Review of Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

Kevin Langdon

Published in Noesis #145, November 1999

Copyright 1999 by Kevin Langdon

 

When people are asked to rank the importance of various attributes, in themselves, in a potential mate, or in human beings in general, intelligence makes a respectable showing but it’s rarely at the top of the list.

But when a person is challenged in real life, when his honor, his beauty, his kindness, his industry, or his honesty is put into question, nothing provokes such a strong defensive reaction as the suggestion that he’s not too bright.

If one were asked about his expectations regarding the distribution of nose-to-tail length of an unknown population of animals (let us assume they’re all full-grown and all the same sex, for the sake of simplicity), one would unhesitatingly reply that, in all likelihood, a few would be very large, a few would be very small, and the vast majority would be clustered somewhere in the middle. We expect this on the basis of our own experience and as a result of well-known principles of genetic variation and selection.

If one were asked to speculate about the results of similar measurements on genetically separate but similar populations, one would reply that similar distributions would be found in each, but with different means.

But when the populations involved are different “races” of human beings and the measurement to be made is of intelligence instead of physical dimensions, these expectations suddenly vanish, to be replaced by pious profession of the equality of all peoples.

Despite the overwhelming consensus among psychometricians and human geneticists that large, systematic differences in average intelligence levels exist between the races of mankind and that a major component of these differences is genetic, publication of The Bell Curve, a popular book by experts in the science of intelligence that had the temerity to say so, was greeted with a huge outcry, accusations of racism, and a manufactured controversy over a set of propositions that are, in fact, not controversial among experts in the field.

Reviewers of The Bell Curve have gone to great lengths to discredit the book and its authors; some have gone to absurd lengths, as in a review featured in Time which denied the applicability to the real world of the very concept of intelligence, despite the well-established correlation of IQ with success in school and in scientific and technical specialties such as physics, engineering, and computer programming.

Why do these ideas provoke such a strong reaction? We have already touched on several key aspects. People understand, in a very direct, instinctive way, that intelligence is fundamental and plays a key role in effectiveness in life and in the ability to formulate the deeper questions whose pursuit leads man in the direction of meaning. Thus the idea that some people, and certain groups of people, are inherently and unalterably better endowed than others with this fundamental attribute stirs deep fears, tribal rivalries and hatreds, and many-leveled compensations for these primitive impulses so unacceptable in supposedly civilized people.

In 1995, just as the reverberations from the ringing of The Bell Curve had sensitized us to these polarizing issues involving race, intelligence and privilege in society, another book appeared, Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, well-known for his writings on spiritual subject matter and on “the behavioral and brain sciences,” seeming to offer a point of view with the potential to reconcile opposing views and calm the waters in this explosive area.

The cover of Emotional Intelligence proclaims it to be “the groundbreaking book that redefines what it means to be smart”—and Goleman does, indeed, attempt such a redefinition. For the critical reader, the question is: to what extent does he succeed?

A passage in the introductory chapter titled “Aristotle’s Challenge” presents a thumbnail summary of the principal thesis of the book:

Now science is finally able to speak with authority to these urgent and perplexing questions of the psyche at its most irrational, to map with some precision the human heart.

This mapping offers a challenge to those who subscribe to a narrow view of intelligence, arguing that IQ is a genetic given that cannot be changed by life experience, and that our destiny in life is largely fixed by these aptitudes. That argument ignores the more challenging question: What can we change that will help our children fare better in life? What factors are at play, for example, when people of high IQ flounder and those of modest IQ do surprisingly well? I would argue that the difference quite often lies in the abilities called here emotional intelligence, which include self-control, zeal and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself. And these skills, as we shall see, can be taught to children, giving them a better chance to use whatever intellectual potential the genetic lottery may have given them.

In Chapters 1, “What Are Emotions For?”, and 2, “Anatomy of an Emotional Hijacking,” Goleman explores the neurological basis of emotion and its adaptive value. He attributes nonadaptive emotionality to changes in the human environment during the modern era.

The protracted period of evolution when these emotional responses were hammered into shape was certainly a harsher reality than most humans endured as a species after the dawn of recorded history. It was a time when few infants survived to childhood and few adults to thirty years, when predators could strike at any moment, when the vagaries of droughts and floods meant the difference between starvation and survival. But with the coming of agriculture and even the most rudimentary human societies, the odds for survival began to change dramatically. In the last ten thousand years, when these advances took hold throughout the world, the ferocious pressures that had held the human population in check eased steadily.

Those same pressures had made our emotional responses so valuable for survival; as they waned, so did the goodness of fit of parts of our emotional repertoire. While in the ancient past a hair-trigger anger may have offered a crucial edge for survival, the availability of automatic weaponry to thirteen-year-olds has made it too often a disastrous reaction.

Although it’s hard to argue that there isn’t a grain of truth in this, one suspects that it isn’t the whole story. Is the organism’s capacity for emotional response a hard-wired set of reflexes corresponding to the particular circumstances of the human past, or is it, like the human intellect, a general-purpose processing engine of great power, with the potential to adapt to conditions unknown and unexpected? If it is the latter, are there other factors limiting its full expression, beyond the novelty of the present human environment?

One such factor is surely the defensive structures of the ego, the result of the interaction of external challenge and the patterns of perception and response already present. The key molding factors are trauma, chronic pressure, and the experience of coping successfully. The defensive structures have commandeered the lion’s share of the computing power of the organism. Every function is affected; the system is overloaded and runs slow. When central response is slow, decisions are made by peripheral relexes, bypassing higher-level neural structures and patterning. This limits the responsiveness of both the mind and the feelings.

Goleman gives considerable attention to the dynamic interrelation of the cortex (the seat of rationality) and the limbic system, the part of the brain where emotions are processed.

In one study, for example, primary school boys who had above-average IQ scores but nevertheless were doing poorly in school were found via these neuropsychological tests to have impaired frontal cortex functioning. They also were impulsive and anxious, often disruptive and in trouble—suggesting faulty prefrontal control over their limbic urges. Despite their intellectual potential, these are the children at highest risk for problems like academic failure, alcoholism, and criminality—not because their intellect is deficient, but because their control over their emotional life is impaired. The emotional brain, quite separate from those cortical areas tapped by IQ tests, controls rage and compassion alike.

Drawing on the work of Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neurologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Goleman argues that “their decisions are so bad because they have lost access to their emotional learning.” This is true enough, but it is unfortunate that Goleman takes emotional learning primarily in the sense of moderation of primitive emotional impulses by the rational mind—what is usually and somewhat misleadingly called “self-control”—with little attention to the potential of man’s emotional circuitry as the instrument of a subtle and quick perception unavailable through the intellect. It isn’t that such sensitivities as social perceptiveness are not acknowledged; they are mentioned in a utilitarian context which reduces them to components of the “bag of tricks” needed to get by in life.

