Lacking Emotional Intelligence: When Bright Students Fail in Life
Since early childhood, our cognitive skills and performance are measured though a wide array of assessment metrics, such as IQ tests, standardized test scores and subject grades. Yet those tests often fail to predict who will succeed in life in terms of prosperity, status and happiness. Doing well academically during the school days does not always translate into a success later in life, when many once bright students miserably fail in their personal and professional affairs.
There is an undisputed general correlation between success in life and IQ or performance at school. However, many individuals surprisingly fall out of that trend-line. Studies have shown that years after completing their education, many toppers have turned out less successful in their income and status compared to their once less-successful peers. This also translated in terms of their relationships with family, partners and friends.
“What factors are at play,” asks Goleman, “When people of high IQ flounder and those of modest IQ do surprisingly well?” Data shows that IQ contributes to success factors by only 20%, while a staggering 80% depends on non-IQ factors, ranging from socio-economic background to luck.
Goleman argues that the success in life greatly depends on one’s emotional intelligence, a set of skills that can be acquired and mastered. Emotional Intelligence can, in some cases, be more powerful and impactful than IQ, since it is a meta-ability that determines how well we can use all other skills which we have, including our IQ.
In simple terms, Emotional Intelligence, or being emotionally adept, is about being able to:
- motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustration
- regulate one’s mood and prevent distress to cloud the ability to think
- rein in emotional impulse—control impulse and delay gratification
- read another’s innermost feelings
- handle relationships smoothly
- empathize and hope
Goleman challenges the once widely-held opinion that IQ was genetic and could not be changed through life experiences and learning. There is growing scientific evidence that the temperament (which is due to our genetics) does not necessarily define one’s destiny, since the brain circuitry involved is extraordinarily malleable and shaped by the emotional lessons we learn during our childhood. When an individual fails to learn in childhood how to handle frustration, control emotional outbursts and have harmonious relationships with others (in other words, “how to react to the vicissitudes of life”), the IQ is likely to be insufficient for success.
According to Howard Gardner, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education, there is not just one kind of intelligence that is crucial for success, but rather multiple intelligences—a spectrum of intelligences clustered in seven key groups. Those are:
- Verbal alacrity
- Mathematical-logical alacrity
- Spatial capacity (which are well pronounced in artists and architects)
- Kinesthetic genius (which is found in some athletes and dancers)
- Musical gifts
- Interpersonal skills (the ability to understand other people; leadership, conflict resolution, the ability to make friends and nurture relationships, and being a sharp observer of social interactions)
- “Intrapsychic” capacity (attuning one’s life to one’s true feelings, or having extraordinary insights about the human psyche).
Building upon the work of Gardner, the Yale psychologist Peter Salovey defines five domains of emotional intelligence:
- Knowing one’s emotions (this is self-awareness or ability to monitor one’s own emotions, leading to better self-understanding)
- Managing emotions (inaptitude in this domain results in constant distress, while excelling means ability to quickly bounce back from life’s setbacks)
- Motivating oneself (self-motivation and self-control in terms of delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness)
- Recognizing emotions in others (empathy, altruism and other “people skills”)
- Handling relationships (social competence—skill in managing emotions in others and smoothly interacting with others).
Goleman argues that these five domains of Emotional Intelligence are a result of habit and have an underlying neural foundation, but since our brain has tremendous neuroplasticity, with the right intention and effort, one can learn and improve any deficiency in these domains.
Cognitive intelligence and emotions are traditionally seen as opposite competencies that contradict one another. Yet, it is important to bring them into a complementary harmony and unison. Although the idea of intertwining EQ and IQ is not new (a century ago, the psychologist E.L. Thorndike argued that social intelligence is a part of the IQ), it still hasn’t fully integrated into the modern-day education systems around the world.
Jack Block, a psychologist from the University of California at Berkley compares people with high IQ to those with high EQ. Although his model is rather theoretical (individuals who excel in IQ but fail miserably in EQ are rare), the model reveals some important features:
- High-IQ pure type: Such men are masters of the intellectual world, having a wide range of intellectual interests, knowledge and skills. They are ambitious, productive, predictable, critical, condescending, uneasy with sexuality, inhibited, unexpressive, detached, emotionally bland and cold. Such women are intellectually confident, fluently express their thoughts, and have a wide range of interests. They are introspective and often experience anxiety, but they hesitate to openly express their anger.
- High EQ pure type: Such men are outgoing, cheerful, rarely fearful and worried; they often commit to people or causes, assume responsibility, have an ethical outlook, and are caring in their relationships; they are comfortable with themselves and with others, and have rich emotional lives. Such women are typically assertive and openly express their feelings; they have a positive self-image, they are outgoing and well-adapted to stress; they are spontaneous and easily connect to new people; they rarely experience anxiety of guilt, and are not prone to rumination.
Based on the book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” by Daniel Goleman, Bantam Books. 1995.