THE OPEN MIND
Guest: Daniel Goleman
Title: Emotional Intelligence: Beyond Our I.Q.’s Part 2
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And this is the second of two programs with Dr. Daniel Goleman, who covers the behavioral and brain sciences for The New York Times, and whose new book, Emotional Intellegence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, published by Bantam Books, is a guide to making sense of the senselessness that characterizes contemporary life, of the daily reports from around the world that reflect what he describes as a “creeping sense of emotions out of control in our own lives and in those of the people around us.”
Above all else, Dan Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence is a supremely optimistic book. And today I would like to tease further from Dr. Goleman how he would factor into his own behavior and that of his loved ones what he has reported about what science has been learning about human behavior generally, about the brain and our emotions. Fair question?
GOLEMAN: I’m not sure I know what the question is. Could you restate it?
HEFFNER: The question is: What do you do? How can you bring into your relations with your own family, with your friends, with yourself, bringing to them the understanding of emotions has brought you?
GOLEMAN: Well, I think that the new understanding is, for example, one that includes really very powerful methods for handling our emotions when they run amok. So often in life you have what I call an “emotional hijack episode.”
HEFFNER: What do you mean?
GOLEMAN: Well, something happens, particularly in intimate relationships, in marriage, for example, where you get provoked. And before you know it, there’s an outburst. Or you get very hurt and you sulk and you withdraw. And then, after the dust settles, you realize, “Boy, I overreacted there.” That is the sign of the emotional brain at work. And the emotional brain is overworking. And we now see what’s going on in a hijack moment like that, and what you can do concretely to manage your own internal emotional reality more appropriately.
If I could, let me please read one of my favorite lines about emotional intelligence and exactly what it means. It’s from an expert in the topic, Aristotle. Aristotle says, “Anyone can get angry. That’s easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that’s not so easy.” And I think we’re learning now better how to do that. And for example, in marriage, we talk about close relationships, The data I’ve seen shows that those people and those couples who are able to handle better those moments when emotions really flare, they’re the ones who are going to have the most stable marriage. It doesn’t mean they don’t have flare-ups; but they’ve found a way to keep them from derailing the whole relationship.
HEFFNER: And your feeling is, your conviction is that we can teach our young people this kind of emotional maturity, emotional intelligence. And if we do, that will mean even more than their intellectual…
GOLEMAN: Well, it’s a good preventive.
HEFFNER: What do you mean, “preventive?”
GOLEMAN: Let me get into that. By the way, it’s not just for kids. You can learn this stuff immediately. And couples, for example, in couples therapy, do it all the time. Or in other programs for marriages. You can regrow these habits. But you ask what do I mean, preventively. Many of the programs I’ve come upon that are in schools in enotiona literacy came about in a curious way. They came about as a result of the succession of wars on that we’ve had. Wars on dropout, wars on teen pregnancy, wars on drug abuse. Now, recently, wars on violence. And what they found is that those wars spawned a mini-industry in education of people that say, “Have I got a program for you. Great nonviolence thing. It’s six weeks. You only need to spend ten minutes on it. And it’s wonderful.” And about five years ago a foundation, the W.T. Grant Foundation brought together a consortium of experts and said, “Look, you know, the schools are being deceived by all of these something-or-other-prevention programs. Which ones work, and which ones don’t? And those that work, what works about them?” So they went through all the data and they found, indeed, hey, a lot of these programs are as good as nothing. Some are worse than nothing in that they actually make the problem a little worse. But some of them actually help kids. They lower the rate of drug use, of pregnancy, of dropouts, of violence. And when they looked at the programs at work, they discovered there was a common core. And that common core was that they taught kids over a long time, years, consistently, and they taught them this core of skills that I’m calling emotional intelligence. They taught them impulse control, they taught them to manage anger, how to sooth anxiety. They taught them how to empathize and take another person’s perspective. They taught then how to get along, how to work things out in a relationship. In other words, the basic skills of emotional intelligence. And when they taught them those things and then it came to the point in life where you start having the temptation of drugs or sex. You might be at risk for dropping out or fights, the kids who have that training were much better. And they were much better across the board.