Compare this passage from In Search of the Miraculous, by P.D. Ouspensky, in which Ouspensky quotes Gurdjieff:

“In order to find a way of discriminating we must understand that every normal psychic function is a means or an instrument of knowledge. With the help of the mind we see one aspect of things and events, with the help of emotions another aspect, with the help of sensations a third aspect. The most complete knowledge of a given subject possible for us can only be obtained if we examine it simultaneously with our mind, feelings, and sensations.”

In a revealing passage in Chapter 4 of Emotional Intelligence, “Know Thyself,” Goleman discusses a reflexive mode of experience which he calls “self-awareness” or “self-observation”:

This quality of awareness is akin to what Freud described as an “evenly hovering attention,” and which he commended to those who would do psychoanalysis. Such attention takes in whatever passes through awareness with impartiality, as an interested yet unreactive witness. Some psychoanalysts call it the “observing ego,” the capacity of self-awareness that allows the analyst to monitor his own reactions to what the patient is saying, and which the process of free association nurtures in the patient.

Such self-awareness would seem to require an activated neocortex, particularly the language areas, attuned to identify and name the emotions being aroused. Self-awareness is not an attention that gets carried away by the emotions, overreacting and amplifying what is perceived. Rather, it is a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions. William Styron seems to be describing something like this faculty of mind in writing of his deep depression, telling of a sense “of being accompanied by a second self—a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles.”

This passage shows a failure to discriminate between consciousness and thought, a blind spot Goleman shares with Freud. But without a clear understanding of the difference between direct impressions of himself and mental judgments a man can never be objective.

William Styron’s report is closer to the mark.

In this same chapter, Goleman describes a class of people, known in the psychiatric literature as alexithymics, who cannot verbalize their feelings, which Goleman equates with not being aware of them. Listening to human beings attempting to communicate about their emotional experience suggests that we are all alexithymic to a significant degree. One reason for this is that the study of interior phenomena is not encouraged by most parents, nor is it included in the standard school curriculum. This undoubtedly is also a factor in the frequent appearance of intelligent, educated, and sensitive people who do not understand the difference between thought and consciousness.

At the end of Chapter 4, in a section called “Plumbing the Unconscious,” Goleman wrote:

Some of us are naturally more attuned to the emotional mind’s special symbolic modes: metaphor and simile, along with poetry, song, and fable, are all cast in the language of the heart. So too are dreams and myths, in which loose associations determine the flow of narrative, abiding by the logic of the emotional mind. Those who have a natural attunement to their own heart’s voice—the language of emotion—are sure to be more adept at articulating its messages, whether as a novelist, songwriter, or psychotherapist. This inner attunement should make them more gifted in giving voice to the “wisdom of the unconscious”—the felt meanings of our dreams and fantasies, the symbols that embody our deepest wishes.

Self-awareness is fundamental to psychological insight; this is the faculty that much of psychotherapy means to strengthen. Indeed, Howard Gardner’s model for intrapsychic intelligence is Sigmund Freud, the great mapper of the psyche’s secret dynamics. As Freud made clear, much of emotional life is unconscious; feelings that stir within us do not always cross the threshold into awareness. Empirical verification of this psychological axiom comes, for instance, from experiments on unconscious emotions, such as the remarkable finding that people form definite likings for things they do not even realize they have seen before. Any emotion can be—and often is—unconscious.

This comes closer to acknowledging the potential of the emotions as an instrument of knowledge, but Goleman fails to grasp what both Freud and Gurdjieff understood—that what is called “the unconscious” is the real consciousness of man, while what he calls his consciousness is a patchwork of conditionings and reactions.

Further evidence of a fundamental misunderstanding appears in the following paragraph from Chapter 5, “Passion’s Slaves”:

In these times, one sign of the capacity for emotional self-regulation may be recognizing when chronic agitation of the emotional brain is too strong to be overcome without pharmacologic help. For example, two thirds of those who suffer from manic-depression have never been treated for the disorder. But lithium or newer medications can thwart the characteristic cycle of paralyzing depression alternating with manic episodes that mix chaotic elation and grandiosity with irritation and rage. One problem with manic-depression is that while people are in the throes of mania they often feel so overly confident that they see no need for help of any kind despite the disastrous decisions they are making. In such severe emotional disorders psychiatric medication offers a tool for managing life better.

What is missing here is an appreciation of the soporific effects of psychiatiric medication—and, more importantly, of the primacy of consciousness over functions. If one is seeking a tranquil life, a bit of lithium, Prozac, or Zoloft can be a big help, but if one is seeking consciousness and the direct experience of one’s own true nature, these poisons to the spirit are best left alone.

Goleman gives considerable attention to depressive states, as in the following paragraph:

The tendency for depression to perpetuate itself shades even the kinds of distractions people choose. When depressed people were given a list of upbeat or ponderous ways to get their minds off something sad, such as the funeral of a friend, they picked more of the melancholy activities. Richard Wenzlaff, the University of Texas psychologist who did these studies, concludes that people who are already depressed need to make a special effort to get their attention on something that is completely upbeat, being careful not to inadvertently choose something—a tearjerker movie, a tragic novel—that will drag their mood down again.

Although deliberately concentrating on something “upbeat” can be effective in dispelling an ordinary bad mood, it doesn’t work very well for dealing with prolonged deep depression.

I have been fortunate. I have an optimistic disposition and rarely become depressed. But when my first wife left me, I was depressed for two years (though I managed to maintain a minimum level of functioning), so I know something about depression.

When I am severely depressed, forced good cheer and pleasant distractions do nothing for me, but there is something else which works magic. This is to place before me art or literature which treats the pains and sorrows of life in a mature and dignified manner, as in the words of the Prophet from Ecclesiastes (7:1-6):

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.

Noting that anger is the most difficult emotional impulse to resist, Golemean debunks the popular myth that “ventilating” is an effective way of reducing anger.

In an angry state, people assume that they must either act on it (often with dire consequences for themselves and others) or push it out of awareness. These are not the only alternatives, but the third alternative is seldom seriously considered: to experience the anger without taking it personally, as if the anger belonged to a character in a play, and thus not to feed it.

The reason for this is very simple. To stay in front of one’s anger without being taken by it requires a lot of energy and a maturity of attitude that goes far beyond delaying gratification of the impulse. Although there is always value in self-awareness, counting to ten before hitting someone is of limited practical use unless one takes advantage of the interval to reconsider and cancel this ill-advised action (sometimes the impulse is too strong to resist but can be redirected—e.g., hitting a pillow instead of hitting a person).

