Every now and then some passing commentator says that intelligence tests are deficient because they do not provide sufficient assessments of warmth, understanding, and emotional sensitivity. Traditionally these have been considered aspects of personality, but because people want to be intelligent without taking a test which may reveal them to lack that quality, there has been much interest in the rebranding of these personality traits into “emotional intelligence”. This ranks somewhat higher than “gastro-intestinal intelligence” but even that latter digestive ability is something to fall back on if all else fails.
In the public relations campaign for “emotional intelligence” personal characteristics such as restraint, patience, thoughtfulness, concern about others and suchlike are not considered to be just good manners, or aspects of good character, but evidence of a specific problem-solving ability: the capacity to understand other human beings. When researchers try to bring the concept of emotional intelligence into psychometric assessment, they indeed find that much of it is simply a personality variable. However, there is an interesting possible exception: the capacity to understand depictions of other people’s emotional states. There are some positive findings, though not yet, as far as I know, proper epidemiological studies combing the “emotional perceptiveness” measures with established intelligence and personality measures. Nonetheless, there seems to be a suggestion that understanding others is g loaded (see below).
It was with these thoughts in mind that I took up the opportunity to do an online test of emotions “Reading the mind in the eyes” by Simon Baron-Cohen et al. (1997 and 2001) http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/well-quiz-the-mind-behind-the-eyes/?ref=health&_r=0
I assure you that I approached the task with the greatest sensitivity. The insensitive, brutal and very short answer is that I got 31/36 correct. The longer and more sensitive answer, or excuse, written immediately after getting the results was as follows: “I have some criticisms, which is that there should be a few trial items, so that you can calibrate how the test uses the description words. On that point, the errors should be graded for “close” errors or “far” errors. Close errors (most commonly chosen alternative) should get a quarter point, equivalent to an informed guess. Personally, I think I could claim that my first response, marked as an error, was to mark the very first picture as “comforting” rather than the required “playful”. This resulted in my uttering an expletive, and very probably falling under stereotype threat. (Clinical psychologist found failing on a core competence, collapses into greater incompetence). On strict methodological grounds (aka petulance) I claim 31.25 out of 36.
In fact, the full 2001 paper makes all clear. The revised test does have an introductory item which was not used in the online version, so it is not the author’s fault. Subjects were shown detailed word definitions with examples of usage, so that knocks another quibble on the head. Error rates for each word on the distractor items (foils) are properly listed, so petulant pedants can calculate their own, adjusted and face-saving score. Additionally, there are proper control groups, including an IQ matched control group. The gradient is: autistics 22 points, general population 26 points, students 28 points, and people with IQ 115 get 31 points. Leaving aside those with autism, the last three groups show an intelligence related gradient in the accuracy of their emotional judgments.
All in all, a good paper, with interesting material and good controls. Of course, as a clinical psychologist, I am sensitive to very subtle signs which could not possibly be depicted in an online test. Do we understand each other?