Emotional Intelligence Mapped in Brain: Study of Vietnam Veterans With Combat-Related Brain Injuries

Jan. 22, 2013 — A new study of 152 Vietnam veterans with combat-related brain injuries offers the first detailed map of the brain regions that contribute to emotional intelligence — the ability to process emotional information and navigate the social world.

The study found significant overlap between general intelligence and emotional intelligence, both in terms of behavior and in the brain. Higher scores on general intelligence tests corresponded significantly with higher performance on measures of emotional intelligence, and many of the same brain regions were found to be important to both.

The study appears in the journalSocial Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience.

“This was a remarkable group of patients to study, mainly because it allowed us to determine the degree to which damage to specific brain areas was related to impairment in specific aspects of general and emotional intelligence,” said study leader Aron K. Barbey, a professor of neuroscience, of psychology and of speech and hearing science at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois.

A previous study led by Barbey mapped the neural basis of general intelligence by analyzing how specific brain injuries (in a larger sample of Vietnam veterans) impaired performance on tests of fundamental cognitive processes.

In both studies, researchers pooled data from CT scans of participants’ brains to produce a collective, three-dimensional map of the cerebral cortex. They divided this composite brain into 3-D units called voxels. They compared the cognitive abilities of patients with damage to a particular voxel or cluster of voxels with those of patients without injuries in those brain regions. This allowed the researchers to identify brain areas essential to specific cognitive abilities, and those that contribute significantly to general intelligence, emotional intelligence, or both.

They found that specific regions in the frontal cortex (behind the forehead) and parietal cortex (top of the brain near the back of the skull) were important to both general and emotional intelligence. The frontal cortex is known to be involved in regulating behavior. It also processes feelings of reward and plays a role in attention, planning and memory. The parietal cortex helps integrate sensory information, and contributes to bodily coordination and language processing.

“Historically, general intelligence has been thought to be distinct from social and emotional intelligence,” Barbey said. The most widely used measures of human intelligence focus on tasks such as verbal reasoning or the ability to remember and efficiently manipulate information, he said.

“Intelligence, to a large extent, does depend on basic cognitive abilities, like attention and perception and memory and language,” Barbey said. “But it also depends on interacting with other people. We’re fundamentally social beings and our understanding not only involves basic cognitive abilities but also involves productively applying those abilities to social situations so that we can navigate the social world and understand others.”

The new findings will help scientists and clinicians understand and respond to brain injuries in their patients, Barbey said, but the results also are of broader interest because they illustrate the interdependence of general and emotional intelligence in the healthy mind.

The study team also included Roberto Colom, of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and Jordan Grafman, now at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

This study was conducted in part at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. A. K. Barbey, R. Colom, J. Grafman. Distributed neural system for emotional intelligence revealed by lesion mappingSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2012; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nss124
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2013, January 22). Emotional intelligence mapped in brain: Study of Vietnam veterans with combat-related brain injuries.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122122306.htm

Why Living in the Moment Is Impossible: Decision-Making Memories Stored in Mysterious Brain Area Known to Be Involved With Vision

ScienceDaily (Aug. 9, 2012) — The sought-after equanimity of “living in the moment” may be impossible, according to neuroscientists who’ve pinpointed a brain area responsible for using past decisions and outcomes to guide future behavior. The study, based on research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and published August 9 in the professional journal Neuron, is the first of its kind to analyze signals associated with metacognition — a person’s ability to monitor and control cognition (a term cleverly described by researchers as “thinking about thinking.”)

The sought-after equanimity of “living in the moment” may be impossible, according to neuroscientists who’ve pinpointed a brain area responsible for using past decisions and outcomes to guide future behavior. (Credit: © Patryk Kosmider / Fotolia)

“The brain has to keep track of decisions and the outcomes they produce,” said Marc Sommer, who did his research for the study as a University of Pittsburgh neuroscience faculty member and is now on the faculty at Duke University. “You need that continuity of thought,” Sommer continued. “We are constantly keeping decisions in mind as we move through life, thinking about other things. We guessed it was analogous to working memory, which would point toward the prefrontal cortex.”

Sommer predicted that neuronal correlates of metacognition resided in the same brain areas responsible for cognition, including the frontal cortex — a part of the brain linked with personality expression, decision making, and social behavior. Sommer worked with Paul G. Middlebrooks, who did his research for the study at Pitt before he received his Pitt PhD in neuroscience in 2011; Middlebrooks is now a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University. The research team studied single neurons in vivo in three frontal cortical regions of the brain: the frontal eye field (associated with visual attention and eye movements), the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (responsible for motor planning, organization, and regulation), and the supplementary eye field (SEF) involved in the planning and control of saccadic eye movements, which are the extremely fast movements of the eye that allow it to continually refocus on an object.

To learn where metacognition occurs in the brain, subjects performed a visual decision-making task that involved random flashing lights and a dominant light on a cardboard square. Participants were asked to remember and pinpoint where the dominant light appeared, guessing whether they were correct. The researchers found that while neural activity correlated with decisions and guesses in all three brain areas, the putative metacognitive activity that linked decisions to bets resided exclusively in the SEF.

“The SEF is a complex area [of the brain] linked with motivational aspects of behavior,” said Sommer. “If we think we’re going to receive something good, neuronal activity tends to be high in SEF. People want good things in life, and to keep getting those good things, they have to compare what’s going on now versus the decisions made in the past.”

Sommer noted that defining such concepts related to metacognition, like consciousness, has been difficult for decades. He sees his research and future work related to studying metacognition as one step in a systematic process of working toward a better understanding of consciousness. By studying metacognition, he says, he reduces the big problem of studying a “train of thought” into a simpler component: examining how one cognitive process influences another.

“Why aren’t our thoughts independent of each other? Why don’t we just live in the moment? For a healthy person, it’s impossible to live in the moment. It’s a nice thing to say in terms of seizing the day and enjoying life, but our inner lives and experiences are much richer than that.”

So far, patients with mental disorders have not been tested on these tasks, but Sommer is interested to see how SEF and other brain areas might be disrupted in these disorders.

“With schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, there is a fracturing of the thought process. It is constantly disrupted, and despite trying to keep a thought going, one is distracted very easily,” Sommers said. “Patients with these disorders have trouble sustaining a memory of past decisions to guide later behavior, suggesting a problem with metacognition.”

Funding for this research was provided by the University of Pittsburgh, the joint University of Pittsburgh-Carnegie Mellon University Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Pittsburgh. 

Journal Reference:

  1. Paul G. Middlebrooks, Marc A. Sommer. Neuronal Correlates of Metacognition in Primate Frontal Cortex.Neuron, 2012; 75 (3): 517 DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.05.028


University of Pittsburgh (2012, August 9). Why living in the moment is impossible: Decision-making memories stored in mysterious brain area known to be involved with vision.ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 11, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809141629.htm