In Chapter 6, “The Master Aptitude,” Goleman wrote:

What seems to set apart those at the very top of competitive pursuits from others of roughly equal ability is the degree to which, beginning early in life, they can pursue an arduous practice routine for years and years. And that doggedness depends on emotional traits—enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks—above all else.

Enthusiasm and persistence are certainly importance ingredients in any pursuit undertaken seriously, but Goleman fails to acknowledge the key role of the intellect in many fields of activity. Someone whose IQ is less than 150 (one in 1000) will never be a great mathematician, a great theoretical physicist, or a great philosopher, no matter how strongly motivated he is.

Goleman continued:

The added payoff for life success from motivation, apart from other innate abilities, can be seen in the remarkable performance of Asian students in American schools and professions. One thorough review of the evidence suggests that Asian-American children may have an average IQ advantage over whites of just two or three points.

This review, as indicated in a footnote, is contained in The Bell Curve. A similar conclusion appears in The g Factor, by Dr. Arthur R. Jensen (New York: The Free Press, 1997). Goleman continued:

Yet on the basis of the professions, such as law and medicine, that many Asian-Americans end up in, as a group they behave as though their IQ were much higher—the equivalent of 110 for Japanese-Americans and of 120 for Chinese-Americans. The reason seems to be that from the earliest years of school, Asian children work harder than whites. Sanford Dorenbusch, a Stanford sociologist who studied more than ten thousand high-school students, found that Asian-Americans spent 40 percent more time doing homework than did other students. “While most American parents are willing to accept a child’s weak areas and emphasize the strengths, for Asians, the attitude is that if you’re not doing well, the answer is to study later at night, and if you still don’t do well, to get up and study earlier in the morning. They believe that anyone can do well in school with the right effort.” In short, a strong cultural work ethic translates into higher motivation, zeal, and persistence—an emotional edge.

A recent study indicates that American students spend as much time on homework as students in other countries, such as Japan, which consistently outperform the U.S. in academic achievement.

It’s not just a matter of hours put in; there is a significant difference in the efficiency of the instructional process. The reasons for this include Americans’ greater resistance to authority of all kinds and the relatively low status and compensation of teachers in the United States.

But the antiauthoritarianism of American students and their tendency to do things their own way has an upside: it fosters creativity in the brighter students.

Japan has been notoriously unsuccessful in the software marketplace, in marked contrast with its success in computer hardware. The difference is between an enterprise requiring creativity and one which is primarily a matter of competence in engineering and marketing.

In this chapter, also, Goleman describes “the marshmallow test,” which has become widely known because it is cited in almost every review of this book. In this study, by psychologist Walter Mischel, a group of four-year-olds were presented with a choice between a single marshmallow right away or two marshmallows after a short wait. The examiner left the room for fifteen to twenty minutes, leaving the child alone with the single marshmallow. A follow-up study more than a decade later by another psychologist, Phil Peake, showed that the ability to delay gratification for an extra marshmallow correlated better with SAT scores than IQ measured at the age of four. This is probably due, in part, to the fact that IQ tests designed for young children are very different from paper-and-pencil tests like the SAT and are only moderately correlated with them, but this experiment supports Goleman’s point about the importance of self-discipline and peristence.

Furthermore, as impulse control has been demonstrated to be a function of cognitive ability, it is not surprising that it should correlate well with SAT scores.

The following passage is taken from Bias in Mental Testing, by Dr. Arthur Jensen (p. 618):

Reflection-impulsivity, as a trait, is usually measured by means of Kagan’s Matching Familiar Figures Test (MFFT). In this test, the subject is asked to mark the one figure, out of a set of several highly similar distractors, that perfectly matches a “target” figure.

The literature on reflection-impulsivity is comprehensively reviewed by Messer (1976). Impulsivity as measured by the MFFT shows a median correlation of about -.30 with various IQ test scores, and the correlation would be substantially higher [in absolute value] when corrected for attenuation, as the MFFT scores have only moderate test-retest reliability.

At the end of Chapter 6, Goleman devotes several pages to a discussion of “flow.”

Being able to enter flow is emotional intelligence at its best; flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnassing the emotions in the service of performance and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. Yet flow (or a milder microflow) is an experience almost everyone enters from time to time, particularly when performing at their peak or stretching beyond their former limits. It is perhaps best captured by ecstatic lovemaking, the merging of two into a fluidly harmonious one.

That experience is a glorious one: the hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture. Becuse flow feels so good, it is intrinsically rewarding. It is a state in which people become utterly absorbed in what they are doing, paying undivided attention to the task, their awareness merged with their actions. Indeed, it interrupts flow to reflect too much on what is happening—the very thought “I’m doing this wonderfully” can break the feeling of flow. Attention becomes so focused that people are aware only of the narrow range of perception related to the immediate task, losing track of time and space. A surgeon, for example, recalled a challenging operation during which he was in flow; when he completed the surgery he noticed some rubble on the floor of the operating room and asked what had happened. He was amazed to hear that while he was so intent on the surgery part of the ceiling had caved in—he hadn’t noticed at all.

Flow is a state of self-forgetfulness, the opposite of rumination and worry: instead of being lost in nervous preoccupation, people in flow are so absorbed in the task at hand that they lose all self-consciousness, dropping the small preoccupations—health, bills, even doing well—of daily life. In this sense moments of flow are egoless. Paradoxically, people in flow exhibit a masterly control of what they are doing, their responses perfectly attuned to the changing demands of the task. And although people perform at their peak while in flow, they are unconcerned with how they are doing, with thought of success or failure—the sheer pleasure of the act itself is what motivates them.

The ability to concentrate is important for success in almost any field. Concentration depends on an emotional connection to the object on which attention is focused and the ability to filter distraction, “self-forgetfulness” reduces one’s quality of attention rather than improving it. Compare the following passage from In Search of the Miraculous (again Ouspensky is quoting Gurdjieff):

“ ‘Identification’ is so common a quality that for purposes of observation it is difficult to separate it from everything else. Man is always in a state of identification, only the subject of identification changes.

“A man identifies with a small problem which confronts him and he completely forgets the great aims with which he began his work. He identifies with one thought and forgets other thoughts; he is identified with one feeling, with one mood, and forgets his own wider thoughts, emotions, and moods. In work on themselves people are so much identifed with separate aims that they fail to see the wood for the trees. Two or three trees nearest to them represent for them the whole wood.

“ ‘Identifying’ is one of our most terrible foes because it penetrates everywhere and deceives a man at the moment when it seems to him that he is struggling with it. It is especially difficult to free oneself from identifying because a man naturally becomes more easily identified with the things that interest him most, to which he gives his time, his work, and his attention. In order to free himself from identifying a man must be constantly on guard and be merciless with himself, that is, he must not be afraid of seeing all the subtle and hidden forms which identifying takes.