HEFFNER: Well, when you use the metaphor, or use the notion of “war against,” I wondered why you posited this differentiation: emotional intelligence, why it can matter more than IQ. Why do you set up that dichotomy?
GOLEMAN: How is this different than IQ?
GOLEMAN: Well, actually it’s different because the brain is arranged that way. The part of the brain where IQ skills are based is the thinking brain at the top, the neocortex. The part of the brain that regulates emotional life is deep down I the brain. It’s a more primitive, more ancient part of the brain. It’s the part of the brain that makes us lose our temper. It’s the part of the brain that makes us cower in fear. It’s the part of the brain that makes us feel hurt or jealousy or envy. And you’re not going to do much for that part of the brain by just thinking about it. It’s irrelevant. You have to learn the skills tha will help you manage that part of the brain better.
Now, there’s a very strong relationship between the thinking brain and the emotional brain. Particularly the prefrontal lobe, just behind the forehead. Prefrontal lobes are where all decision making occurs, and where what’s called “working memory” resides. Working memory means simply whatever’s on your mind at the moment is in working memory. It’s a limited-attentional capacity, working memory. And everything we think about, everything we learn, everything we’re mulling over is help in working memory. It happens that the control centers for emotional life are also regulated by that same part of the brain, the prefrontal love, and that when you’re emotionally upset, when you’re really anxious and worried about something, the kind of wale-up-in-the-morning-and-two-and-can’t-get-back-to-sleep kind of worry, when you’re really angry, what happens is that intrudes on your thought. You can’t get it off your mind. What that means for IQ skills, for working memory, is that the space available in working memory shrinks, because your mind is somewhere else. You’re preoccupied. So there’s a way in which emotional life, the emotional brain, determines very directly how effective you’ll be with whatever intellectual skills you may have.
And what they find in these school programs is that if you teach kids how to better handle their emotional life, they actually do better on their achievement tests. And the reason is very straightforward: they’re better able to pay attention and learn. The schools can perform their mission better.
HEFFNER: Now, you say, “Emotion isn’t destiny.” You’re saying our emotional life is not our destiny, because you can modify it. Is that…
GOLEMAN: That’s right. That’s right.
HEFFNER: And about IQ?
GOLEMAN: Well, there’s some people, like Hernstein and Murray in Bell Curve…
GOLEMAN: …who contend that IQ can’t be changed. Actually, there was just an article in this month’s American Psychologist, the main journal of the American Psychological Association, reviewing that data, showing very clearly that there are remedial programs even for IQ. You can raise IQ, say, ten to 15 points, which is a significant distance. I don’t agree that it can’t be raised. I think it usually is not.
I also don’t agree with a lot of their conclusions, actually, now that you bring it up.
HEFFNER: Like what?
GOLEMAN: Well, I think that the reasoning behind their racial data is deeply flawed. It was deeply flawed for two reasons I can quickly point out. One is the studies around the world show wherever you have a privileged class and an underprivileged class, there’s about a 15-point IQ difference in their kids. And the IQ difference is for a number of reasons. Poor people and disadvantaged people can’t feed their children as well, and the nourishment during pregnancy and the early years of child determine how well the brain is going to function through life. Those kids, don’t have as much opportunity for good education. And their parents don’t have as much opportunity for a good job. So the cycle continues for generations.
If they were to do a controlled study of blacks and whites, for example, they should find a group of whites who, for 300 years, had the identical history of oppression as the blacks they’re studying. That’s one thing.
The other is, there are some amazing studies that show that when you take a lower caste, or an underprivileged group, and those people emigrate to another country where there is no such discrimination against them, in a generation their children score as well in IQ tests as that of the privileged class in the old country. In other words, is an epiphenomena of the particular oppression that that group is experiencing; it’s not innate in their genes at all.
