How Gestalt Psychology Defines Emotional Intelligence and Perception

At one time or another everyone has probably been asked, “Just where are you coming from?” This question in context of course doesn’t mean where did you come here from but rather elicits a quick assessment of the knowledge on which one bases their opinion or point of view.

Intelligence is a concept that holds a lot of value in our world. In my own workplace, a enviro-mechanical engineering firm, a strong emphasis is placed on the intelligence of every individual. Efforts are made to recognize and identify each individual’s intelligence strong points and to apply those to job placement, problem solving, and advancement. Although we don’t ask for or test for an intelligent quotient or IQ number, a well-known standard as outlined by William Stern in 1912 (Santrock, 2004) which compares your knowledge skills with your age, we do test potential hires for competency and subject knowledge as well as apply continued employee testing for different categories of intelligence in relation to job functions.

Psychologists’ views differ on the categorization of intelligence. Some still support the concept of general intelligence portrayed by Charles Spearman. According to Dr. John Plucker of Indiana University (2007), Spearman’s concept of general intelligence, or simply “g,” was based around the concept that intelligence is general to an individual and not subjective to categorization (Plucker, 2007). Others believe as I do that a greater understanding of intelligence can be achieved through segmentation and categorization. Depending on your own opinion there are a number of ways to categorize intelligence, but nearly every school of thought includes a segmentation of social intelligence, which deals less with general or scholastic knowledge we gain in life but rather focuses on the intelligence we use for living.

One category in particularly related to social intelligence is that of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a term that describes an individual’s ability to perceive emotion, express emotion in an appropriate way, understand the perception and emotion of others in an empathetic manner, understand both their emotions and the emotions of others, understand the roles of emotions in life, using emotions to promote cognitive abilities, and last but not least being able to both control your own emotions and facilitate the control of others’ emotions. An individual’s emotional intelligence plays a key role in their understanding of themselves and the world around them, in particularly from a social viewpoint. In my life I find that the individuals whom I perceive as having a high level of emotional intelligence are often the leaders in their social circles, and are often the ones that others turn to for help and advice.

My wife is at the top of my list, and besides using her emotional intelligence to maintain a stable household and balance marriage, kids, and a successful business, she is also the one that all of her friends and employees are always turning to when they find themselves confused or not knowing what steps to take in their lives. Along the same lines the ones whom I perceive as having a low level of emotional intelligence are often the causes of angst and drama. A friend’s wife, a virtual opposite in character of my own wife, makes great efforts to dramatize every aspect of their family’s life, and tries hard to bring everyone else into the picture and cause social chaos. I believe that this is a result of her inability to conceive and process the concepts that outline emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is not dependent on an individual’s IQ. IQ is determined through a test known as the Stanford-Binet test, named after Alfred Binet, the psychologist who originally perceived the test, and Stanford University, the school where the modern version of the test was refined (Santrock, 2004). The Stanford-Binet test derives an individual’s IQ through analyzation of responses to four different content areas: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, abstract/visual reasoning, and short-term memory; and a composite score is compiled (Santrock, 2004).

Emotional intelligence is also tested in four content areas through a test known as the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, or MSCEIT. It is named after its developers, and tests the four areas of perceiving emotions, understanding emotions, facilitating thought, and managing emotions (Santrock, 2004). MSCEIT test takers are asked to identify the emotions expressed by a face or in designs; generate a mood and solve problems with that mood; define the causes of different emotions and understand the progression of emotions; and finally to determine how to best include emotion in our thinking in situations that involve ourselves and/or other people (Multi-health Systems, 2005).

Based on the testing content of IQ testing and MSCEIT testing, it is easy to see that it’s possible for an individual to have a high emotional intelligence without having a high IQ. A spiritual leader, especially one has socially removed themselves from general society and devoted their life and studies to faith or religion, is likely to score low on an IQ test battery while it is equally likely that this person would score high on a MSCEIT. On the other side of the card I imagine that my company’s entire IT department would score high on IQ tests but would probably score at an elementary level on a MSCEIT.

Perception describes the way that an individual translates and conceives what they take in through the total of their senses (AllPsych, 2009). I believe that it is common knowledge that an individual’s perception affects their take on any given situation or event. The most common case study of the differences in perception is that of married couples. I live this difference on a daily basis, as things said are taken and interpreted differently by my wife and I and different conclusions are made as a result of our perceptions.

I am reminded of the comic strip Non-Sequitor. In a series of hilarious comics entitled “Why We’ll Never Understand Each Other” which I received in an email from a friend and could not locate online otherwise, the author Wiley illustrates a series of situations where men and women have communication misunderstandings through a series of “what he said, what she heard” and vice-versa situations. One example shows a woman talking to a man and says “What he heard: ‘Your right to independent thought and ability to form an opinion has been revoked.’ What she said: ‘I do.’ (while standing in a wedding dress).” Men and women have different general perceptions that are formed through a perspective based on the gender differences that develop during cognitive development.

Unique cognitive development also effects the perceptions of individuals regardless of gender. This is mainly due to the fact that everyone develops their own opinions that shape their perspectives. Even if a person is not considered opinionated, in which they feel they need to constantly express their opinion and defend it to the death while trying to convince everyone to agree with them, everyone has an opinion on everything that affects them and theirs.

 Gestalt psychology is a school of psychology that deals mainly with the processes of perception (Gestalt Theory, 2009). The key element of Gestalt psychology is that perception consists of seeing things as a whole, rather than the summarized context of the amassing of individual concepts and construction of component parts. Gestalt psychology was born out of a dislike of the standard psychological methods based on association which argues to the contrary that perception is not holistic but rather constructed of individual stimuli.

Gestalt psychology is based on a scientific approach and the word Gestalt itself is based on the German term for “configuration” (Gestalt Theory, 2009). An example of Gestalt is the throwing of a baseball. While the throwing of a baseball is a simple action, this action is derived from a purpose based on the situation. If the situation is two children throwing a baseball in the park then the perception is that they are doing it for entertainment. If a professional baseball player is throwing a baseball to the third baseman to assist in the tagging out of a base runner then the perception is competitive, as well as monetary.

Gestalt psychology is important in that it helps to explain not only perception but also the question of why a particular perception is being perceived. By applying Gestalt psychology, one can seek to gain understanding of perception outside of their own personal perception. Gestalt psychology takes into account other factors that we have discussed as well, such as emotional intelligence and IQ, which effect interpretation of sensory input and the resulting perception. In essence, it defines where you are coming from.