June 21st, 2008

Books!

Uhhhhhh ...

This is another of those books recently obtained in that "shopping bag" benefit sale ... I really did get quite a haul, as about a quarter of what I got were "like new" hardcovers ... this being one of them!

I'd been familiar with the term "Emotional Intelligence" (an acquaintance of mine is a certified E.I. coach), but I was never quite sure what it meant, so when I saw Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ in one of the sale boxes, I snatched it up. I have a few caveats about this, though, the first being that the author is a writer for the New York Times and at a few dozen points in the text, the leftist bias of that rag seeps into his prose. I don't suppose he's intentionally skewing things, but smarmy liberalism just seems to ooze out of the pores of anybody writing for the NYT (which made the book Germs all the more remarkable!).

The next caveat is that I appear to be what these folks would describe as "emotionally damaged", having recognized myself in several of the "pathologies" described herein, so maybe my opinions on this material should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt (if not two aspirin with a morning call). I have never been a "people person", and according to the E.I. crowd, this seems to make me some sort of sociopath.

Predictably, I found the first section of the book, on brain chemistry and signaling, the most engaging. Much of the emotional response appears to come from the amygdala which is wired (via the thalamus) to get visual data both processed via the visual cortex and (via a 'back channel") directly before the signals get dealt with "by the mind". This is what's working (in the "fight or flight" response) when one jumps back from "a snake" in a toolshed before the mind sorts out that it's a coiled hose or rope! The function of the amygdala and the associated areas of the frontal lobes seem to have much to do with how emotion happens.

The book is organized in four sections, "The Emotional Brain", "The Nature of Emotional Intelligence", "Emotional Intelligence Applied", "Windows of Opportunity", and "Emotional Literacy".

Aside from the "wiring" questions in the first section, the book deals with the concept of "Emotional Hijacking", where the amygdala (and associated brain sub-systems) creates an "emergency mode" in response to input which is not necessarily life-threatening, blasting out hormones, etc., which short out the rational parts of the brain and, typically, turns everything over to raw animal rage. Getting around situations like this seem to be the focus for much of the other material in the book.

So, what is "Emotional Intelligence"? It's defined here as five main functions: "Knowing one's emotions", "Managing emotions", "Motivating oneself", "Recognizing emotions in others", and "Handling relationships". While these sound "all well and good", the scary part here is that many, if not most, of the emotional patterns in an individual are ingrained very early on in their development. There is a test, given to 4-year-olds, centered on marshmallows. This test involves having one marshmallow on a plate, and the experimenter explaining to the kid that if they wait and not take the marshmallow while the experimenter takes care of a task in the other room (15-20 minutes), they will get two marshmallows. About 1/3rd of the subjects grabbed the marshmallow, and most of these just as soon as the adult was out of the room. The rest ranged from obviously struggling with the temptation to being relatively unaffected by the lure. As these subjects were tracked over the following years, it was found that the ability to resist that early temptation was a remarkable predictor of future character ("delinquency" tracked closer to this measure than even IQ), and success (the third who showed the least temptation scored an average of 210 points higher on their SATs)! This from a simple test given at age four!

Frankly, a lot of the studies detailed here lend credence to the "positive thinking" folks. Those who had hope in various situations, and expected positive results, appear to have attained more than their less-rosy compatriots. In an academic setting, incoming freshmen were posited a simple question (within a larger survey) about how to "save a grade" in a class that had started off badly ... the responses were rated on how "hopeful" they were, and the students were tracked ... the results indicated that "hope was a better predictor of grades than were SAT scores"!

Now, I have always been a "gloomy gus", a "half-full, and probably tainted", an "optimism = delusion", etc., kind of guy ... so a lot of this stuff was eliciting substantial "reactive" response in me! But, hey, maybe I was "dropped on my head when very small" and just don't have "healthy" emotional wiring.

The book makes a pretty good case for "emotional schooling" of some sort or another. Needless to say, if parents were trained to better manage the emotional environment of their kids in the first few years of life, they'd be less likely to grab the marshmallow, and so be doomed to delinquency and poor test scores! They mentioned several programs which ranged from the "sensible" to totally newage woo-woo. One thing that he referenced a number of times that sounded like it was worth checking out was a book called Heart Start (a play on he "Head Start" program). The "Heart Start" program aimed to have kids going into kindergarten have a basic level of "Confidence", "Curiosity", "Intentionality", "Self-Control", "Relatedness", "Capacity to Communicate", and "Cooperativeness". I was amazed to find (once I dug through all the google results for a defibrillator with that brand name) that the "book" in question was a paltry 45 pages, was out of print, and used copies were going for a whopping $13.00 for what is, essentially, a pamphlet! I guess this "emotional intelligence" stuff had its day back in the 90's and never got traction, because I've not seen any programs which have been pushing this sort of training out there.

Anyway, if you'd be interested in taking a look at Emotional Intelligence, it appears to be available in a paperback edition, however, the Amazon new/used guys have "very good" copies of the hardcover for as little as a penny (four bucks after shipping). Again, this was a very interesting read (if highly reactive for me), and others are more likely to sync with its message better than I did!


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