Emotional intelligence - a person's ability to recognize emotions, understand the intentions, motivation and desires of others and their own, as well as the ability to manage their emotions and the emotions of others in order to solve practical problems.
The concept of emotional intelligence emerged as a reaction to the frequent inability of traditional intelligence tests to predict a person’s success in their careers and in life. This was explained by the fact that successful people are capable of effective interaction with other people, based on emotional connections, and effective management of their own emotions, while the accepted concept of intelligence did not include these aspects, and intelligence tests were not evaluated these abilities.
According to the less scientific definition of S.J. Stein and Howard Buk, emotional intelligence, unlike the usual concept of intelligence, “is the ability to correctly interpret a situation and influence it, intuitively catch what other people want and need, know their strengths and weaknesses, not to succumb to stress and be charming. "
You have probably met people who are excellent at controlling emotions and understanding the emotions of others. When everything goes to hell, they somehow remain calm. They know what to say or do when their boss is not in the mood or when their loved one is upset. Not surprisingly, emotional intelligence began to be praised as the new greatest paradigm in business schools, perhaps more important than IQ - after Daniel Goleman's
book Emotional Intelligence, which became a bestseller, was released in 1995. And really, with whom would you prefer to work - with a person who is able to understand and respond to your feelings, or with someone who has no idea about this? And who would you go on a date with?
The traditional basis of emotional perception is based on two assumptions of the level of common sense. The first is the ability to accurately determine the emotions of another person. That is, the face and body of a person conveys happiness, sadness, anger, fear and other emotions, and if you watch carefully enough, you can read them like words on a page. Secondly, emotions are automatically triggered by events in the outside world, and you can learn to control them with your mind. This is one of the most cherished ideas of Western civilization. For example, in a variety of legislative systems, there is a difference between a crime on the basis of passion, when a person’s emotions allegedly eclipsed his mind, and a premeditated crime that included sensible planning. In economics, almost all popular investor behaviors share emotions and reasoning.
These two basic assumptions are in good agreement with our everyday experience. However, in the era of neurobiology, none of them can withstand scientific verification. An extensive set of studies, both in my laboratory and in others, shows that only faces and bodies do not convey any particular emotions in a precise way. In addition, we now know that the brain does not have separate processes for emotions and reasoning, and, therefore, cannot control one another. If these statements are contrary to your common sense - I agree with you. But our feeling of emotions, regardless of how convincing it is, does not reflect the biology of what is happening inside us. Our common understanding and use of emotional perception is an urgent need to fine-tune.
Let's start with the assumption that it is possible to accurately determine the emotions of another person. At first glance, this is reasonable. The appearance of the face and body language reveal the feelings of a person, is not it? Do they not say that a smile tells one story, and frowning eyebrows tell another? Raised hands and protruding chest talk about pride, and a wilted posture suggests that a person is sad.
The main problem with these assumptions is that in real life, faces and bodies do not move so deliberately cartoon. Happy people sometimes smile and sometimes not. Sometimes they even cry for happiness (say, at a wedding) and smile when they feel sad (missing their loved one who left this world). In the same way, a gloomy person can get angry or just think hard, or maybe his bowels are naughty. In fact, there is not a single emotion that has a single, concrete and persistent expression.
Many studies support these observations. Placing electrodes on the face of a person, recording the movement of his muscles, we see that they move in different ways, not in the same way, in the presence of the same emotion. About the body, hundreds of studies show that with the same emotion a different heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, sweating, and other factors are recorded - and there is no one clear reaction. Even in the brain, the manifestation of one emotion, say, fear, causes the activation of different neural circuits at different times - both in one person and in different people. This variety is not accidental, it is tied to the current situation.
In short, when determining the emotions of other people, one must understand that the face and body do not speak for themselves. Variety will be normal. Your brain can automatically endow the sense of another person's movement in a given context, allowing you to understand his feelings, but you always only guess, and you never know for sure. I can know my husband well, to understand when his frowning look means thinking about some question, and when I need to leave the house urgently - but this is because I have been studying the meaning of his facial expressions in different situations for years. But in general, the movements of people are surprisingly different. In order to teach emotional perception in a modern way, we need to accept this diversity and make sure that your brain can automatically give it meaning.