HEFFNER: Dan, what’s the sens of the nature of human nature that informs your thinking and your writing?
GOLEMAN: Well, I guess I’m an optimist, as you point out, about the possibility for human nature. Not where we’re going, but where we might go. Because human nature is not a genetic given. It’s quite malleable. And it’s malleable through experience. We’ve just never gotten very systematic about the experiences that we organize. For example, if you look at education it’s as though we cared more that our kids could balance their checkbooks than whether they’d be alive next week. And the schools are not starting to have curricula in emotional competence. Our schools that are caring very much about the future of their children.
If I had had the possibility of sending my kids, who are now grown, in college and beyond, sending them to a school with emotional literacy curriculum, I’d have done anything to do it. Not because I feel I’m a bad parent; because it would also mean that in 35 hours of the week, when a kids is not at home, but in the schools, they’d also be getting the right lessons, and it would help them for life.
HEFFNER: Take that point, and take the point of the New Haven schools that you describe so glowingly, at least certain schools, what they’ve done. How do you deal then with the harsh criticism that so many of us have leveled about the nature of contemporary schools, the nature of contemporary American education? Teachers say so frequently, “You’re giving us the responsibility for doing what the rest of society cannot, does not do.”
HEFFNER: Now, how sanguine must you be?
GOLEMAN: Well, you know, from one point of view, you could day it’s unfair to teachers, because they’re taking up slack for parents, grandparents, neighborhoods, whole communities that are letting kids down. It is unfair to give them the burden. On the other hand, given the resources of society, I think we have to rethink the mission of the school. I think, first of all, teachers should be paid more. I think teachers should be valued more. And I also think that they should be trained to do this kind of education, because nobody else is doing it.
HEFFNER: Well, but in the meantime we’re not paying them more, we’re not training them better, we’re not respecting them as they should be respected. Where do we go with the information that’s presented in Emotional Intelligence?
GOLEMAN: Well, one reason I wrote Emotional Intelligence was to point out that strong, urgent need as a society we have to give our children these skills, because we’re failing them drastically in their emotional lives and their social lives, and in preparing them to be responsible, caring adults. And I think that the reason I wanted to write about what’s happening in schools is to inspire people to rethink schools, to revalue schooling, and to give it greater importance.
HEFFNER: You know, I couldn’t help but think, reading over a number of your recent articles, and not so recent, where does the old phrase “tabula rasa” come into Dan Goleman’s thinking. And I raise that because there is an article here about your report on contemporary knowledge relating to the fact that the brain passes judgments Ab Initio upon so many things, almost everything. And I have the feeling here that you see us as blank slates and we are quite malleable, don’t give up just because change is coming. And yet, if the brain works so quickly, just like the snap of a finger, in passing judgment, how do those things work together?
GOLEMAN: I don’t see that as any problem or contradiction. The data you point to is that it seems that in the very act of cognition, in recognizing an object, not only do you realize, “Oh, that’s a book,” but, “Oh, that’s a book I like,” or, “That’s a book I don’t like.” That is, judgment or preference is part of the very act of recognizing something. That’s the way the brain is wired. And what you might say is perhaps unfortunate is that applies to people too. There’s a person I don’t like, or a kind of person I don’t like. And that happens like that. But, I don’t know how carefully you read the article. It goes on to say that’s what happens in the first quarter-second. But than all of that is changeable by your very next thought, and your next thought, and your next thought. So self-reflexive awareness, self-awareness of the fact that you have these innate biases or predispositions is, itself, enough to begin to change them. That’s another reason I’m very in favor of emotional education, because it does make people more self-aware of their automatic responses, which, if you didn’t have that awareness, would rule you, would rule the rest of the interaction.
HEFFNER: Now, make a guess for me, look into a crystal ball, and tell me whether you think your understanding of emotional intelligence and what you call that “window of opportunity,” and of the fact that, as you point out, the brain passes its judgment immediately, and then can repass it and repass it, and make other judgments, and our knowledge of what is going on can modify or socialize those instincts. What do you think is going to happen? Now, never mind the optimism; be realistic.
