Social Intelligence: Summary & Review (Daniel Goleman)

social intelligence book cover

In “Social Intelligence” (2006) Goleman states that humans are purely social animals, wired to connect, and we can only be happy and successful when we learn to bond and get along with other people

Exec Summary

  • For a happy and fulfilled life master the art (and science) of social relationships
  • You can control your feelings


Daniel Goleman is a journalist who contributed for twelve years to The New York Times.

He is most famous for having coined the concept of “Emotional Intelligence”, a construct that is controversial in psychology but that has caught on with the general population.

Daniel Goleman is also the author of “Emotional Intelligence” and “Primal Leadership“.

#1. The High & Low Road

Daniel Goleman argues there are two different parts of the brain which he refers to as the low road and the high road.

  • Low Road

The low road sets his camp in the amygdala and works at a higher speed based on raw feelings we infer from other people.

It is responsible for the “first impressions”, which we form unconsciously noticing.
This is similar to what Malcolm Gladwell also discusses in his bestseller “Blink“.

  • High Road

The high road, you guessed it, is instead the conscious, thinking part of the brain.
Now the interesting thing is that there’s an interplay of these two roads.

Use the High Road to control The Low Road 

The low road can unconsciously make us sad or scared. But we can then consciously use the high road to override the low road feelings and sensations with whatever we prefer.

Goleman gives us the example of a woman who was sad after seeing a picture of a funeral, only to switch to happiness when she was told to think it was a wedding instead.

And the greatest the activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the more muted the amygdala was during the appraisal, which means: the higher the high road speaks, the more it takes away the low road mic.

#2. How to erase your fears

Not only we can override the low road, but we can also change it.

Our memories are in part reconstruction: every time we recall them, the brain rewrites them. And how our brain rewrites them is correlated to our current concerns, understanding, and feelings.

So If when you recall a memory you have a flare-up of the same fear, then that fear will deepen.

But if you put yourself in a calm, confident state, the fear loosens its grip, and the memory is re-encoded with less power over you.

My Note:
this is the same concept Tony Robbins teaches.

#3. How to control the Low Road

This is the essence of exposure therapy: if you relax and then confront your fears and repeat them, you will reach a point where you will overcome your fear.

MEANING: you can get rid of unhelpful feelings! 

#4. Mam VS Woman’s Brain

Under stress a woman’s brain releases more oxytocin, bringing women to seek out people interactions, which in turn releases more oxytocin.

Men are the opposite: under threats, they tend to go alone.

Also, women place positive relationships as the main source of their happiness while for men independence and a sense of personal growth are more important than relationships.

#5. Power & emotional pull

In a relationship, the party with less power will converge emotionally toward the party with more power.

I picture it a bit like a gravitational pull: two celestial bodies will influence each other, but the bigger one will exert a stronger force on the smaller one.

Also, Goleman says, people in the relationship have different power in different realms and there’s usually a tacit agreement on who’s got more power on which subject.

This is important, and something which you can indeed probably see in your own relationships.

#6. Mimicking does not create rapport

You probably heard the trick of mimicking the other person’s body movements and gestures to make them like you, right?

Bet you thought you could do that on your dates and make him/her like you, right? 😉

Well, Goleman affirms that intentionally mimicking the other person’s movements does not create rapport by itself and can actually feel off (if you want to get close to someone, you will likely mimic body language unconsciously anyway).

#6. How to create rapport

Goleman then affirms the 3 ingredients to create rapport are:

  • Mutual attention ;
  • Shared positive feelings;
  • A well-coordinated nonverbal duet

social intelligence book cover


  • A bit basic

Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman deals with many topics (read below) without always going as deeply as I had hoped

  • Scatterbrained

Too many topics for one book.
Ask me a year from now “Have you read Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman” and I’ll tell you “yeah, and it was good.. But, honestly… I can’t tell you exactly what topics it covers”.

  • No new ground broken

If you are interested in psychology and people, many topics in “Social Intelligence” will be either common sense or familiar -Hedonic treadmill; Ultimatum Game-.


Social Intelligence is a good book, I enjoyed it.

I did particularly love the:

  • Science to back the importance of human relationships
  • How we can influence the low road (subconscious)
  • How we can use the high road (conscious) to override unconscious reactions

That’s powerful stuff and I actually prefer it to its more famous sibling Emotional Intelligence.

If you are looking into Social Intelligence I can highly encourage you to take a look around this website which is all about increasing people’s social intelligence.

If you find the golden nuggets above insightful, go ahead and get the whole book here.

Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman quote

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