A new study of 152 Vietnam veterans with combat-related brain injuries offers the first detailed map of the brain regions that contribute to emotional intelligence - the ability to process emotional information and navigate the social world.
The study found significant overlap between general intelligence and emotional intelligence, both in terms of behavior and in the brain. Higher scores on general intelligence tests corresponded significantly with higher performance on measures of emotional intelligence, and many of the same brain regions were found to be important to both.
The study appears in the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience.
"This was a remarkable group of patients to study, mainly because it allowed us to determine the degree to which damage to specific brain areas was related to impairment in specific aspects of general and emotional intelligence," said study leader Aron K. Barbey, a professor of neuroscience, of psychology and of speech and hearing science at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois.
A previous study led by Barbey mapped the neural basis of general intelligence by analyzing how specific brain injuries (in a larger sample of Vietnam veterans) impaired performance on tests of fundamental cognitive processes.
In both studies, researchers pooled data from CT scans of participants' brains to produce a collective, three-dimensional map of the cerebral cortex. They divided this composite brain into 3-D units called voxels. They compared the cognitive abilities of patients with damage to a particular voxel or cluster of voxels with those of patients without injuries in those brain regions. This allowed the researchers to identify brain areas essential to specific cognitive abilities, and those that contribute significantly to general intelligence, emotional intelligence, or both.