There is more to brainpower than IQ, writes Mayer (Psychology/Univ. of New Hampshire; Personality: A Systems Approach, 2006, etc.) in this astute exploration of a different form of intelligence: the ability to understand the personalities of other human beings as well as our own.
The “grand theorists” of the mind (Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Henry Murray and Harry Stack Sullivan) delivered vivid insights from philosophy, literature, biology and their own observations, but it was only when subsequent generations of psychologists examined what people—not just a few patients—actually do that they discovered which insights made sense. Mayer fills his book with ingenious studies of how people judge others. We routinely decode faces, interpret motives and traits, and use these to guide our behavior. Successful judges of personal intelligence enjoy better relationships and more success in life. Poor judges are worried, manipulative, insecure and generally disagreeable. Essential to personal intelligence is the ability to know thyself, a preoccupation of philosophers since the dawn of history. Everyone, the author included, urges us to look inward, but good research reveals that introspection has its limits. It’s accurate for emotions (“I’m angry”) but less so for abilities (“I’m smart”). Perhaps too much self-knowledge depends on what others think of us: our reputations. This is no small matter since misinterpreting one’s own traits leads to mistakes in evaluating others’. “My wish,” writes the author, “is that you will feel enriched by seeing how we all use personal intelligence to reason about ourselves and others, and that you will come to appreciate this set of abilities in a new way.”
Those looking to win friends and influence people should turn to Dale Carnegie and his cheerful disciples. Mayer confines himself to invariably stimulating insights backed by solid scientific research, so readers looking to understand the human condition will certainly enjoy this book.