Locating the neural substrates of emotional intelligence

An article in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) is reporting that two types of emotional intelligence: "experimental" and "strategic", can be localized to two distinct brain regions.

The researchers at NINDS gave various tests to a group of Vietnam veterans who had sustained head injuries (the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, for all you human intelligence test aficionados out there). Vets who had injuries to their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex performed poorly on tasks that tested "experimental" emotional intelligence (the ability to judge emotions in other people). In contrast, vets with injuries to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex did not succeed at tasks testing "strategic" emotional intelligence (the ability to plan socially appropriate responses to situations).

Neither of the groups showed any deficit in general cognitive intelligence, leading the researchers to conclude that emotional intelligence can be dissociated from cognitive intelligence. They go on to describe the social importance of this proposal, saying that by recognizing the complementary nature of emotional and cognitive intelligence, we may be able to resolve the conflict between the dual influences of cognition and emotional intelligences in behavioral economics, particularly by recognizing that  "social exchange is a fundamental distinguishing feature of humans and that it finds expression in both impersonal exchange through large-group markets and personal exchange in small-group social transactions (59)."

Unfortunately, they do not discuss the implications of the distinct localizations of the two types of emotional intelligence. However, given the popularity of the subject, I am sure that such studies, both from the neurological and from the neuro-economic camps, are in our futures.

Krueger F, et al. The neural bases of key competencies of emotional intelligence. PNAS, 106: 22486-22491 (2009).


Astra Bryant

Astra Bryant is a graduate of the Stanford Neuroscience PhD program in the labs of Drs. Eric Knudsen and John Huguenard. She used in vitro slice electrophysiology to study the cellular and synaptic mechanisms linking cholinergic signaling and gamma oscillations – two processes critical for the control of gaze and attention, which are disrupted in many psychiatric disorders. She is a senior editor and the webmaster of the NeuWrite West Neuroblog