You are four years old and are seated by yourself at the kitchen table. Your mom places one piece of your favorite candy in front of you. She explains that you can eat it right now, but if you wait while she leaves the room to do a quick chore, you can have two pieces of candy when she returns. She leaves the room. What do you do? Do you grab the gooey goody the minute she’s out the door? Or do you patiently sit there resisting temptation hoping to double your treat upon her return? Do you know that your our reaction to this situation may very well determine the degree of your success in life? A similar study with children was actually conducted by a psychologist using marshmallows. The study showed that children who had the ability to restrain themselves and reap the reward of a second treat generally grew up to be better adjusted, more popular, adventurous, confident and dependable teenagers. The children who gave in to temptation early on were more likely to be lonely, easily frustrated, stubborn, and less likely to properly handle stress. While most people tend to think a high IQ, or intelligence quotient, determines the course of one’s life, new brain research suggests that one’s emotional quotient, or EQ, may be the true measure of human intelligence.
Unlike IQ, which is gauged by the famous Stanford-Binet tests, EQ is not measurable in the same way. A person’s IQ reveals the cold, factual side of the brain, whereas the EQ refers to one’s “people skills.” Emotional intelligence is a complex quality consisting of such things as self-awareness, empathy, persistence and social skills. Some aspects of emotional intelligence, however, can be determined. Optimism, for example, is a good indicator of a person’s self-worth. According to Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, how people respond to setbacks–optimistically or pessimistically–is a fairly accurate indicator of how well they will succeed in school, in sports, and in certain kinds of work. His theory is proven by 1988 Olympic Gold Medallist Matt Biondi. Before the Olympic Games, this U.S. swimmer was favored to win seven Golds. His first two races proved to be disappointing and commentators thought Biondi would be unable to recover from this setback. Seligman disagreed. He had given some members of the U.S. swim team a version of his optimism test before the races; it showed that Biondi had an extremely positive attitude. Instead of becoming discouraged, as others might have, Biondi bounced right back by swimming even faster, winning five gold medals in the next five races.
When one thinks of brilliant people, Einstein and other such high achievers come to mind. One assumes that they were “wired” for greatness from birth. But then, one might wonder why, over time, natural talent seems to explode in some people yet fizzle out in others. This is where the marshmallows come in. Could your decision be determined by an IQ test? No. It seems that the ability to delay gratification is a master skill, a triumph of the intellectual brain over the impulsive one. It is a sign of emotional intelligence but it does not show up on an IQ test. Nancy Gibbs in her article “The EQ Factor” for Time Magazine states:
For most of this century, scientists have worshipped the hardware of the brain and
the software of the mind; the messy powers of the heart were left to the poets.
But cognitive theory could simply not explain the questions we wonder about
most: why some people just seem to have a gift for living well; why the
smartest kid in the class will probably not end up the richest; why we like
some people virtually on sight and distrust others; why some people remain
buoyant in the face of troubles that would sink a less resilient soul. What qualities
of the mind or spirit, in short, determine who succeeds?
The phrase “emotional intelligence” was created by a Yale psychologist and a professor at University of New Hampshire five years ago to describe qualities like understanding one’s own feelings, empathy for the feelings of others and “the regulation of emotion in a way that enhances living.” Their idea is becoming a topic of conversation nationally due to a book by Daniel Goleman called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. He states that his goal is to redefine intelligence and success. He believes that EQ is the equivalent to what we used to call “character” and contributes more to a person’s success than brainpower, measured by IQ tests. He claims that IQ is not everything, that high IQ people are not always the most successful, and that it does not determine one’s course in life. Emotional factors could be important. He states that there are five main “abilities” involved. A high EQ involves knowing one’s emotions. It involves managing one’s emotions. It involves motivating oneself. It involves recognizing emotions in others, or empathy. It involves the ability to handle relationships. Hans Eysenck in his book A New Look Intelligence states that this whole theory is “built on quicksand” and that there is no sound scientific basis.