The second incorrect assumption is that we control our emotions with our mind. Emotions often seem to be an internal beast, requiring taming by reasoning. This idea is based on a fictitious idea of brain evolution. In books and articles on emotional intelligence they write that the brain has an inner core inherited from reptiles, wrapped in a wild, emotional layer inherited from mammals, and all this is wrapped up - and controlled - by a logical layer that is only in humans. This three-level picture, called the triune brain
, has gained popularity since the 1950s [judging by Wiki sources, from the 1960s - approx. transl.], but she has no reason. The brain did not evolve in layers. The brain is like a company - reorganized in the process of growth. The difference between your brain and, say, a chimpanzee or ape's brain is not in layers, but in microscopic connections. Decades of research in neuroscience show that no part of the brain stands out exclusively for working with thoughts or emotions. Both of these phenomena are associated with the work of the brain entirely, with the joint activation of billions of neurons.
And although the triune brain is a fiction entirely, he had an outstanding PR campaign. Today, decades after the idea was dismissed by experts on brain evolution, people still use such concepts as “lizard brain” and believe that emotions are such tiny brain outlines that uncontrolledly activate when the desired trigger occurs, and that at some deep biological level, mind and emotions fight each other. After all, just so many representatives of Western culture perceive our emotional life - as if our emotional essence wants to do impulsive things, and our rational essence suppresses impulses. These interesting sensations - uncontrolled emotionality and the controlling mind - do not reflect the processes occurring in the brain. To improve our understanding of emotional intelligence, we must abandon the idea of the brain as a battlefield.
A reasonable and scientifically based method for assessing and using emotional perception can be developed on the basis of a modern, scientific view of the work of the brain called construction: it is an observation that the brain creates all thoughts, emotions and sensations automatically and on the fly, if necessary. This process is absolutely unconscious. You may feel that you have reflex-like emotional reactions, and you can easily recognize the emotions of other people, but under the hood, your brain does something completely different.
The most important task of your brain is not to think, not to feel and not to see, but to keep your body in a viable state so that you can survive and thrive (and eventually reproduce). How he does it? He constantly anticipates events, as if a sophisticated fortune-teller. His predictions end up becoming the emotions you are experiencing and the expressions of the emotions of others that you perceive.
Your brain spends all your life in a dark quiet box, a skull. He accepts only the sensations of what is happening in the world around him — sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes from the senses — and he has to guess what caused them, as any sound, flash of light, aroma or injection can occur for different reasons. For this, the brain relies on past experience: what led to such sensations earlier in a similar context? What worked and helped you stay alive and well, and what might be needed again? Your brain has an amazing opportunity to combine pieces of past experiences in order to create the most similar to the current sensations picture, taking into account the specific situation in which you find yourself. This past experience is a prediction. Your brain constantly predicts every sensation you have, every action you take, to guess what is happening in the world and what you will need to do with it.
From the point of view of your brain, your body is another source of information that needs to be comprehended - the heartbeat, the pressure of expanding lungs, the heat of inflammation, etc. These changes in the body have no objective emotional meaning. Dull pain in the stomach can be a sign of disgust, excitement or hunger. So most of the time your brain makes thousands of microscopic predictions about the needs of your body (water, glucose, salt), and tries to satisfy these needs before they appear. In the process, the brain also predicts the sensations that these physical changes will cause, such as a heartbeat, and what actions you need to take. This constant stream of predictions — occurring automatically and without the participation of consciousness — forms the basis of everything you think, feel, see, smell, or otherwise feel. This is how emotions, thoughts and sensations arise.
Consequently, emotional intelligence requires a brain that can use predictions to create a huge, flexible array of different emotions. If you are in a difficult situation that required emotions in the past, your brain will do a favor and construct the emotion that works best. You will function more efficiently if your brain has a large set of options to choose from. If your brain is only capable of stereotypical manifestations, happily smiling and offendedly pouting lips, then this will be all that you will feel and see in other people. But if your brain in the arsenal has a frown for anger, a smile for anger, extended eyes for anger, squint for anger, a cry for anger, silent boiling for anger and even approaching other people at the moment of anger, then your brain can be more subtle adjust your emotions and behavior to the situation. In other words, you will have better tools in order to be emotionally receptive.
This ability is called emotional grit
, and my students and I discovered it about 20 years ago. We asked hundreds of subjects to record their emotions during the day using handheld computers (this was back in the era before the advent of smartphones). Based on the data, we found that people use the same words to describe emotions, but they will not necessarily mean the same thing. For example, some people use words like “evil”, “frightened” and “sad” to describe completely different experiences, while others use all these three words to express the same feeling of “feeling bad”.