“It is necessary to see and study identifying to its very roots in oneself. The difficulty of struggling with identifying is still further increased by the fact that when people observe it in themselves they consider it a very good trait and call it ‘enthusiasm,’ ‘zeal,’ ‘passion,’ ‘spontaneity,’ ‘inspiration,’ and names of that kind, and they consider that only in a state of identifying can a man really produce good work, no matter in what sphere. In reality of course this is illusion. Man cannot do anything sensible when he is in a state of identifying. If people could see what the state of identifying means they would alter their opinion. A man becomes a thing, a piece of flesh; he loses even the small semblance of a human being that he has. In the East where people smoke hashish and other drugs it often happens that a man becomes so identified with his pipe that he begins to consider he is a pipe himself. This is not a joke but a fact. He actually becomes a pipe. This is identifying. And for this, hashish or opium are entirely unnecessary. Look at people in shops, in theaters, in restaurants; or see how they identify with words when they argue about something or try to prove something, particularly something they do not know themselves. They become greediness, desires, or words; of themselves nothing remains.”

In Chapter 7, “The Roots of Empathy,” Goleman wrote:

In tests with over seven thousand people in the United States and eighteen other countries, the benefits of being able to read feelings from nonverbal cues included being better adjusted emotionally, more popular, more outgoing, and—perhaps not surprisingly—more sensitive. In general, women are better than men at this kind of empathy. And people whose performance improved over the course of the forty-five-minute test—a sign that they have a talent for picking up empathy skills—also had better relationships with the opposite sex. Empathy, it should be no surprise to learn, helps with romantic life.

In keeping with findings about other elements of emotional intelligence, there was only an incidental relationship between scores on this measure of empathic acuity and SAT or IQ scores or school achievement tests.

Here Goleman demonstrates an appreciation of the emotions as an instrument of knowledge. Emotional intelligence in this sense is truly independent of IQ.

Goleman wrote:

Prolonged absence of attunement between parent and child takes a tremendous emotional toll on the child. When a parent consistently fails to show any empathy with a particular range of emotion in the child—joys, tears, needing to cuddle—the child begins to avoid expressing, and perhaps even feeling, those same emotions. In this way, presumably, entire ranges of emotion can begin to be obliterated from the repertoire for intimate relations, especially if through childhood those feelings continue to be covertly or overtly discouraged.

The section in which this paragraph appears is headed “The Costs of Misattunement.” This word expresses the difficulty more accurately than the phrase “absence of attunement.” When there is an “absence of attunement” what happens instead is not merely the absence of something, but a conditioning process through which a child’s natural sensitivity begins to shut down, as indicated in Goleman’s next paragraph:

By the same token, children can come to favor an unfortunate range of emotion, depending on which moods are reciprocated. Even infants “catch” moods: Three-month-old babies of depressed mothers, for example, mirrored their mothers’ moods while playing with them, displaying more feelings of anger and sadness, and much less spontaneous curiosity and interest, compared to infants whose mothers were not depressed.

Furthermore, attunement is not solely a matter of the emotions. It involves the body and the intellect as well—expecially in young children, who have not yet acquired the habit of compartmentalized perception of their psychic functions. Goleman acknowledges that there’s more to attunement than the emotional element in this passage from Chapter 8, “The Social Arts”:

The degree of emotional rapport people feel in an encounter is mirrored by how tightly orchestrated their physical movements are as they talk—an index of closeness that is typically out of awareness. One person nods just as the other makes a point, or both shift in their chairs at the same moment, or one leans forward as the other moves back. The orchestration can be as subtle as both people rocking in swivel chairs at the same rhythm. Just as Daniel Stern found in watching the synchrony between attuned mothers and their infants, the same reciprocity links the movements of people who feel emotional rapport.

This synchrony seems to facilitate the sending and receiving of moods, even if the moods are negative. For example, in one study of physical synchrony, women who were depressed came to a laboratory with their romantic partners, and discussed a problem in their relationship. The more synchrony between the partners at the nonverbal level, the worse the depressed women’s partners felt after the discusssion—they had caught their girlfriends’ bad moods. In short, whether people feel upbeat or down, the more physically attuned their encounter, the more similar their moods will become.

Chapter 9, “Intimate Enemies,” deals with the role of emotion in marriage, but the most interesting passages have to do with the differences in the ways male and female human beings experience and express emotion, from early childhood through adult life.

One study of children’s friendships found that three-year-olds say about half their friends are of the opposite sex; for five-year-olds it’s about 20 percent, and by age seven almost no boys or girls say they have a best friend of the opposite sex. These separate social universes intersect little until teenagers start dating.

Meanwhile, boys and girls are taught very different lessons about handling emotions. Parents, in general, discuss emotions—with the exception of anger—more with their daughters than their sons. Girls are exposed to more information about emotions than are boys: when parents make up stories to tell their preschool children, they use more emotion words when talking to daughters than to sons; when mothers play with their infants, they display a wider range of emotions to daughters than to sons; when mothers talk to daughters about feelings, they discuss in more detail the emotional state itself than they do with their sons—though with the sons they go into more detail about the causes and consequences of emotions like anger (probably as a cautionary tale).

Leslie Brody and Judith Hall, who have summarized the research on differences in emotions between the sexes, propose that becasue girls develop facility with language more quickly than do boys, this leads them to be more experienced at articulating their feelings and more skilled than boys at using words to explore and substitute for emotional reactions such as physical fights; in contrast, they note, “boys, for whom the verbalization of affects is de-emphasized, may become largely unconscious of their emotional states, both in themselves and others.”

The results reported here are very interesting, but the explanation offered by Brody and Hall fails to account for the difference between things of which people are unaware and things of which they are aware but which are not verbally formulated, e.g., the distinctive smell of a particular place or the steps in a complex series of physical movements. Goleman continued:

At age ten, roughly the same percent of girls as boys are overtly aggressive, given to open confrontation when angered. But by age thirteen, a telling difference between the sexes emerges Girls become more adept than boys at artful aggressive tactics like ostracism, vicious gossip, and indirect vendettas. Boys, by and large, simply continue being confrontational when angered, oblivious to these more covert strategies. This is just one of many ways that boys—and later, men—are less sophisticated than the opposite sex in the byways of emotional life.

This result has been confirmed in study after study and is as firmly established as the superior performance of men on tests of spatial relationships. However, male populations, of almost all species studied, show greater variability than female populations on just about every measurable variable, which may be a key factor, along with greater competitiveness, in the predominance of males at the pinnacle of “political” life (including not only government but also business and other institutions), although success in this area is critically dependent on the Machiavellian skills at which girls generally outperform boys.

