Emotional Weather Report

Well we are talking about late night and early morning low clouds
With a chance of fog, chance of showers into the afternoon
With variable high cloudiness and gusty winds
Gusty winds at times around the corner of sunset and Alvarado
Yeah I know things are tough all over

— Tom Waits “Emotional Weather Report”

What is your emotional IQ (EIQ)? Emotional Intelligence — a concept made popular by psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman — is based on years of research by numerous scientists including Peter Salovey, John Meyer, Howard Gardner, Robert Sternberg, and Jack Block. AllPsych Online defines it as “The awareness of and ability to manage one’s emotions in a healthy and productive manner.” People with high emotional intelligence tend to be more “successful in life than those with lower EIQ even if their classical IQ is average.”

This is illustrated by the famous marshmallow experiment conducted by Stanford University’s Walter Mischel and discussed by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence. Here’s a video of the marshmallow experiment:

In the 1960s, a group of four-year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Photo: amazon.comNow a study led by Jordan Grafman at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in Bethesda, Maryland has isolated areas of the brain important for two types of emotional intelligence: experiential and strategic. As reported by New Scientist, Vietnam veterans with traumatic head injuries — depending upon the type of injury — were either deficient at experiential EIQ (“the capacity to judge emotions in other people”) or at strategic EIQ (“the ability to plan socially appropriate responses to situations”).

According to the research team’s web site, NINDS “conducts and supports research on traumatic brain injury to better understand the biological mechanisms of injury, to develop tools for improved diagnosis and classification, and to devise effective treatments to improve functional outcomes and quality of life.” NINDS areas of research include:

  • Human observational studies to evaluate and characterize alterations in brain function and behavior,
  • Pre-clinical studies to elucidate mechanisms of brain injury and repair, and to identify therapeutic targets, and
  • Development of neuroimaging and other surrogate markers for diagnosis and evaluation of experimental treatments.

A study has isolated areas of the brain important for two types of emotional intelligence: experiential and strategic

Dr. Grafman’s team gave standard EIQ tests to 38 injured veterans along with 29 healthy control subjects. Seventeen of the veterans had injuries to their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and performed worse on experiential tasks while performing normally on strategic tasks. The 21 remaining injured veterans who had damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex did exactly the opposite — they performed worse on strategic tasks and better on experiential tasks. The traumatic brain injury sustained by the injured veterans did not appear to affect their cognitive abilities. Could there be a link between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, EIQ, and the ability to solve math problems and perform well on the SAT?

Children who are able to pass the marshmallow test enjoy greater success as adults. Photo: newyorker.comDr. Mischel’s work with marshmallows at Stanford may offer clues. A recent New Yorker article points out that psychologists have long focused on raw intelligence as the most important variable when it comes to predicting success in life. “What we’re really measuring with the marshmallows isn’t will power or self-control,” says Dr. Mischel. “It’s much more important than that. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”

So, what is your emotional weather report? Try the EIQ test (see Resources), but be prepared to set aside 20 minutes or so to answer the 106 questions. Do you have an easy time overcoming difficulties in your life and controlling your mood? Are you able to motivate yourself to overcome obstacles (like resisting marshmallows) to reach your goals? Or is it just psychobabble? Judge for yourself.

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