‘what we are born with is what worked best for the last 50,000 human generations’

(Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, p5)


In Emotional Intelligence Goleman discusses what happens when ‘passions overwhelm reason.’ Our reactions to the world around us have evolved over time. These ‘automatic reactions’ are extremely important in dangerous situations. Reactions that don’t always make logical sense, such as the two parents that gave up their lives to rescue their daughter in a train crash; but it could be argued biological and emotional sense. They saved her to protect their genes, as Dawkins might say, and the way this decision was reached was through love.

Goleman called emotions ‘impulses to act’, determined by biological and cultural acts: unconsciously when you feel tenderness or love towards a person the body undergoes a relaxation response ‘a general state of calm and contentment’; and how we display this emotion is also determined by our culture. In this way humans have two minds the rational and emotional, the head and the heart, the intertwined brain which forms our mental state.

There is an advantage to the brain working in this way. Emotions, or intuitions, can take over where thinking could cost us our lives. The amygdala is important when it comes to Emotional Intelligence. It measures new experiences against previous ones looking for a match. There is one on both sides of the brain. In a crisis these amygdalas trigger the secretion of hormones for the fight-or-flight response. These can take over from the rational mind. How? Well, the work of LeDoux has demonstrated the existence of branching brain function. When a sensory signal is passed from the eye or the ear to the Thalamus it then splits in two directions.

1/ A signal travels to the amygdala

2/ The other to the neocortex.

This allows the amygdala to respond before the slow neocortex (the thinking part). Therefore in an emergency we act before we think. But DON’T PANNIC we also have an ‘emotional manager’ to control these impulses. The prefrontal cortex.

Basically this splitting of the brain processes is one of the reasons why ‘emotion is so important in decision making.’ Our emotions remind us of previous situations where things have or haven’t worked and support informed choices.

Goleman concludes from this, ‘It is not just IQ but emotionalintelligence’ that has a role to play. As humans we all have weaknesses and strengths. Personality and emotional characteristics other than IQ such as persistence and empathy can help a person live a fulfilling career or life. There is more to life than money, and not everyone is suited to academic pursuits or high financial positions or wants to be. It is time that our schools supported pupils in life skills, not just grades. Some already are. If we teach young people to focus on their strengths with kindness towards others weaknesses, including their own, perhaps it will allow us to break from the cycles of academia and education that are stifling and repressing those unable to speak up for themselves.

Emma Parfitt

Proofreader for business and academic documents, translations, and English writing.


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