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The term “social intelligence” is usually associated with the concept of intelligence developed by the eminent psychologist Edward Thorndike.

Thorndike’s principle suggests that responses that are immediately followed by pleasure are more likely to be repeated. The law of effect also predicts that behavior that is accompanied by dissatisfaction or discomfort will become less likely.

Thorndike identified three types of intelligence:

  1. abstract (which captures what intelligence tests measure);
  2. mechanical (related to visualizing the connections between objects and understanding how the physical world works);
  3. social intelligence (which reflects the degree of successful functioning in interpersonal situations).

The concept of social intelligence was further developed in the 1920s and 30s and concerned primarily with the ability to get along with people, as well as the ability to decipher, understand and manipulate the moods of others, and the first tests of social intelligence were developed.

However, the concept of social intelligence testing was not universally accepted. After several empirical studies failed to demonstrate the construct validity of the concept of social intelligence as measured in the early twentieth century, work on social intelligence slowed considerably.

After psychologist Joy Paul Guilford developed a representation of social intelligence in terms of various abilities in the domain of behavioral operations in the late 1960s, interest in the “essence” of the construct resurfaced. But the concept of social intelligence has been defined differently, through several terms such as:

  • behavioral or social cognition (Maureen O’Sullivan),
  • social competence (Martin Ford and Marie Tisak),
  • intra- and interpersonal intelligence (Howard Gardner),
  • practical intelligence (Robert Sternberg),
  • emotional intelligence and personality parameters (Hans Aizenk).

Although there is much interest in the concept of social intelligence today, there is no consensus definition and unity regarding assessment approaches. It is interesting to observe that in most such studies the aspect of social competence inevitably emerges as an important component of intelligent behavior.