Emotional grit is a bit like wine tasting. Wine experts feel very subtle variations of smell, perhaps even among different batches of wine from one vineyard. Less sophisticated people may not feel this difference, but perhaps at least distinguish pinot noir from merlot or cabernet sauvignon. A newcomer to winemaking makes these differences much worse - perhaps he will be able to distinguish between dry and sweet, or perhaps both will have an alcoholic taste for him.
Likewise, people with high emotional grain recognize the emotions of others well. Their brain automatically constructs emotional experiences with subtle differences — for example, amazed, surprised, astonished, dumbfounded and shocked. For a person with a smaller grain of emotion, all these words may belong to the same concept of "surprise." And for a person with a low grain, all these words can mean winding up.
Emotional grit is the key to emotional intelligence. If your brain can automatically construct many different emotions and make subtle differences between them, it can better adapt the emotions to the current situation. And you will be better equipped to anticipate and recognize the emotions of other people. The more emotions you know, the more accurately your brain is able to construct emotional value based on the actions of other people. Even though your brain constantly guesses when it has more options to choose from, the chances are higher that the guess will be correct.
How to allow your brain to create a wider range of emotions and improve emotional intelligence? One approach is to learn new words for emotions. Each new word opens up in the brain the ability to create new emotional predictions that it can use as a tool to build your future sensations and perceptions, as well as to direct your actions. Instead of considering someone simply "joyful," learn to distinguish subtleties. Maybe a person is overjoyed, or satisfied, or grateful? Is he angry, or indignant, or offended, or distressed? The finer grain of emotions allows your brain to prepare a whole range of different actions, and more general emotions (evil, joyful) convey less information and limit your flexibility.
The idea of enhancing emotional intelligence through the expansion of an emotional vocabulary is a solid neuroscience. Your brain is not static; he overwrites himself with new experiences. When you force yourself to learn new words - related to emotions, or any other - you form microscopic schemes of your brain, and make it easier for him to create emotional experience and your perception of others' emotions in the future. In short, every new emotional word is a new tool for the future of emotional intelligence.
People who are capable of constructing fine-grained emotional sensations, have not only social advantages. Children who expand their knowledge of emotional words improve academic success and social behavior, according to researchers at the Yale Emotional Intelligence Center. Adults with more emotional grit tend to be less sick, less likely to go to the doctor, take less medicine and spend less time in a hospital bed.
Foreign languages are a great source of new emotional words to increase your brain's emotional repertoire. You may be aware of the word schadenfreude, which came [in English] from German, and means “to take pleasure in the failures of others” [gloating - approx. trans.]. Other languages are full of emotional words that have no direct equivalent in English. For example, Filipino gigil - the desire to squeeze something unbearably sweet, or iktsuarpok in excimos - a feeling of anticipation and impatience from waiting for a meeting with someone. By studying foreign terms and concepts that they mean, you can learn to recognize these emotions in other people and even feel them yourself.
Ironically, emotional intelligence is also the knowledge of when it is not necessary to show emotion. If you feel overwhelmed emotionally, get distracted and try to give non-emotional explanations of your feeling. Perhaps this nervous feeling in your stomach is not excitement, but purposefulness. Perhaps the uncomfortable colleague is simply hungry. Feeling emotional distress when talking to a mother does not necessarily mean that she said something wrong. Remember that your brain always guesses, and sometimes these guesses are wrong.
Two decades ago, when the book "Emotional Intelligence" hit the bestseller list, scientists did not know about the predictive brain, or that the words you hear affect the structure of your brain, and the emotional grit was discovered quite recently. Science is just the best understanding of how things work, based on the evidence available. In view of the new discoveries, explanations change, sometimes greatly. This is how science works. Many of the factors traditionally placed outside the realm of emotions — for example, vocabulary — have an extremely strong influence on what you feel, what you see and what you do. To introduce emotional intelligence into modernity, we need to recognize these factors - even if it is contrary to common sense - and it is prudent to use them to understand each other and ourselves.Lisa Feldman Barrett (@LFeldmanBarrett) is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, author of How Emotions are Created: The Secret Life of the Brain [ How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain ].