Neuroscience of Social Intelligence

At the Merit Club we are fascinated with what makes our brains tick! Every Wednesday we will be digging a little deeper into this with our Neuroscience Wednesdays series. Finding videos and articles on subjects from love through leadership to addiction, these blogs will cover a range of ideas and theories that help us understand our mind better, have the power to shape our lives and the way we think. 

This week on Neuroscience Wednesday Merit Club brings you Bill von Hippel's talk on social intelligence and how the brain, specifically the frontal lobes play a critical role in enabling us to behave appropriately.


Psychology professor Bill von Hippel takes us through the critical role that the brain has in enabling social intelligence behaviour. Specifically, the role of the frontal lobe and how with age it is one of the first areas of the brain to shrink.

Bill takes us back to 1936 when Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People was first published and focuses on his 4 key pieces of insightful advice to:

  • Not criticise, condemn or complain.
  • Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Show respect for others opinions.
  • When you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

Bill von Hippel expands upon what Carnegie is essentially saying... that social intelligence, social IQ, and social knowledge are one and the same. I’m sure everyone recognises those 4 rules, because they were embedded into us from such a young age, but let's face it often we may fail to act upon them. This is where Bill tackles the issue of social intelligence head on... why do we ignore these social 'rules'? While Carnegie’s model of social intelligence doesn’t acknowledge how difficult it is to execute these social rules, Hippel goes further and argues that social intelligence is more than just social knowledge. It’s not just about knowing the rules, but also knowing about how to execute them. 

Bill von Hippel has conducted his own studies on young people, older people, in intimate relationships, and in groups of friends, to see how we can actually use our social intelligence in order to behave in a variety of everyday situations. This included testing participants' frontal lobe functioning and how this then impacted upon their behaviour in social situations. He tested these participants' ability to do the right thing by putting them through some interesting challenges (watch the video to find out). He then completed a similar study on older people, because as you get older, just like your muscles, your brain tends to shrink. What part of the brain usually shrinks first? That’s right, the frontal lobes, the seat of self-control. This suggests, therefore, that as you age it is more likely for your social behaviour to develop... and you may unintentionally become more socially 'inappropriate' without even realising it. 

If looking into the fascinating way our brains work, looking out of the box, and challenging ideas interests you, we'd recommend a watch. 

Words by Mine Sherefali


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