Emotional Intelligence, Why it can matter more than IQ

by Daniel Goleman 1995

Book Review by Ray Herrmann

This book is a very enlightening explanation of the underlying structures of the brain, and how they interact as we develop our personality. Starting from infancy, our behavior is governed by the mid-brain structures. These structures receive, interpret and record all events coming from our senses. They are overseen by a twin structure called the Amygdala, where decisions are made as to what responses are preferred in any given situation. This region of the mind is essentially the kind of brain that is found in all mammals and birds. It is quick, decisive, and lives in the moment. It is the seat of feeling and emotion.

The higher mammals, and especially humans, have a well developed higher brain structure, the Cerebral Cortex. The Cerebral Cortex "watches" the activities of the Amygdala and also receives input from the senses. This is where our main consciousness resides. From birth, the Cerebral Cortex is reviewing the activities of the Amygdala and starting to form its own opinions as to what outcomes it wants, and thus what kind of responses to situations would likely fulfill those desires. Due to the massive size of the Cerebral Cortex, and to the vast processing of information it does, it is about 100 times slower than the Amygdala. While the Amygdala is quickly directing “Fight-or Flight” decisions, the Cerebral Cortex is observing the success of its actions, and seeking alternatives.

The most profound aspect of the Amygdala / Cerebral Cortex interaction is that the Cerebral Cortex also sends its “visions" of reality back into the Amygdala, which sees them as more inputs alongside the "real" sensory inputs. This feedback structure creates the ability of the Cerebral Cortex to alter the focus of the Amygdala, thus strongly, even dominantly affecting choices, responses and preferences. Specifically, this is how we modulate our responses to such emotions as: Anger, Fear, Sadness, Enjoyment, Love, Surprise, Disgust and Shame.

Seen in this context, developing Emotional Intelligence (Maturity) is the forming of appropriate communications between the Cerebral Cortex and the Amygdala, that allows the broader perspectives of the Cerebral Cortex to coordinate the perceptions and actions of the Amygdala toward achieving our higher goals. As it turns out, having a highly developed Emotional Intelligence is more predictive of success in life that having a high IQ! An interesting quote from the book "A person with a 160 IQ and low Emotional Intelligence is likely to work for a person with an IQ of 100 but and high Emotional Intelligence".

The book masterfully describes how these basic interactions combine to form various mental deficiencies and then details the actions we can do to remedy them. It denotes the building of strong empathy as a core attribute of Emotional Intelligence.

For perspective, here are a couple quotes from the book about the affects of poverty on child development:(pg 195) "Risks are greatest for those children whose parents are grossly inept – immature, abusing drugs, depressed or chronically angry, or simply aimless and living chaotic lives." And (pg 256) "…poorer children at age five are already more fearful, anxious and sad than their better-off peers, and have more behavior problems, such as frequent tantrums and destroying things, a trend that continues through the teen years."

{ I suspect that, in general, there is less empathy in the people of today, and perhaps it is due to the breakdown in the Family that has occurred over the last 50 years. Children are often raised by a single parent, parents both working, and often propped in front of the TV, where a barrage of commercials stimulate their most rudimentary desires. Could this diminished empathy be behind the growing partisan divide? …just a thought. /rh }

If you have never read this book, I strongly recommend that you do. It is especially relevant for parents and teachers, and for anyone who wants to understand themselves better.