Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

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“As the wail of newborns testifies, we humans have intense feelings from the moment we are born,” says Daniel Goleman author of, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Essentially, we are all emotional creatures that tend to make emotional decisions. Then, as emotional creatures, we then subsequently find ways to rationalize and back up with logic, the things that we have already emotionally done or decided. However, our emotions, which were created to protect us, sometimes also gets us in trouble, especially when the emotion of anger is involved and we are looking for some logic to back it up.

Thus, when feeling angry it is as important to remember Aristotle’s challenge: “Anyone can become angry- that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way- that is not easy.”

We have to be emotionally intelligent when dealing with anger or it is going to get us into some hot water, regardless of how well we think we can rationalize it. Emotional intelligence in one form or another has been around for a very long time. In more recent times, however, one of the big names that has had some influence on emotional intelligence is Howard Gardner and his 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner believes that our schools are too narrowly focused when it comes to intelligence and that they are spending too much time ranking students. He believes schools should spend more time identifying natural competencies in students through the lens of multiple intelligences and then cultivating those abilities. Even though Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory focused more on cognition than emotion, two of his multiple intelligences are the interpersonal intelligence-how well one does interacting with others, and intra-personal intelligence, how well one knows him or herself. These are obviously social/emotional intelligences and I think Aristotle’s teacher, Socrates, would have appreciated the latter one of knowing thyself.

Now back to the present day. Near the end of the 1980s, John Mayor of the University of New Hampshire and Yale’s Peter Salovey were the first to actually offer a formulation of the concept called “Emotional Intelligence”.  And eventually, thru Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, the term emotional intelligence finally becomes widely known after thousands of years of humans using it and living it, even though, most weren’t aware of it.

Emotional intelligence goes by various terms, such as; EQ, emotional literacy, and social emotional learning (SEL). Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the umbrella in which character education programs have fallen under, such as, violence prevention, anti-bullying, drug prevention, teen pregnancy, school discipline, leadership training, and a whole lot more

These Social Emotional Learning programs mentioned above, as well as many others have improved school academic performance, job performance, health and have even created a better democracy according to Goleman. Now the big challenge, Goleman stresses, is to get these emotional intelligence programs out of the shadows of main stream education and into the classrooms fulltime. Today’s students need to be inoculated with daily on-going emotional intelligence lessons that will keep them on the right path, instead of outside assistance as an afterthought once things have already gone wrong.

Recent research has shown that the brain is kind of like a muscle. Its neuroplasticity allows the brain to be shaped by repeated experiences. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) experiences, according to Goleman, are especially potent in shaping our human brains. So, any view of human nature, or intellectual training that ignores the power of emotions is shortsighted. In short, it’s not a very good decision to ignore emotional intelligence.

Oh, by the way, making everyday decisions is also a vital emotional intelligence. In making decisions, feelings count every bit as much as thought, and sometimes even more. For example, the powerful emotion of love can get us to do some pretty irrational things, wouldn’t you agree? This irrationalism of our stronger emotions has persisted throughout the ages to the extent that even some of our first laws attempted to domesticate our powerful, and sometimes troubling emotions. For what are the Code of Hammurabi, the Ten Commandments, and the Edicts of Emperor Ashoka if not an attempt to subdue emotional life, help us make more rational decisions, and lessen the probability that our irrational emotions will hijack our rational thinking?

Believe it or not, our appraisal of every personal encounter, and our response to it, is shaped not just by our rational judgment, but also our own personal history and distant ancestral past. We still have those same ancestral emotions that worked so well for the last 50,000 generations that helped our ancestors survive and climb their way to the top of the food chain. However, these same ancestral emotions don’t always work so well in modern times where we aren’t looked at anymore as food for some other animal. We no longer have to be in that survival fight or flight mode.

However, sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. All emotions are impulses to act. Emotions’ Latin root word “motere” means to move. In the animal kingdom is was good to move and to move quickly, sometimes without even taking the time to think about it. But during a job performance review acting without thinking about it may not be such a good idea.

You see, according to Goleman we all have two minds. And the two minds make us do very different things. The first mind is based on the emotions and feelings and get us to do that moving thing, which isn’t always very well thought out. The word heart is often used with the first mind. The second mind is based on thinking and analyzing. The word head is often used with the second mind. This is where we take the time to think things out and then move slowly and deliberately.

Our brains have grown from the bottom up with its higher centers developing as elaborations of the lower, more ancient parts. Our second brain, the rational one, may be the top brain, but it is also deeply intertwined with our underneath first brain, the emotional one. Thus, our thinking brain is influenced by our prehistoric emotional brain, and sometimes our emotional brain is also influenced by our thinking brain because they have grown into each other.

