On the Term, “Personal Intelligence”

Personal intelligence refers to an intelligence that involves reasoning about personality and personality-related information (as discussed on these pages). The choice of “personal” as the name for this intelligence balances various considerations including the term’s meaning, its ease-of-use, and its “fit” with the names of other intelligences.

One of the advantages of the term “personal intelligence” is that it hasn’t been widely used to mean anything else specific to this point in time, although it has been used in a few different ways in the past.

For example, personal intelligence could refer to a person’s traditional IQ score, as in, “I took an IQ test online and got a report about my personal intelligence.”  In this usage, however,  it’s enough to say, “…a sense of my intelligence”; the inclusion of “personal” seems superfluous.

Personal intelligence might also refer to the activity of gathering intelligence for oneself personally (this usage was more common a century ago than today). For example, a person might say, “I called a few relatives and according to my personal intelligence, my cousin Rachel will be visiting Boston next weekend.” Today, we are more likely to say, “…according to my investigation,” or simply, “…I found out.”

Recently, some psychologists took to shortening one of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, called “intrapersonal” intelligence to personal intelligence, but the preferred name remains intrapersonal, given that in Gardner’s theory intrapersonal intelligence is paired with a second “interpersonal” intelligence. For more on the relationships of the present theory of ‘personal intelligence’ to Gardner’s earlier-proposed ideas, see the book, Personal Intelligence.

Some psychologists might argue in favor of using “social Intelligence,” which nicely rolls off the tongue. The present-day field of social psychology, however, in which both psychologists and sociologists work, is focused on social attitudes, situations, power relationships, and groups in preference to studying individuals (though it certainly studies individuals as well). Social intelligence more naturally refers to reasoning about social attitudes and behavior, interrelationships, social groups, in-group/out-group issues and like matters that are important to reason about in their own right. “Interpersonal intelligence” has a different set of drawbacks associated with it, but surely a central one is its overlap with social intelligence in its focus on dyadic relationships, and the different sorts of social relationships people form across communal, exchange, and similar bonds.

Another couple of possibilities are “character intelligence” or “characterological intelligence.” In English, however, “character,” often refers to the learned or moral part of personality, and so it is a bit more specific than either a personal or personality intelligence might be.

“Personality intelligence” is admittedly less ambiguous than personal intelligence because the “personality” plainly specifies what’s of concern here, yet “personality” has the drawback of being five syllables long and the transition between the last syllable of personality, “ee,” and the first of intelligence, “in,” is awkward.

“Personal,” in this context, serves as a stand-in for the longer term “personality;” it’s a short-hand version of personality that is meant to convey much the same idea more quickly and easily.

A further advantage of the “personal” of personal intelligence is that it ends in “…al”, a quality it shares with other already-accepted (or proposed) broad intelligences including the verbal, spatial, emotional, and social intelligences.

In part for these reasons, the theory is called “personal intelligence.”