Friday 25 November 2016

Intelligence, emotions and personality


In my day, intelligence and personality required completely different lectures. Indeed, the subject areas did not overlap at all and each had a very different tone: intelligence involved intelligence tests, in which it was possible to do badly, which was certainly a disappointment to many in the class, and a source of much anti-IQ resentment.

Personality, on the other hand, was a bit less daunting, in that there were said to be no wrong answers. That wasn’t entirely true, but there were crumbs of comfort for almost everybody. It was implied that all personality types had their uses, “it takes all types to make a world” and that they would form a happy team if selected and organised properly.

Then some new ideas came up. The first and highly popular notion was that in addition to boring old analytic intelligence some people had an ability which really mattered: emotional intelligence. The term quickly became synonymous with a sensitive, perceptive, positive person, able to succeed in real life in ways that a sharper, colder, analytic mind would find difficult, if not impossible. The emotionally intelligent were intelligent about emotions: they could spot them and manage them, secret agents of the unconscious. The corporate world embraced the notion of EQ,  the Emotional Quotient they sought in their employees.

It took some time for those who had been actually researching the area to make the public understand that the popular term conflated two apparently different things: aspects of personality associated with success in life, and the ability to understand other people’s emotions. The first half was just plain old Personality. The second half was what the researchers were interested in: whether some people had a specific skill in understanding other people’s emotional states.

So, leaving aside personality, and looking only at the putative new emotional-state-understanding-skill,  they designed tests of emotional intelligence. This proved to be quite difficult. After a decade of work they found that there was some evidence for this skill, but to my reading no more outstanding than a minor subtest in a general intelligence test. Working out the emotions of others is related to general intelligence.

Meanwhile, over in the personality camp, not only had the field agreed that 5 main factors were a good resolution of the observed findings on the many proposed dimensions of personality, but some went further, and said that those five factors could be resolved into one general factor of personality. I like this idea, if only because I noted how much workplace gossip centred round complaining about uncooperative people, and the cooperative/uncooperative axis is an important aspect of the general factor of personality.

Now van der Linden et al. come along with a meta-analysis which seems to resolve the matter very neatly. They argue that the general factor of personality and emotional intelligence are one and the same thing.

van der Linden, D., Pekaar, K. A., Bakker, A. B., Schermer, J. A., Vernon, P. A., Dunkel, C. S., & Petrides, K. V. (2016, November 14). Overlap Between the General Factor of Personality and Emotional Intelligence: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication.

We examine the relationship between the general factor of personality (GFP) and emotional intelligence (EI) and specifically test the hypothesis that the GFP is a social effectiveness factor overlapping conceptually with EI. Presented is an extensive meta-analysis in which the associations between the GFP, extracted from the Big Five dimensions, with various EI measures is examined. Based on a total sample of k 142 data sources ( N 36,268) the 2 major findings from the meta-analysis were (a) a large overlap between the GFP and trait EI (r .85); and (b) a positive, but more moderate, correlation with ability EI (r .28). These findings show that high-GFP individuals score higher on trait and ability EI, supporting the notion that the GFP is a social effectiveness factor. The findings also suggest that the GFP is very similar, perhaps even synonymous, to trait EI.

general factor personality and emotional intelligence


Scoring high or low on the GFP would not necessarily indicate a good versus bad personality (Rushton & Irwing, 2011). Instead, it would mainly reflect the extent to which one uses emotional knowledge and skills in order to cooperate with others and obtain personal goals. Note that such knowledge and skills can, in principle, be used for ethical (e.g., maintaining friendships and working in teams) or unethical (e.g., deceiving and corrupting others) causes. Thus, similar to EI, the GFP can have a “bright” as well as a “dark” side.

In the fullness of time, instead of having to rely on theoretically fuzzy linear combinations of the Big Five factors, we will be able to utilize coherent constructs that have been specifically aligned to the core psychological processes underlying the emotional and social aspects of human behaviour.


This is interesting work, but there are some cautionary notes. No intelligence tests were given, so we cannot really say how much these personality aspects relate to real ability. Nor did they include measures of social desirability, also known as lying. Odd as it may seem, some respondents do not admit to having lousy personalities and appalling habits. In my view personality is best measured by observed behaviour, not questionnaire responses.

All those points apart, (which the authors put forward as limitations), they do not hide the fact that this is an elegant simplification of  some complicated constructs, and may indeed lead us to a more coherent understanding of emotional and social behaviour.


  1. The second to last paragraph really sums it up. In order to make these claims, they'd need:

    1. Test of IQ
    2. Peer-rated personality
    3. HEXACO or item-level personality test.

    But this exemplifies one reason I don't always like meta-analyses.

  2. "In my view personality is best measured by observed behaviour, not questionnaire responses." You betcha. Which leads me to:

    I can reasonably guess that the notion of IQ would be useful in many cultures other than the Western European. Does the analysis of personality hold out any hope for being equally widely useful?

  3. Psychological intelligence look more complete than emotional, even the psychological aspect of human (and non-human) intelligence tend to be basically the emotion, as their fundamental pattern.

    IQ measured important part(s) of cognitive aspect of the intelligence, ''cognitive intelligence''.

    Deny the existence of the emotional/psychological intelligence is just stupid, because it's obvious, because there is a mentalistic-mechanicistic spectrum where ''emotionally smart'' people will be localized, on avg, in the high end of the mentalistic side.

    I no have more arguments to explain what is so obvious.

    Yes, ''leftists''' has used emotional intelligence to trump IQ/cognitive intelligence, and as spontaneous/subconscious response the ''rightists''' has denied even the existence of this construct.

    Less competitive behavior, and more analytical behavior... It's not every thing leftists says is wrong, even in psychometrics. Many of their criticism about IQ are not wrong.

    Emotional/psychological intelligence IS the complete pack ''affective/cognitive empathy'', ;)

    "In my view personality is best measured by observed behaviour, not questionnaire responses."

    Not only for personality, ;) ;)

    I think/seems obvious that ''psychological/emotional resilience'' is strongly correlated with emotional intelligence.

  4. ''The term quickly became synonymous with a sensitive, perceptive, positive person, able to succeed in real life in ways that a sharper, colder, analytic mind would find difficult, if not impossible''

    I hope only synonimous and not real meaning...

    On avg, evil, mixed evil-stupid or stupid-clever people who are ''succesfull'' in evil societies.

  5. Emotional intelligence also required not-homeopathic doses of self-awareness.

  6. :)

    When they measure "emotional intelligence", what they measure is the ability to manipulate the others to achieve one's purposes, or "to navigate the social environment".

    This is connected with the ability to detect and understand emotions in others, but there is no necessary overlap between the two.

    There's the shy introverted artist type who's likely to read the others' emotions better than anybody, and is too likely to be less able than anybody to exploit people, gain popularity and social status.

    Of course, tests and theories are made by normal people, and that explains their nature and ends.

  7. Intelligence, emotions and personality influence the behavior of others. it was agreed.