GOLEMAN: What do I think is going to happen?
HEFFNER: What do you think is going to happen in terms of your positing before us the ability of the schools to provide this emotional education.
GOLEMAN: Well, I think that there is a peril, as there always is with a new idea in education, that some people will jump on it and market stuff that really doesn’t work, that’s as bad as the inept prevention programs I was talking about. That’s a real danger. One think that hardens me is that the Yale Child Study Center has just founded a group, on the Collaborative for the Advancement of Social and Emotional Learning, which has as its main mission helping local schools, parents, teachers, find high-quality programming in this area for the school. That is, it’s a neutral clearinghouse. So people can call them up and say, “We’re thinking of bringing an emotional literacy course for our kids. Where can we find a good one?” And they’ll help them sort out where the good ones are and maybe which kind, the wide variety that exist, might work best for them. That gives me still optimism even thought I know there is a danger people could take this and try to make a quick buck off it, absolutely.
HEFFNER: Let me go back then to a question I asked you in our first program. It bothers me, I admit. And it has to do with this notion of teaching emotional intelligence. And your response was, again, quite optimistic: “Gee, if you look at our schools you know that, by and large, we agree that there are certain values.” We agree on certain values. But, take the value of cooperation. Again, I ask you whether we haven’t, in our society, in our return to the 1980’s to, it seems to me, a kind of social Darwinism, in whether we haven’t said, “Look, we tried to cooperate. That was the New Deal, and the Fair Deal, and the Great Society. That had unintended consequences. We don’t like those consequences. Let us return to the rugged individualism that characterized this country long, long ago.” And whether there aren’t really two senses here from which you can draw, two sets of values. And you’re saying the schools can draw upon your values and what I must say are my values. But why shouldn’t we understand that in a society that has become social Darwinian all over again, they won’t be social Darwinian vales?
GOLEMAN: Well, Dick, I suppose there’s always the danger that someone who is rather malevolent could design a program. But I think there’s a self-correcting mechanism at work here, and it’s this: One of the elements of emotional competence is the ability to take the perspective of another person, to empathize, to know how someone feels without their saying to you how they feel. In fact, we rarely put in words our feelings; we tell people in tone of voice or facial expression and so on. It’s one of the key skills. It turns out that there’s a very direct relationship between empathy and caring and compassion. That is to say, if you know how someone feels, and if they’re in distress, there is an automatic, human response to want to help them out.
Now, this can go awry. And I think one of the things that really is eating at the society is a deterioration of empathy. For example, there’s a startling new book out called On Killing by a military psychologist. He’s a guy that worked at West Point. And it’s really the history of murder, organized murder. He makes the point it’s very difficult to kill someone if you’re looking them in the eyes. The terrorist regimes have hooded victims or blindfolded them not to make it easer for the victim, but to make it easier for the guy pulling the trigger. In the history of warfare, the number of casualties and deaths on the battlefield has risen in direct proportion to the distance at which you could kill someone. Now, what that means is, if you don’t see the face, if you don’t see how a person is feeling, you can do much more harm to them. My brother-in-law, Leonard Wolfe, who is an expert on horror, he’s written The Essential Dracula and The Essential Frankenstein, a lovely guy, but with a strange expertise, he was going to write a book with a serial killer, a guy who is known as the Santa Cruz Strangler, who is a very scary guy, he’s in jail now, he’s about almost seven feet tall. And before he was arrested, he had murdered his grandparents, his mother, and seven coeds at UC Santa Cruz. At one point in the interview, Leonard said to him, “How could you have done it? Didn’t you feel any pit for your victims?” And the strangler said, very matter-of-factly, and very coldly, “Oh, no. If I had felt any of their pain, I couldn’t have killed them.” I think that there is a small, inbuilt system of restraint and caring that we really need to cultivate, and if we don’t we’re in further trouble.
