May 20

“Personal Intelligence,” A Theory by John D. Mayer

Psychology professor John D. Mayer, co-developer of the theory of emotional intelligence, now has written a book about personal intelligence (PI), a term he’s coined himself.

From Mayer: “As defined here, personal intelligence is an intelligence that involves reasoning about personality and personality-related information.  Each of us has a personality, and personal intelligence allows us to reason both about ourselves and about other people. For example, whenever we notice another person’s pattern of behavior—that she is good at problem solving, or late, or kind—we are using our personal intelligence to describe the individual and, often, to anticipate her future behavior.”

Publishers Weekly: “…(W)hat is innovative here is his focus on personality as a social skill, an interaction between self and environment that manifests not just through interpersonal relationships but across our collective society, including our legal system.”

An excerpt from the publisher’s description of Personal Intelligence: The Power of Personality and How It Shapes Our Lives:

…Mayer explains that we are naturally curious about the motivations and inner worlds of the people we interact with every day. Some of us are talented at perceiving what makes our friends, family, and coworkers tick. Some of us are less so. Mayer reveals why, and shows how the most gifted ‘readers’ among us have developed ‘high personal intelligence.’ Mayer’s theory of personal intelligence brings together a diverse set of findings—previously regarded as unrelated—that show how much variety there is in our ability to read other people’s faces; to accurately weigh the choices we are presented with in relationships, work, and family life; and to judge whether our personal life goals conflict or go together well. He persuasively argues that our capacity to problem-solve in these varied areas forms a unitary skill.

Mayer’s website warns that those who won’t be interested in the book are those don’t like to do a lot of reading about either psychological studies or people’s stories and those who prefer a prescribed program of self-help steps. Some consumer reviewers, moreover, find it overly scholarly. And, taking a peek at Mayer’s Psychology Today blog called The Personality Analyst, I have a sense of what they could mean.

Another website warning is that this book offers no PI test for readers to take on their own. There is, however, a demo quiz on the site that’s intended to give an idea of how the actual full test, which can only be administered by professionals, can work.

What kind of specifics, then, can readers hope to learn from reading the book? More about the PI theory from Kirkus Reviews:

Successful judges of personal intelligence enjoy better relationships and more success in life. Poor judges are worried, manipulative, insecure and generally disagreeable. Essential to personal intelligence is the ability to know thyself, a preoccupation of philosophers since the dawn of history. Everyone, the author included, urges us to look inward, but good research reveals that introspection has its limits. It’s accurate for emotions (‘I’m angry’) but less so for abilities (‘I’m smart’). Perhaps too much self-knowledge depends on what others think of us: our reputations. This is no small matter since misinterpreting one’s own traits leads to mistakes in evaluating others’.

Peter Salovey, President, and Chris Argyris, Professor of Psychology at Yale: “With Personal Intelligence, Mayer once again challenges us—arguing that there is a set of skills that may determine what sets successful people apart from those who seem oblivious to the needs and desires of those around them. He is a clear thinker and a beautiful writer, and his arguments compel us to broaden our understanding of what constitutes an intelligent individual.”