The neural bases of key competencies of emotional intelligence

Frank Krueger, Aron K. Barbey, Kevin McCabe, Maren Strenziok, Giovanna Zamboni, Jeffrey Solomon, Vanessa Raymont, Jordan Grafman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to a set of competencies that are essential features of human social life. Although the neural substrates of EI are virtually unknown, it is well established that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a crucial role in human social-emotional behavior. We studied a unique sample of combat veterans from the Vietnam Head Injury Study, which is a prospective, long-term follow-up study of veterans with focal penetrating head injuries. We administered the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test as a valid standardized psychometric measure of EI behavior to examine two key competencies of EI: (i) Strategic EI as the competency to understand emotional information and to apply it for the management of the self and of others and (ii) Experiential EI as the competency to perceive emotional information and to apply it for the integration into thinking. The results revealed that key competencies underlying EI depend on distinct neural PFC substrates. First, ventromedial PFC damage diminishes Strategic EI, and therefore, hinders the understanding and managing of emotional information. Second, dorsolateral PFC damage diminishes Experiential EI, and therefore, hinders the perception and integration of emotional information. In conclusion, EI should be viewed as complementary to cognitive intelligence and, when considered together, provide a more complete understanding of human intelligence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22486-22491
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number52
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2009


  • Emotion
  • Head injury
  • Neuroeconomics
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Social cognition

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