The other bit of data, if I could, has to do with young kids. This is really disturbing. Ordinarily, in the unfolding of empathy, kids learn this, actually, with their caretakers, moms and dads. If another toddler falls down, at age two say, a little girl will immediately go over and try to comfort her. She might give her own blankie to help calm her down. Except if that child has been abused or neglected in the first years of her life. Those children react differently. When a playmate falls down and is crying, they go over and they get angry and they hit them. And what they’re doing, of course, is repeating the emotional repertoir that they learned from their abusive family. And you know, it can go either way.
HEFFNER: You’re looking for this change, this sea change in our society at the very moment that we seem to be saying as a society, “Don’t bother me. I’m not my brother’s keeper.” Which would seem to fit right into the horror pattern that you’ve just discussed.
GOLEMAN: That’s what I’m saying. I’m saying that we’ve gone too far down that road, and we’ve got to look around, because it’s getting much worse.
HEFFNER: Where does your optimism come from? Come on, Dan.
GOLEMAN: (Laughter) I won’t apologize for my optimism. Where does your pessimism come from?
HEFFNER: From just the sort of thing that we’ve been talking about.
GOLEMAN: Yes, I know. I know.
HEFFNER: From the abused child…
GOLEMAN: And I’m not denying the reality. What I’m saying is, look, there are real problems here. We’ve got to do something. And the optimism is: and there is something you can do.
HEFFNER: Sort of a system of, well, send our children to kibbutzes or kibbutzim.
GOLEMAN: Well, I don’t think it needs to be only schools. I think parents could stand to look at how they raise kids and what they could do right at home. Because that’s the first line. It turns out that there’s parents who see themselves as emotional coaches for the kids, cultivate these same skills in kids. And what I mean by that is, for examples, if a kid is really upset, comes in crying form playing, you can, as some parents do, say, “Well, she’ll get over it. Leave her alone.” Or you can get angry, if a kid comes in angry and having a little tantrum, “Don’t you talk like that to me.” Those are two responses parents can have. But if they have a third, different response, seeing themselves as a tutor for the kid, you can take advantage of that moment and give your kid very valuable emotional lessons. You can say, “Oh, help the kid understand what’s going on. You’re hurt because Sally wouldn’t play with you and now you’re mad.” Well, that’s one thing, That’s helping a child understand what’s causing the feeling. Then you can say, “Well, let’s think of some things you could do to calm down.” Helping your child learn how to soothe herself. You can say, “Let’s think of some things after calm down, you know, go play by yourself for awhile. Let’s think of some ways you can go back and play with Sally, something you both enjoy.” Those are valuable emotional lessons for life, and it’s right in the home.
HEFFNER: Of course, you’re talking about families, and they’re absent, the parents are absent; and you’re talking about schools, and I think that Marshall McLuhan may have put it even more accurately when he said that “Every schoolkid knows that going to class interrupts his education.” So we’re talking then about other factors in our society.
GOLEMAN: (Laughter) That’s lovely. “Going to class interrupts his education.”
HEFFNER: Yeah. Because it’s the media, it’s you and your field, it’s television, it’s film. These are the great socializers. Don’t you say that?
GOLEMAN: Well, I think they have a role. I think that I don’t see them as having the crucial difference. And also I think that the media get a bad rap. For example, there is data showing that certain children who watch lots of certain kinds of violence tend to get more violent. But that doesn’t mean that the only thing kids learn from shows is violence; they learn every other lesson about life. They learn friendship, they learn cooperation. They learn a lot of positive things, too, which hasn’t been looked at. So, it’s quite a mixed bag.
HEFFNER: It hasn’t been looked at, I would say, with the last word, because there’s so little of it on television. (Laughter)
Thank you very much for joining me today, Dan Goleman.
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. And if you’d like to share your thoughts about our program today, about our intriguing guest, please write: The Open Mind, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150. For transcripts, send $4 in check or money order.
Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck.”