Goleman insists that this is no abstract study. He is looking for solutions, which will restore “civility to our streets and caring to our communal life.” He sees practical applications everywhere for how companies should decide whom to hire, how couples can increase the odds that their marriages will last, how parents should raise their children and how schools should teach them. Obviously, something serious is lacking in our world today. Goleman notes that street gangs substitute for families and schoolyard insults end in violence. More than half of marriages end in divorce. The majority of the children murdered in this country are killed by parents and stepparents, many of whom use the excuse that they were just trying to “discipline” the child. All of these situations clearly point to an extreme need for emotional education. Goleman argues that while children are still young, there is a “neurological window of opportunity.” He believes that the part of the brain, which regulates how we act on what we feel, probably does not mature until mid-adolescence. This is why he advocates emotional learning in school as well as academic learning.
In the corporate world, according to personnel executives, IQ gets you hired, but EQ gets you promoted. Goleman likes to tell the story of a manager at AT&T’s Bell Labs, known for its brilliant engineers, who was asked to rank his top performers. They weren’t the ones with the highest IQs; they were the ones whose E-mail got answered. Goleman states, “Those workers who were good collaborators and networkers and popular with colleagues were more likely to get the cooperation they needed to reach their goals than the socially awkward, lone-wolf geniuses.” Perhaps one’s IQ is not all she’s cracked up to be.
Goleman believes that nowhere is the discussion of emotional intelligence more urgent than in schools. Here, both the investments and the opportunities seem greatest. Instead of constant crisis intervention, or declarations of war on drug abuse or teen pregnancy or violence, Goleman advocates preventative medicine. Educators can point to all sorts of data to support this new direction. Students who are depressed or angry literally cannot learn. Children who have trouble being accepted by their classmates are two to eight times more likely to drop out. Many school administrators are completely rethinking the weight they have been giving to traditional lessons and standardized tests. They are discovering that it is defining success too narrowly to just look at a child’s IQ rather than looking at a child as a human being.
Some psychologists believe there is danger in this whole new philosophy of education. They oppose training conformity to social expectations and are worried that children will be taught that there is a “right” emotional response for any given situation—laugh at parades, cry at funerals, sit still in church. A professor at Harvard Medical School says, “You can teach that it’s better to talk out your anger and not use violence. But is it good emotional intelligence not to challenge authority?”
Perhaps, however, the problem is only that there is an ingredient missing. Goleman is focusing more on neutral emotional skills than on the values that should govern their use. Emotional skills, like intellectual ones, are morally neutral. Just as a genius could use his intellect either to cure cancer or develop a deadly virus, someone with great empathy skills could use his insight to inspire colleagues or take advantage of them. The psychologist who invented the marshmallow test remarks that the knack for delaying gratification that makes a child one marshmallow richer can help him become a better citizen or—just as easily-an even more brilliant criminal. Goleman is not advocating how to use EQ. He is only suggesting that there is more of value in a human being than his IQ, that there are more determining factors to a person’s success than his IQ, that perhaps we need to develop EQ skills just as we develop academic skills.
More than likely, most people could think of someone who is highly gifted intellectually yet seems to have a tough time with the daily routines of life and with relationships. Or, perhaps a person comes to mind that never seemed to be bright academically yet is highly successful by the world’s standards. The Oval Office gives us some perfect examples. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon could be labeled “worst cases” on an EQ scale of Presidents. Each was gifted with political genius, yet each met with disaster. Greenstein, from Princeton University, says they are the political versions of Van Gogh, “who does unbelievable paintings and then cuts off his ear.” On the other hand, look at John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Nobody ever considered them intellectual geniuses yet both radiated qualities of leadership with confidence and qualities that endeared them to the nation. Currently, we have Mr. White House, who is a Rhodes scholar which makes him certifiably brainy, but his emotional intelligence is—how shall I say it—very shaky and has gotten him into a lot of trouble.
What would you have done? Would you have delighted in devouring your delicacy the minute your mom left the room, or would you have had the emotional strength to resist immediate gratification and enjoy later benefits? Perhaps this EQ debate will cause you to evaluate yourself and others in a new way. Maybe things which once puzzled you about certain individuals and their success, or lack thereof, now make perfect sense. It is people with whom we work and live and our relationships with them may spell the difference between success and failure in our lives, and thus is the true measure of one’s intelligence. Nourishing the soul as well as the mind can only make for a more well-rounded and successful individual.
Bender, David L. Genetics and Intelligence. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1996.
Butcher, H. J. Human Intelligence. London: Methuen, 1970.
Eysenck, Hans J. A New Look: Intelligence. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1998.
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