What Is Personal Intelligence?

Do you have a good awareness of what defines your personality and the personalities of others? Are you able to predict how different people will react in a given situation based on their personality? If so, you might score high on what psychologists call personal intelligence.

You might be thinking that personal intelligence sounds similar to the popular idea of emotional intelligence, and you’d be right. But personal intelligence is more specific. It’s about people’s ability to understand their own personality and the personalities of other people – and to use this information in their everyday life.

In a 2012 study, researchers found evidence that there might be something to the idea of treating this ability to read people’s personalities as a type of intelligence. In particular, they showed that personal intelligence appears to involve a set of interrelated abilities that are reliably different from one individual to the next, with some people consistently displaying higher personal intelligence than others.

The researchers created what they called the Test of Personal Intelligence (TOPI), which includes questions like the following:

If a person is depressed and self-conscious, most likely, she could also be described as:

  • calm and even-tempered
  • self-controlled
  • anxious and impulsive
  • fairly thick-skinned

Since then, researchers have used the TOPI to see whether people with high personal intelligence stand out in other respects. For example: what practical benefit, if any, does being able to understand your own personality and those of others provide?

Most recently, a study published in the Journal of Personality Assessment found that people with high personal intelligence tend to perceive their workplaces differently. In particular, these people see their work environments as more supportive and engage in less counterproductive workplace behavior. Based on these results, the authors even suggest that the TOPI could be used in “selecting employees and targeting individuals for training.”

There’s still plenty we don’t know about personal intelligence. How does it relate to other types of intelligence, for example? To what extent is it something you’re born with versus something you gain from experience? What we do know, though, is that certain people seem to be especially good at inferring people’s personalities, and this skill may come in handy in environments like the workplace.

Image: Flickr/Nathan Clendenin