such characteristics to be studied effectively.

Instinctual Underpinnings of Personal Intelligence

There are strong indications that personal intelligence is based on instinct and, further, that it evolved by natural selection as an aspect of built-in reasoning processes for solving specific adaptive problems. An instinct involves both competence for a behavior and the urge to carry it out. For example, a spider is both able to spin a web and is compelled to do so (Pinker/1994). Primate studies demonstrated that social intelligence is inextricably linked with the urge to collect and respond to pertinent information, (e.g., Goodall, 1986). The gathering, emotional coloration, and interpretation of social information were of such compelling significance for the evolution of primates that there must be instinctual underpinnings to these processes (Brothers, 1990; Damasio, 1994). The human urge to employ personal intelligence is easily observed in the urge to gossip, to follow soap operas, to read self-help books and so forth (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992). We further postulate that the greater the personal intelligence of an individual, the stronger is the associated urge to utilize it.

Barkow, Cosmides, and Tooby (1992) argued that along with competence for and urge to engage in social exchange (their term for characteristics of social intelligence), the urge is channeled in circumscribed ways as reasoning instincts targeted to resolve specific adaptive problems such as recognizing emotions, interpreting social situations correctly, choosing to act altruistically, preventing danger, bonding, selecting a mate, competing, maintaining status, and deceiving (Buss, 1995; Edgar, 1993; Wright, 1995). For each type of problem there is an innate "special purpose" and "domain-specific" neural reasoning module with an algorithm for solving that particular problem. Premack and Premack (1995) even described a possible "theory of mind" reasoning module, apparently unique to humans. It programs us, beginning in infancy, to have the perception that there must be a cause for movement existing within an object if that object seems to move spontaneously, and that this cause has perception, intent, and goals.

Cosmides and Tooby (1992) wrote that the human "adapted mind" probably operates with hundreds or even thousands of such programs or reasoning modules, almost all of them unidentified and unstudied. They challenge the "Standard Social Science Model," that the reasoning capacities of the human mind are essentially general-purpose and content-independent. When considered along with Gardner's proposals, doubts are raised about the extent of general-purpose intelligence and general-purpose reasoning abilities, two characteristics traditionally valued as particularly human (Barrow, 1995; Pinker, 1994).

Cosmides and Tooby (1992) are pioneers in the new field of evolutionary psychology, which holds that to understand our reasoning instincts, we must study the conditions during the 2 million year Pleistocene epoch when members of our genus were hunter-gatherers. Apparently the operation of the human brain has not changed measurably since this period during which behaviors associated with sophisticated personal intelligence emerged. Only 10,000 years ago humans were still hunter-gatherers, and the dramatic development of civilization since then was based on the same brain. That is, there is fossil and other evidence for cultural, but not biological, evolution (Gould, 1994). For instance, consider the development of mathematics, written language, and pottery. Schmandt-Besserat (1992) and others compiled strong evidence that these skills developed from the simple use of clay tokens as counters for items of trade, such as animals and grain. Once these tokens were "invented," it took a few thousand years before humans grasped the symbolic potential of tokens, with their various shapes and marks, and developed mathematical concepts and written language. There is no need to postulate any physical evolution in these developments. To illustrate, if a newbom Cro-Magnon infant of 40,000 years ago could be placed in a modem environment, he or she would demonstrate no distinguishable psychological or developmental characteristics from a newbom infant of today. An important implication is that primitive reasoning patterns are still quite active in modem Homo sapiens, although they may often be hidden from us by explanatory rationalizations.

Other possible reasoning modules for solving social problems in a hunter-gatherer environment could include loyalty to the group, follow-the-leader, herd or clannish characteristics, dominance, control, appropriation, aggression, and us versus them characteristics (Calvin, 1991; Premack & Premack, 1995). In some situations, two or more such mechanisms activated in an individual could work at cross-purposes (Pinker, 1994). In addition, such biologically based constraints or imperatives could overwhelm rational thinking (Barkow et al., 1992). The power of built-in mental programs over otherwise good reasoning capabilities is suggested by a recent study of chimpanzees taught to recognize Arabic numerals (Boysen & Bemtson, 1995). Chimp A was presented with two plastic numerals representing the amount of candy to be received by herself and by Chimp B, and she was to point to the number that was for Chimp B. Chimp A was able to reliably select the lower number. However, if the plastic numbers were replaced with pieces of candy. Chimp A would reliably select the plate with the most candy and then become quite upset when that plate was given to Chimp B. If the candy were replaced again with plastic numbers, Chimp A could again make the correct decisions. It appears that Chimp A could make reasoned decisions, but that a more basic neural module for taking food overruled the understanding of the game when actual food was involved. Analogously, LeDoux (1993) argued that some humans may have dominant subcortical pathways that react quickly to perceived danger, overruling any cortex-based insights or decisions.

Many inexplicable situations in historical and modem times can suddenly make sense if we consider this "adapted mind" approach (Drozdiak, 1995; Premack & Premack, 1995; Tuchman, 1984; Wright, 1995). For instance, humans seem to have a powerful urge to find a leader and then to cooperate and follow. In Bosnia and Rwanda, follow-the-leader, herd and us-versus-them patterns frequently overwhelmed rational self-interest and humane concerns for others, including children, even in intermarried families who had recently lived peacefully side by side.

As we discuss later, these issues are very relevant to our studies of borderline patients. Patients and their parents vary in definite ways regarding perceptive talents, the urge to gain access to these talents, and the degree to which they may be governed by rigid inborn algorithms or instead are potentially able to experience themselves and their human environment in a flexible and rational manner.

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©2004 Lee Crandall Park, M.D.