Hundreds of studies have found, for example, that on average women are more empathic than men, at least as measured by the ability to read someone else’s unstated feeelings from facial expression, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues. Likewise, it is generally easier to read feelings from a woman’s face than a man’s; while there is no difference in facial expressiveness among very young boys and girls, as they go through the elementary-school grades boys become less expressive, girls more so.

Emotional expressiveness is a two-edged sword. The tendency of women to make faces is one of the ways they give their power away. Knowledge of another’s emotional state makes it much easier to predict that person’s behavior and to control interactions with him or her.

Goleman observes that men are reluctant to talk with their wives about their relationship.

This growing silence on the part of husbands may be partly due to the fact that, if anything, men are a bit Pollyannaish about the state of their marriage, while their wives are attuned to the trouble spots. In one study of marriages, men had a rosier view than their wives of just about everything in relationship—lovemaking, finances, ties with in-laws, how well they listened to each other, how much their flaws mattered. Wives, in general, are more vocal about their complaints than are their husbands, particularly among unhappy couples.

This may be less a function of greater realism on the part of women and more of the fact that marriage is often a better deal for husbands than for wives, particularly in our times. He gets a domestic servant without having to be the sole breadwinner.

Toward the end of Chapter 9, Goleman offers a view of marital discord and suggests some ways of working with it.

One method for effective emotional listening, called “mirroring,” is commonly used in marital therapy. When one partner makes a complaint, the other repeats it back in her own words, trying to capture not just the thought, but also the feelings that go with it. The partner mirroring checks with the other to be sure the restatement is on target, and if not, tries again until it is right—something that seems simple, but is surprisingly tricky in execution. The effect of being mirrored accurately is not just feeling understood, but having the added sense of being in emotional attunement. That in itself can sometimes disarm an imminent attack, and goes far toward keeping discussions of grievances from escalating into fights.

This technique can be dangerous. A favorite covertly-hostile maneuver of many people is the “guess what I mean” game. No matter how clearly and fairly the partner of such a one tries to reflect what the other has said, he or she finds fault, takes further offence, and uses this as an occasion to broaden the scope of the argument.

A better technique is for each partner to play the role of the other; husbands and wives often have very good intuition about one another and play each other’s parts very well; these interactions can be quite humorous, defusing some of the hostility.

Psychologist Haim Ginott, the grandfather of effective-communication programs, recommended that the best formula for a complaint is “XYZ”: “When you did X, it made me feel Y, and I’d rather you do Z instead.”

This sounds good, but it, too, is fraught with peril. In a troubled marriage, one partner often makes the other responsible for his or her own emotional oversensitivity—and thus the “bad guy.” It is preferrable to focus communication on whether agreements have been honored and mutual goals have been advanced.

In Chapter 10, “Managing with Heart,” Goleman wrote:

Consider, for example, a study of star performers at Bell Labs, the world-famous scientific think tank near Princeton. The labs are peopled by engineers and scientists who are all at the top on academic IQ tests. But within this pool of talent, some emerge as stars, while others are only average in their ouptput. What makes the difference between stars and the others is not their academic IQ, but their emotional IQ. They are better able to motivate themselves, and better able to work their informal networks into ad hoc teams.

The “stars” were studied in one division at the labs, a unit that creates and designs the electronic switches that control telephone systems—a highly sophisticated and demanding piece of electronic engineering. Because the work is beyond the capacity of any one person to tackle, it is done in teams tht can range from just 5 or so engineers to 150. No single engineer knows enough to do the job alone; getting things done demands on tapping other people’s expertise. To find out what made the difference between those who were highly productive and those who were only average, Robert Kelley and Janet Caplan had managers and peers nominate the 10 to 15 percent of engineers who stood out as stars.

When they compared the stars with everyone else, the most dramtic finding, at first, was the paucity of differences between the two groups. “Based on a wide range of cognitive and social measures, from standard tests for IQ to personality inventories, there’s little meaningful difference in innate abilities,” Kelley and Caplan wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “As it develops, academic talent was not a good predictor of on-the-job productivity, nor was IQ.

But after detailed interviews, the critical difference emerged in the internal and interpersonal strategies “stars” used to get their work done. One of the most important turned out to be a rapport with a network of key people.

The reported result is an artifact of the flawed methodology of Kelley and Caplan. Of course people with good interpersonal skills are going to win a popularity contest, but this proves nothing about their productivity. It’s a truism that the real “stars” in scientific and technical fields are often maladjusted nerds.

In Chapter 11, “Mind and Medicine,” Goleman summarizes recent research on the relationship between health and the emotions. Among many interesting findings reported in this chapter is the following: “A network of researchers is finding that the chemical messengers that operate most extensively in both brain and immune system are those that are most dense in neural areas that regulate emotion.” This is of great scientific interest, but there are other findings of direct practical import for human health.

People who experienced chronic anxiety, long periods of sadness and pessimism, unremitting tension or incessant hostility, relentless cynicism or suspiciousness, were found to have double the risk of disease—including asthma, arthritis, headaches, peptic ulcers, and heart disease (each representative of major, broad categories of disease). This order of magnitude makes distressing emotions as toxic a risk factor as, say, smoking or high cholesterol are for heart disease—in other words, a major threat to health.

There is nothing to quarrel with here. Goleman is not making any exaggerated claims. It is fascinating that science has now confirmed a robust link between emotions such as anger, anxiety, and depression and a wide range of physical illnesses.

In a section titled “Abuse: The Extinction of Empathy” in Chapter 12, “The Family Crucible,” Goleman wrote:

In the rough-and-tumble play of the day-care center, Martin, just two and a half, brushed up against a little girl, who, inexplicably, broke out crying. Martin reached for her hand, but as the sobbing girl moved away, Martin slapped her on the arm.

As her tears continued Martin looked away and yelled, “Cut it out! Cut it out!” over and over, each time faster and louder.

When Martin then made another attempt to pat her, again she resisted. This time Martin bared his teeth like a snarling dog, hissing at the sobbing girl.

Once more Martin started patting the crying girl, but the pats on the back quickly turned into pounding, and Martin went on hitting and hitting the poor little girl despite her screams.

That disturbing encounter testifies to how abuse—being beaten repeatedly, at the whim of a parent’s moods—warps a child’s natural bent toward empathy. Martin’s bizarre, almost brutal response to his playmate’s distress is typical of children like him, who have themselves been the victims of beatings and other physical abuse since their infancy. The response stands in stark contrast to toddlers’ usual sympathetic entreaties and attempts to console a crying playmate, reviewed in Chapter 7. Martin’s violent response to distress at the day-care center may well mirror the lessons he learned at home about tears and anguish: crying is met at first with a peremptory consoling gesture, but if it continues, the progression is from nasty looks and shouts, to hitting, to outright beating. Perhaps most troubling, Martin alredy seems to lack the most primitive sort of empathy, the instinct to stop aggression against someone who is hurt. At two and a half he displays the budding moral impulses of a cruel and sadistic brute.

