Emotional Intelligence – The Art of Being Human
We all know about intelligence: the kind measured by IQ (and Mensa) tests. A measurement of verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematic skills, this appears on first consideration to be an accurate portrait of intellect. Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard, theorized (and popularized) the concept of “multiple intelligences” during the past two decades, a theory which highlights types of intelligence beyond this measure: musical, kinetic, visual-spatial, and more. While critics suggest that some of these so-called “intelligences” are actually talents, Gardner counters with the proposal that if they are, so are the abilities one might have in the original concept of intelligence – that is, if we are musically talented (rather than having a high musical intellect), then we are also verbally or mathematically talented. The concepts are parallel.
Daniel Goleman, a psychologist at Rutgers and visiting professor at Harvard, developed two aspects of Gardner‘s theory – intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences – into what he refers to as emotional intelligence. His book by the same name, published in 1995, was a best-seller for nearly two years. His earliest work was in the field of meditation, and he directs a center dedicated to the study of meditation’s effects on emotional intelligence. Currently, he is working on a concept he calls, social intelligence.
Many scientists are now studying the concept of emotional intelligence, and it is applied to business, education, politics, and many other settings. Unlike the traditional IQ, which is more or less static throughout one’s life, emotional intelligence can be improved with training.
Emotional intelligence [EI] is both innate and learned. Often, the distinction is made between emotional intelligence, which a person has to some degree or another from birth, and emotional quotient [EQ], which is measurable and includes learned skills. Emotional intelligence is given many definitions, but one that I particularly like is: “the innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions” [Steve Hein].
Synonyms for the concept of emotional intelligence might be: emotional sensitivity, emotional memory, emotional processing and problem-solving ability, or emotional learning ability.
There is a generally accepted, 4-branch model of emotional intelligence: emotional perception, (for example, identifying emotions in faces, music, stories), emotional facilitation of thought (such as, relating emotions to other mental sensations, and using emotion in reason and problem-solving), emotional understanding (solving emotional problems – knowing how various emotions are similar or opposite to one another, and what relations they convey), and emotional management (understanding the social implications of one’s emotions and having the ability to regulate them in oneself and in others).
A simpler and more direct version is this: (1) accurately identify emotions; (2) use emotions to help you think; (3) understand what causes emotions; and, (4) manage to stay open to these emotions in order to experience the wisdom of our feelings.
Our brains have three primary regions: the neocortex, by which all cognition occurs; the brain stem, the concern of which is primal, reflexive functions designed for survival (such as breathing and heartbeat); and, the limbic system. The latter, also called the “paleo-mammalian brain“, is what we know to be our emotional center. The brain developed in the primordial human, and develops in each fetus, from the brain stem upward, based on importance for survival; as the limbic system develops after the brain stem and before the neocortex, it may actually be more important to our survival than our conscious thought processes.
There’s a saying in biomedicine: “That to which we give attention grows.” The human species has emphasized the abilities of the neocortex for millennia, and the neocortex in present-day humans is vastly larger and more well-developed than that of our ancestors. However, the limbic system is under-developed, and the argument can be made that we would do well to place more emphasis upon this aspect of our intellect.
This is also culturally based: in Asia, for example, great emphasis is placed upon social harmony and, therefore, emotional intelligence. Connectedness is highly valued, and emotional resonance with one another the basis of society. In Korea, where I made my home for five years, this is called nunchi, “the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood” [Hilty, Streetwise in Seoul]. It is such a powerful phenomenon that Korean people feel their thoughts might be able to be read by one another, and they keep their emotions well in check. It’s also one of the cultural difficulties between Koreans and non-Asian foreigners who have no awareness of or experience with this idea.
In our brains, the amygdala is a part of the limbic system that responds quickly and dramatically to perceived threat. Designed to protect the human from harm in a world of constant physical stress, it is now somewhat obsolete in that, except for those in war zones for example, most of us are living in a “complex, symbolic reality with symbolic threats” [Goleman]. The amygdala communicates directly with the pre-frontal cortex [PFC], the “executive center” of the brain which scans all possible intellectual input for this “perceived threat” and then controls, through the left PFC in particular, the over-reaction that the amygdala would otherwise generate. Of course, many other parts of the brain also contribute to emotional intellect.
Scientists have also hypothesized and are studying the possibility of mirror neurons in humans, which are known to exist in primates; these neurons elicit a mirror image of what another organism is doing, feeling, or intending, to synchronize interaction. It seems that human brains interact as a social brain network, attuning and regulating themselves to the circuitry of one another.
The circuitry between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until one’s mid-20s, so when it comes to emotional regulation, we must teach – and be patient with – youth. All neural circuitry is malleable, able to continue to be altered and developed throughout a person’s life, a quality which is called neuroplasticity. There are many ways to develop our Emotional Quotient, from tools of self-awareness such as mindfulness to a variety of meditative practices which science has shown to strengthen the left prefrontal cortex. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills are the four areas in which the development of EQ focuses.
It’s imperative for our own growth and development, as individuals and as societies, that we learn the wisdom of our emotions – necessary for decision-making and for creating a more benevolent and interconnected world.
How’s your emotional intelligence? Would you qualify for a “high EQ society”? For a free test of your own emotional intelligence, I recommend this site: http://www.queendom.com/tests/access_page/index.htm?idRegTest=1121.