Let me explain this a little bit more. You see, the most primitive part of our brain is the brain stem that surrounds the top of our spinal cord. This brain is good for reptile survival. We have survived and evolved beyond this, however. We humans evolved from this reptile period into a more advanced period in which we developed a limbic brain, or emotional centers from what some called the nose brain. During this period our emotions slowly evolved on how to feel about each new smell, and then how to instinctually act in regards to each new smell. After millions of more years of this emotional instinctual behavior we slowly develop the thinking neocortex brain on top of our emotional limbic first brain that is sitting on top of our spinal cord.

The upper neocortex, second brain, gives us humans that three pound brain which is about triple the size of our nearest cousins in evolution, the non-human primates. The neocortex is the seat of thought and has given humans an extraordinary intellectual edge over the rest of the animals. Now, believe it or not, all these years later, thanks to our neocortex, we now can even have feelings about our feelings due to our ability to think.

So, by now you’re probably wondering how all this emotional intelligence or lack of emotional intelligence stuff works, right?

Well, the architecture of the brain gives the amygdala, a center of the limbic brain, the ability to hijack the brain. Sensory signals from the nose, eyes, ears, tongue, or skin, travel first in the brain to the thalamus, and then- across a single synapse- to the amygdala. A second larger signal from the thalamus is rooted to the neocortex- the thinking brain. This duel signal allows the non-thinking amygdala to begin to respond before the thinking neocortex, which mulls over information through several levels of brain circuits before it fully perceives and finally initiates its more finely tailored thoughtful response.

The quick-acting amygdala associates sensory input with other experiences and emotional memories to formulate emotional meaning to the new stimulus. If the association through the emotional memories are powerful enough, the amygdala’s emotions leap to action. This knee-jerk reaction is good for an animal looking to eat rather than being eaten, or for modern day humans during a real emergency. However, this emotionally vital response is not always appropriate in the modern day human who is rarely in the middle of a real emergency. Most of the terrible things that we perceive that are about to happen to us, rarely ever happen, and the ones that do, are rarely real emergencies.

The emotional brain’s imprecision during these fake emergencies is added to by the fact that many potent emotional memories date from the first few years of our lives. Wouldn’t you agree that things have changed since we were little tikes?

High IQs don’t always predict how successful someone will become because many times it’s the ones that can control their irrational emotions and who have high EQs that become more successful. Hey, smart people do dumb things all the time. We all do dumb things because we are still operating through prehistoric emotional wiring and then trying to back up the crazy out of date moves we make with self-created faulty modern day logic.

So what exactly is emotional intelligence? Well, it’s probably more than I have room for in this article. But, let me take poke at it. Emotional intelligence is being able to motivate oneself to persist in the face of frustration, to control impulse, and delay gratification, to regulated moods, and keep distress from swamping our ability to think rationally, and empathize with others and to never lose hope, even when the odds are against us.

Wouldn’t you agree that this list above is very important to us humans? Well, sadly, today, schools and our modern neocortex thinking culture is fixated on mostly academic abilities while pretty much ignoring emotional intelligence. I wonder if the modern day school shootings are a symptom of our society not paying enough attention to emotional intelligence in order to just etch out a few more points on some standardized test.

Hey, no one is saying that emotional intelligence is an end all. We all know that we need the complete package to be successful and well-adjusted in life where we don’t do dumb violent things anymore. After all, emotional aptitude is really just a meta-ability, although a very important meta-ability, which helps determine how well we can use whatever other skills we have, including raw intellect.

Emotional intelligence plays a big enough role that Howard Gardner has said that it is not uncommon for people with 160 IQs to work for people who have 100 IQs if the 100s have a good intra and inter-personal intelligence. Come on… We all know really smart people who are working for someone else, instead of themselves.

So, in short, being super smart with a super high IQ is not an end all in itself either. Hey, if we focus only on the intellect then we will miss out on what it means to be human, and never get to experience the higher values of the human heart of faith, hope, devotion, and love. Through focusing only on intellect we’ll never solve the real human problems of this world that really matter. This sounds kind of sad, doesn’t it?

One way that emotional intelligence helps us, if we let it, is through that gut-feeling. These somatic-markers, or gut-feelings can steer us away from trouble or unveil opportunities for us without us even knowing how or why. This is the way we are emotionally wired. If we are smart enough we can use it to our benefit. We used to either jump at food, or jump out of the way of some other animal trying to eat us. We didn’t have time to think about it. We just instinctually acted. Today those same pre-historic instincts are still there telling us to quickly move to avoid trouble or move to gain something good. Our thinking brain, hasn’t had a chance yet to fully formulate what this gut feeling is telling us. And by the time it does formulate a rational decision, it may be too late.