Goleman’s analysis overlooks more than it explains.

Martin did have an empathetic response to the little girl’s crying, which she, unfortunately, misinterpreted. He wasn’t obeying an aggressive impulse when he first touched the girl; otherwise her crying would hardly have been “inexplicable.” This poor, troubled kid was just tired of the phobic reactions of others stemming from their viewing him through the stereotype of “bad boy.” This is very similar to the well-known hostility of dogs to people who are afraid of them.

In Chapter 13, “Trauma and Emotional Relearning,” Goleman wrote:

“Victims of a devastating trauma may never be the same biologically,” Dr. Dennis Charney told me. A Yale psychiatrist, Charney is director of clinical neuroscience at the National Center [for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. “It does not matter if it was the incessant terrror of combat, torture, or repeated abuse in childhood, or a one-time experience, like being trapped in a hurricane or nearly dying in an auto accident. All uncontrollable stress can have the same biological impact.”

The operative word is uncontrollable. If people feel there is something they can do in a catastrophic situation, some control they can exert, no matter how minor, they fare far better emotionally than do those who feel utterly helpless. The element of helplessness is what makes a given event subjectively overwhelming. As Dr. John Krystal, director of the center’s Laboratory of Clinical Psychopharmacology, told me, “Say someone being attacked with a knife knows how to defend himself and takes action, while another person in the same predicament thinks, ‘I’m dead.’ The helpless person is the one more susceptible to PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] afterward. It’s the feeling that your life is in danger and there’s nothing you can do to escape it—that’s the moment the brain change begins.”

Helplessness as the wild card in triggering PTSD has been shown in dozens of studies on pairs of laboratory rats, each in a different cage, each being given mild—but, to a rat, very stressful—electric shocks of identical severity. Only one rat has a lever in its cage; when the rat pushes the lever, the shock stops for both cages. Over days and weeks, both rats get precisely the same amount of shock. But the rat with the power to turn the shocks off comes through without lasting signs of stress. It is only in the helpless one of the pair that the stress-induced brain changes occur. For a child being shot at on a playground, seeing his playmates bleeding and dying—or for a teacher there, unable to stop the carnage—that halplessness must have been palpable.

The reason that these situations are so devastasting is that they interrupt the chronic misapprehension of people—and, apparently, also of rats—that they are in control of their lives. “I” am the doer, the controller, and if I am not in control then “I” do not exist.

The locus ceruleus and the amygdala are closely linked, along with other limbic structures such as the hippocampus and hypothalamus, the circuitry of the catecholamines extends into the cortex. Changes in these circuits are thought to underlie PTSD symptoms, which include anxiety, fear, hypervigilance, being easily upset and aroused, readiness for fight or flight, and the indelible encoding of intense emotional memories. Vietnam vets with PTSD, one study found, had 40 percent fewer catecholamine-stopping receptors than did men without the symptoms—suggesting that their brains had undergone a lasting change, with their catecholamine secretion poorly controlled.

Other changes occur in the circuit linking the limbic brain with the pituitary gland, which regulates release of CRF, the main stress hormone the body secretes to mobilize the emergency fight-or-flight response. The changes lead this hormone to be oversecreted—particularly in the amygdala, hippocampus, and locus ceruleus—alerting the body for an emergency that is not there in reality.

As Dr. Charles Nemeroff, a Duke University psychiatrist, told me, “Too much CRF makes you overreact. For example, if you’re a Vietnam vet with PTSD and a car backfires at the mall parking lot, it is the triggering of CRF that floods you with the same feelings as in the original trauma; you start sweating, you’re scared, you have chills and the shakes, you may have flashback. In people who hypersecrete CRF, the startle response is overactive. For exmple, if you sneak up behind most people and suddenly clap your hands, you’ll see a startled jump the first time, but not by the third or fourth repetition. But people with too much CRF don’t habituate: they’ll respond as much to the fourth clap as to the first.

This is reminiscent of an experiment conduct by Dr. James V. Hardt of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute of the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center Dr. Hardt wired advanced practitioners of yoga and Zen, and a control group of nonpractitioners, to a biofeedback monitor and recorded their responses to loud noises. Members of the control group showed large reactions to the first loud noise and smaller and smaller reactions to repetitions of this stimulus. The yoga practitioners had large reactions to the first stimulus and little or no reaction to subsequent stimuli. The Zen practitioners had large reactions to the first stimulus—and also to each subsequent stimulus.

The Zen practitioners had learned not to habituate through a discipline of constant return to the present moment, but the post- traumatic stress victims had lost a principal line of defense against the terrifying unpredictability of the world. Without the means to control their inner attitude, they were constantly at the mercy of anything thhat interrupted, even momentarily, the order and regularity they depend upon to maintain their psychic equilibrium.

Goleman wrote:

“The question is, how quickly do you let go of learned fear?” asks Richard Davidson, the University of Wisconsin psychologist who discovered the role of the left prefrontal cortex as a damper on distress. In a laboratory experiment in which people first learned an aversion to a loud noise—a paradigm for learned fear, and a lower-key parallel of PTSD—Davidson found that people who had more activity in the left prefrontal cortex got over the acquired fear more quickly, again suggesting a cortical role in letting go of learned distress.

A study by Dr. Davidson cited in Chapter 14, “Temperament is not Destiny,” sheds light on this question:

In one of Dr. Davidson’s experiments volunteers with the most pronounced activity in the left frontal areas were compared with the fifteen who showed most activity on the right. Those with marked right frontal activity showed a distinctive pattern of negativity on a personality test: they fit the cricature portrayed by Woody Allen’s comedy roles, the alarmist who sees catastrophe in the smallest thing—prone to funks and moodiness, and suspicious of a world they saw as fraught with overwhelming difficulties and lurking dangers. By contrast to their melancholy counterparts, those with stronger left frontal activity saw the world very differently. Sociable and cheerful, they typically felt a sense of enjoyment, were frequently in good moods, had a strong sense of self-confidence, and felt rewardingly engaged in life. Their scores on psychological tests suggested a lower lifetime risk for depression and other emotional disorders.

Many will find this result surprising, but it makes a great deal of sense that the nonverbal right brain should be pessimistic, as it tends to be plagued and oppressed, in modern people, by the chattering, associative left brain. And, naturally, the more optimistic side of the brain is able to overcome fear more easily.

