What is Social Intelligence and How Does It Help Us?

By Sijé Vargas

reviewed by Amadou barrow

The definition of social intelligence goes back to 1920 when it was developed by psychologist Edward Thorndike. He defined social intelligence as the ability to understand and manage people’s feelings, and to act wisely in human relations.

Social intelligence is a person’s ability to relate to others in an empathetic and assertive way. It helps us to communicate effectively, to know how to manage our emotions properly, and to obtain a good outcome as a result of our social interactions. Social intelligence is closely linked to emotional intelligence: both help you properly manage your emotions and provide you with qualities to improve your interpersonal relationships. When you are interacting with others is when emotional intelligence joins forces with social intelligence.


Facets of social intelligence 

Social intelligence is based on listening, observation, unconscious perception of the relationship, or relationships in which we are involved. And more than anything else, it means having the necessary skills to communicate effectively based on empathy, self-knowledge, listening, and reading emotions in other people. Here are some facets of social intelligence:

  • Social understanding: Necessary social understanding helps us understand the needs of others and, in addition, recognize and distinguish our own emotions and needs. When we have a high level of social understanding, we are able to experience, manage, and express emotions. 
  • Social memory: In order to carry out a successful social interaction, it’s necessary to have a healthy memory, which allows us to remember how we should interact with each other. It also reminds us who we have interacted with previously and what happened during those interactions. 
  • Social perception: The psychologist Joshua Aronson defines social perception as the ability to make accurate interpretations and inferences about other people from their general physical appearance and their verbal and nonverbal communication patterns. Aspects such as facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, and body position or movement are factors that people with higher levels of social perception pick up on to find out what other people are thinking, feeling, or what they are likely to do. 
  • Social knowledge: Our social knowledge is basically the content that we store in our memory. It’s like a database of knowledge we draw upon every time we interact socially. This type of ‘content’ depends on our cultural environments: the way we behave is subject to our bicultural values and norms. Actions are not based on a concrete answer, but on the number of ideas we have in certain situations.


Relationship between social intelligence and social and mental wellbeing 

Studies indicate that the higher the social intelligence we possess, the better mental health we develop. When we have a high level of social intelligence, we know how to relate assertively in social relationships, we create connections that help us feel better, and we develop relationships that bring us social support.

The ability to recognize our feelings and the feelings of others can help us manage our social interactions successfully. It also enhances positive emotions and improves the overall cognitive evaluation of one’s own life satisfaction. Maintaining emotional balance and positive relationships with others are key components of mental health. For this reason, designing positive interventions to cultivate these personal and social resources will result in less psychopathological symptomatology, greater wellbeing, and better overall mental health.

How can we improve our level of social intelligence? 

Social intelligence comes easier to some and harder to others, but gender does not influence our social intelligence. While many people have social intelligence automatically, others have to try harder to develop them; however, there are certain strategies that can help everyone build social skills:

  • Social awareness and interpersonal relationships: Learning to be aware of and understand how others feel is effective and constructive. This will help you to develop a better understanding of your surroundings.
  • Listen to others and build awareness: When you listen to others, put aside your values and prejudices, and try to perceive what the other person is thinking, feeling, needing, and perceiving, right at that moment. Notice in yourself what it feels like to be fully attuned to all of a person’s communication signals, which often come in the form of nonverbal cues and body language.
  • Emotional management and regulation: Effectively and constructively manage your emotions and learn to cope with difficult situations.
  • Work on increasing your emotional intelligence (EI): Improving your EI is more about how you control your own emotions and how you empathize with others. If you know how to control and react to your emotions, you will then recognize those emotions in others and be able to help them in a healthier way.
Sijé Vargas
Through different social projects related to Human Rights, my education background in Literature and personal experiences as a migrant I came to the conclusion that words can help us to move forward and heal. I use writing as a method to spread the word about topics that help us imagine alternative ways of living where we are all included. I highly believe that in order to have an inclusive world we must focus on communicating the importance of holistic health and wellbeing as a key part of achieving a better life.

Amadou Barrow

My areas of expertise center around climate change and global health; Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH); environmental and occupational health; health education and promotion; and health risk communications. I have experience as a lecturer at both university level in the area of health psychology, health education & promotion, water supply & sanitation, biostatistics, epidemiology and research methodology. I have published several scientific manuscripts in various reputable journals on maternal & child health morbidities and mortalities in LMIC settings. I am a passionate digital health enthusiast with a special focus on holistic wellbeing at all levels.

Archer, D. (1980). How to expand your social intelligence quotient. New York: Evans.

Azañedo, C. M., Sastre, S., Artola, T., Alvarado, J. M., Jiménez-Blanco, A. (2020). Social 

Intelligence and Psychological Distress: Subjective and Psychological Well-Being as Mediators. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(21), 7785.

French, S. A. (1995). What is social memory?. Southern Cultures, 2(1), 9-18.

Graziano, M. S., & Kastner, S. (2011). Human consciousness and its relationship to social neuroscience: a novel hypothesis. Cognitive neuroscience, 2(2), 98-113.

Hilton, D. (2007). Causal explanation: From social perception to knowledge-based causal attribution. In A. W. Kruglanski & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (p. 232–253). The Guilford Press.

Kihlstrom, J. F., & Cantor, N. (2000). Social intelligence.

Nichols, S. R., Svetlova, M., & Brownell, C. A. (2009). The role of social understanding and empathic disposition in young children’s responsiveness to distress in parents and peers. Cognition, brain, behavior: an interdisciplinary journal, 13(4), 449.

Oxcognita LLC – Oxford Review Enterprises Ltd. (2017, March 12). Social perception: definition and explanation of social perception. The Oxford Review. https://www.oxford-review.com/oxford-review-encyclopaedia-terms/social-perception/

Prathima, H. P., & Kulsum, U. (2013). Relationship between Social Intelligence and Mental Health of Secondary School Teachers. intelligence, 2(11).

Related articles

Elisa Furlan
May, 2021
| 5 min read
Beatriz Martinez
March, 2021
| 5 min read
Alexa Simonics
February, 2021
| 6 min read