You see, the key to making good decisions is really being attuned to our feelings. And the stronger the feelings the more attuned we need to be to make sure we aren’t just blindly acting on something that we shouldn’t, especially when we are talking about the ever powerful emotion of anger.

It’s like what Benjamin Franklin said a long time ago, “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.” Anger is the mood people are worst at controlling. Our self-righteous inner monologue fills our minds with convincing arguments for it. However, reframing the situation in a more positive light can help put anger to rest in ourselves and others. When we feel anger coming on in ourselves, or even someone else we should immediately go into distraction mode. Distract them, or, ourselves if angry, and reframe the angry situation to something better. If you have to, write down what is angering you or have them write it down if it’s another, and then challenge those thoughts or feelings of anger.

Sadness is a mood that the majority of people put the most effort into shaking. Again, like anger, when we are feeling sad, we can write down our sad thoughts and challenge them. Most important though, do not ruminate in negative feelings. Just like anger, reframe sad thoughts to something more positive. This reframing is called, “Cognitive Reframing”. This cognitive reframing and writing down whatever negative or counterproductive thoughts one has in order to challenge them and then reframe them in a more positive light really helps one improve their emotional intelligence.

Did you know that emotional intelligence really helps in athletics? Athletes with high emotional intelligence have the special ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training routines without quitting due to boredom. It typically takes about 10,000 hours of practice to move near the top of one’s field on the national level, and 15,000 hours of practice to move near the top of one’s field on the international level. Very few people have the emotional intelligence to be able to stay motivated for that long, while facing and overcoming the setbacks that are bound to happen along the way.

Empathy is a powerful emotional intelligence. The failure to notice another’s feelings is a major deficit in emotional intelligence, and a tragic lapse in what it means to be human. For all rapport, the root of caring, stems from emotional attunement, from the capacity for empathy. The roots of morality are to be found in empathy. Having empathy makes one more out-going, more popular, happier, and helps one perform better in school, and get higher standardized test scores.

However, in order to be empathic it requires one to be calm enough, and receptive enough so that the subtle signals of feeling from another person can be received and mimicked by one’s own emotional brain. This is emotional intelligence.

Another key social competence is how well or how poorly people express their own feelings. This ability to express one’s own feeling have an immediate impact on the other people who are receiving them. This transaction could be good or bad depending how social and emotionally adept one is.

Those who are adept at social intelligence can connect with people quite smoothly, be astute in reading other’s reactions and feelings, lead and organize, and handle the disputes that are bound to flare up in any human activity. They are the natural leaders, the people who can express the unspoken collective sentiment and articulate it so as to guide a group toward its goals. They are the kind of people others like to be with because they are emotionally nourishing- they leave other people in a good mood and always see criticism as an opportunity to work with others rather than an adversarial situation. In addition, these star performers build relationship and networks long before they need them.

So is there an easy way to see if one has emotional intelligence? Well according to a test done in the 1960s a simple marshmallow test can be a very good indicator of a child’s emotional intelligence and their future success better than any IQ test. Young kids were told to wait in a room and take one marshmallow if they wanted and the adult would be right back. If they could wait for the adult to get back though, they would get two marshmallows instead of one. Researchers followed these children through the years and found that regardless of their starting IQs the children who had the emotional intelligence to pass up the smaller prize of one marshmallow for the bigger prize of two marshmallows later did better in all aspect of life throughout the rest of their lives.

Dan Blanchard Teen LeadershipSo, is there anything that families can do to help their little ones become more socially and emotionally intelligent? Well, since the family life is usually our first school for emotional learning the answer to that above question has to be ‘yes’.

Hundreds of studies have been done that show that how parents treat their children will have deep lasting consequences for the child’s emotional life. Also, having emotionally intelligent parents is an enormous benefit to the child.

During the first 3 or 4 years a toddle’s brain grows to 2/3 of its adult size. It evolves at a greater rate than it ever will again. This is a key time for emotional learning. Children who receive this learning and feel accepted by their parents will go on to believing that they can achieve. The ones that don’t keep looking for where they are going to screw up, and eventually find it.

Childhood is a window of opportunity. However, if the child does not receive the proper upbringing, all may not be lost. Emotional learning is a life-long process. And even the mostly deeply implanted habits of the heart learned in childhood can be reshaped under the proper retraining. But, why let it get to that point? As Erasmus said, “The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth.”

Let’s get emotional intelligence out of the shadows, and get it into the classrooms where it belongs. Maybe we can spend less time on standardized testing that ranks kids, and instead give them a more complete holistic education as was the original charge of education in the first place.


Daniel Blanchard is an award-winning author, speaker, educator and a life coach.


Dan Blanchard Teen Leadership

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