Back to Chapter 13. Goleman wrote:

Medication offers one way to restore patients’ sense that they need not be so at the mercy of the emotional alarms that flood them with inexplicable anxiety, keep them sleepless, or pepper their sleep with nightmares. Pharmacologists are hoping one day to tailor medications that will target precisely the effects of PTSD on the amygdala and connected neurotransmitter circuits. For now, though, there are medications that counter only some these changes, notably the antidepressnts that act on the serotonin system, and beta-blockers like propranolol, which block the activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

While it is true that awareness of lack of control can be reduced by reducing awareness generally (the principal effect of these medications) this is a cure worse than the disease.

Goleman continued:

Patients also may learn relaxation techniques that give them the ability to counter their edginess and nervousness. A physiological calm opens a window for helping the brutalized emotional circuitry rediscover that life is not a threat and for giving back to patients some of the sense of security they had in their lives before the trauma happened.

Another step in healing involves retelling and reconstructing the story of the trauma in the harbor of that safety, allowing the emotional circuitry to acquire a new, more realistic understanding of and response to the traumatic memory and its triggers. As patients retell the horrific details of the trauma, the memory starts to be transformed, both in its emotional meaning and in its effects on the emotional brain.

This is the old, bankrupt “catharsis” theory. What this really accomplishes is deepening the rut the patient is in. While there are a few psychotherapists whose human warmth and empathy (which are genuinely therapeutic) have not been destroyed by their training, the vast majority of them are nothing less than murderers of the spirit in the name of “adjustment.”

Consider the following passage from Chapter X, “The World’s Plight,” in Odd John, Olaf Stapledon’s brilliant depiction of a being evolved beyond the human level, in which the protagonist is speaking of a psychiatrist whom he has studied under the guise of seeking therapy:

“Poor devil!” he cried. “What else could he do anyhow? He’s got to seem wise at all costs, even when he’s absolutely blank. He’s in the same fix as a successful medium. He’s not just a quack. There’s a lot of real sound stuff in his trade. No doubt when he’s dealing with straightforward cases of a fairly low mental order, with troubles that are at bottom primitive, he fixes them up all right. But even then he doesn’t really know what he’s doing or how he gets his cures. Of course, he has his theories, and they’re damned useful, too. He gives the wretched patient doses of twaddle, as a doctor might give bread pills, and the poor fool laps it all up and feels hopeful and manages to cure himself. But when another sort of case comes along, who is living habitually on a mental storey about six floors above our friend’s own snug little flat, so to speak, there must be a glorious fiasco. How can a mind of his calibre possibly understand a mind that’s at all aware of the really human things? I don’t mean the highbrow things. I mean subtle human contacts, and world-contacts. He is sort of highbrow, with his modern pictures and his books on the unconscious. But he’s not human in the full sense, even according to the standards of Homo sapiens. He’s not really grown up. And so, though he doesn’t know it, the poor man is all at sea when he comes up against really grown-up people. For instance, in spite of his modern pictures, he hasn’t a notion what art is after, though he thinks he has. And he knows less of philosophy, real philosophy, than an ostrich knows about the upper air. You can’t blame him. His wings just wouldn’t carry his big fleshy pedestrian mind. But that’s no reason he should make matters worse by burying his head in the sand and kidding himself he sees the foundations of humn nature. When a relly winged case comes along, with all sorts of troubles due to not giving his wings exercise, our friend hasn’t the slightest perception what’s the matter. He says, in effect, ‘Wings? What’s wings? Just flapdoodle. Look at mine. Get ’em atrophied as quick as possible, and bury your head in the sand to make sure.’ In fact he puts the patients into a sort of coma of the spirit. If it lasts, he’s permanently ‘cured,’ poor man, and completely worthless. Often it does last, because your psychiatrist is an extremely good suggestionist. He could turn a saint into a satyr by mere slight of mind. God! Think of a civilization that hands over the cure of souls to toughs like that! Of course, you can’t blame him. He’s a decent sort on his own plane, and doing his bit. But it’s no use expecting a vet to mend a fallen angel.”

Goleman wrote:

Given the brain architecture that underlies emotional relearning, what seems to remain, even after successful psychotherapy, is a vestigial reaction, a remnant of the original sensitivity or fear at the root of a troubling emotional pattern. The prefrontal cortex can refine or put the brakes on the amygdala’s impulse to rampage, but cannot keep it from reacting in the first place. Thus while we cannot decide when we have our emotional outbursts, we have more control over how long they last. A quicker recovery time from such outbursts may well be one mark of emotional maturity.

It is not desirable that sensitivity and the emotions that arise as a result should be inhibited. Unpleasant emotions such as those enumerated in Goleman’s Appendix A, “What Is Emotion?” (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and shame), are instinctive and are found in all animals. What differentiates the problematical emotional patterns of humans from the emotions of animals in the wild is that human beings make use of their symbolic capacity to nurse and amplify these basic emotional reflexes to the point where they feed back on themselves and interfere with other perceptions and behavior patterns.

In Chapter 15, “The Cost of Emotional Illiteracy,” Goleman wrote:

Some obese people are unable to tell the difference between being scared, angry, and hungry, and so lump all those feelings together as signifying hunger, which leds them to overeat whenever they feel upset.

This is nonsense. Nobody is that stupid. If Goleman had bothered to look inside himself instead of relying on obscure journal articles, he’d have noticed that when one experiences strong negative feelings it is natural to seek compensating pleasurable feelings—and eating is often the most readily available source of pleasure.

Understandably, those who are rejected report great anxiety and many worries, as well as being depressed and lonely. In fact, how popular a child was in third grade has been shown to be a better predictor of mental-health problems at age eighteen than anything else—teachers’ and nurses’ ratings, school performance and IQ, even scores on psychological tests. And, as we have seen, in later stages of life people who have few friends and are chronically lonely are at greater risk for medical diseases and early death.

This is a very significant finding, with implications that go beyond “emotional literacy.” Children who are highly intelligent, creative, or independent often find themselves marginalized on this account; the failure of society at large to appreciate and take full advantage of their special gifts has disastrous consequences, both for them and for society.

What can be done about this? A good start would be to restore funding for school gifted programs, which has been slashed deeply in recent years—and to eliminate socially-fashionable alternative definitions of giftedness in favor of selecting participants in these programs by IQ tests, the best predictor of success in school and in later life.

The passage below is from page 488 of Bias in Mental Testing, by Dr. Arthur R. Jensen (it emphasizes black-white differences and is somewhat technical, but it provides a clear indication of the relationship between cognitive ability and college achievement):

Only one white and black college prediction study has used a more exact and objective criterion than GPA. Centra, Linn, and Parry (1970) looked at the ability of the SAT-V and SAT- M to predict scores on achievement tests in the areas of the students’ college major—the Area Tests of the Graduate Record Examination. These tests assess broad knowledge in the liberal arts. Students from seven predominantly black and seven predominantly white four-year liberal arts colleges, majoring in natural sciences (N), humanities (H), and social sciences (SS) were given the GRE tests in N, H, and SS, respectively. The seven white colleges were selected from among ninety white colleges so as to be as nearly equal as possible to the seven black colleges in preentry SAT scores; even so, the white mean was about one-half a standard deviation above the black mean.

The predictive validities (i.e., multiple R with SAT-V + SAT-M as predictors of total GRE achievement) for students in all majors were .78 for blacks (N = 327) and .74 for whites (N = 406).

The following passages are taken from Chapter 3 of The Bell Curve:

Job performance may be measured in many different ways. Sometimes it is expressed as a natural quantitative measure (how many units a person produces per hour, for example), sometimes as structured ratings by supervisors or peers, sometimes as analyses of a work sample. When these measures of job productivity are correlated with measures of intelligence, the overall correlation, averaged over many tests and many jobs, is about .4.

. . .

How good a predictor of job productivity is a cognitive test score compared to a job interview? Reference checks? College transcript? The answer, probably surprising to many, is that the test score is a better predictor of job performance than any other single measure.

In a subsection titled “Drinking and Drugs: Addiction As Self-medication,” Goleman wrote:

A neuropsychological study of sons of alcoholics who at age twelve showed signs of anxiety such as a heightened heart rate in response to stress, as well as impulsivity, found the boys also had poor frontal lobe functioning. Thus the brain areas that might have helped ease their anxiety or control their impulsivenss brought them less help than in other boys. And since the pre-frontal lobes also handle working memory—which holds in mind the consequences of various routes of action while making a decision—their deficit could support a slide into alcoholism by helping them ignore the long-term drawbacks of drinking, even as they found an immediate sedation from anxiety through alcohol.

Here again we see that cortical, intellectual intelligence makes a crucial difference. This is why the subtitle of Goleman’s book, “Why it [emotional intelligence] can matter more than IQ,” is dangerously misleading—though, in fairness to Goleman, this piece of either/or stupidity may have been added by the publisher, as it appears only on the dust jacket. Goleman continued:

This craving for calm seems to be an emotional marker of a genetic susceptibility to alcoholism. A study of thirteen hundred relatives of alcoholics found that the children of alcoholics who were most at risk for becoming alcoholics themselves were those who reported having chronically high levels of anxiety. Indeed, the researchers concluded that alcoholism develops in such people as “self-medication of anxiety symptoms.”

This is an important fact, particularly when taken in the light of the finding, reported in Scientific American around 1960, that crowding past a certain critical population density produced elevated levels of anxiety and a set of behavioral symptoms eerily similar to the problems plaguing the world’s large cities in laboratory rats, including neglect and abuse of offspring, sexual abnormalities, and self-mutilation.

Though the predisposition to substance abuse may, in many cases, be brain-based, the feelings that drive people to “self-medicate” themselves through drink or drugs can be handled without recourse to medication, as Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs have demonstrated for decades.

While attending A.A. meetings is certainly better for one’s health than alcohol abuse, people in the various “anonymous” programs, almost without exception, still display an addictive behavior pattern. They have merely substituted a more benign object of addiction—the groups themselves.

In Chapter 16, “Schooling the Emotions,” the final chapter of the book, Goleman writes of emotional training programs such as the “Self Science” classes at the Nueva Learning Center in San Francisco and the “Resolving Conflict Creatively Program” in the New York public schools, in which children are encouraged to “be assertive” and articulate their feelings in situations involving conflict with others. This is all very well as long as the other accepts the same framework and plays by the rules, but a kid who tells a schoolyard bully “What you’re doing is making me angry” will be lucky to keep his teeth. This is the same maladaptive strategy that was taught to participants in the encounter groups of the 1970’s—and is a major reason that such groups are no longer fashionable.

Goleman wrote:

One key to success of the conflict-resolution program is extending it beyond the classroom to the playground and cafeteria, where tempers are more likely to explode. To that end, some students are trained as mediators, a role that can begin in the latter years of elementary school. When tension erupts, students can seek out a mediator to help them settle it. The schoolyard mediators learn to hndle fights, taunts and threats, interracial incidents, and the other potentially incendiary incidents of school life.

Here, again, is something that sounds good but is less benign in practice. Placing children, with their limited experience of life, in positions of authority over other children is unlikely to result in just and sensitive handling of conflict.

The emphasis in these programs on compromise and negotiated settlements of disputes fails to take into account the fact that someone is right and someone is wrong in many situations. If Johnny steals Tommy’s lunch money, the solution is not for each of them to keep half of it.

Schools, notes [Amitai] Etzioni, have a central role in cultivating character by inculcating self-discipline and empathy, which in turn enable true commitment to civic and moral values. In doing so, it is not enough to lecture children about values: they need to practice them, which happens as children build the essential emotional and social skills. In this sense, emotional literacy goes hand in hand with education for character, for moral development, and for citizenship.

The trouble with educating children in values is that there is no universal consensus about exactly which values should be taught. A better approach is to expose them to a variety of value systems and let them draw their own conclusions.

This doesn’t imply a laissez faire attitude toward children’s disrespect for others’ persons and property, but standards can and should be enforced without moralizing.

Paradoxically, perhaps the most pernicious moral demand is the demand for respect. It is legitimate to demand that a child respect the rights of others, including the right to learn in an atmosphere free of disruption, but it is not legitimate to demand that he or she respect others’ opinions or character. It is a fundamental human right to come to one’s own conclusions about things, and about other people. A man has a right to consider another a fool or a knave, and to express his opinion if he chooses; children should not be held to a different standard, though it is legitimate to require them to refrain from disrupting group activities by speaking out of turn and to refrain from repeating themselves to the point of irritating everyone around them.

A corollary of this point is that children should be taught that they have no right to demand respect from others (beyond respect for their basic human rights), much less to exact it by force. Oversensitivity to perceived disrespect is the most important single cause of violence in contemporary society.

Emotional Intelligence concludes with a series of appendices. The first three of these, “What Is Emotion?”, “Hallmarks of the Emotional Mind,” and “The Neural Circuitry of Fear,” summarize the current state of scientific knowledge of the emotions. This material is excellent. Goleman would have done better to publish the appendices and throw the rest of the book away, or at least drastically shorten it.

When I was halfway through writing this review, I found Goleman’s Web site, which contains an “Emotional IQ Test,” consisting of ten multiple-choice questions. Each question presents a hypothetical situation and four possible responses. My score on this test was 80. Whether this result reflects my deficiencies or Goleman’s is left as an exercise for the reader.

Daniel Goleman’s E-IQ test can be found at http://www.utne.com/azEQ.tmpl.

 

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