Emotional Intelligence and the Brain

Abilities related to Emotional Intelligence or EQ (sometimes seen written as EI) for short, include self-control, persistence, zeal, the ability to motivate oneself, impulse control, empathy, and compassion. (Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, p xxii)

Impulsive boys are 3-6 times as likely to be violent as adolescents. Impulsive girls are 3 times more likely to get pregnant in adolescence. (Benefits of EQ. Compiled by Six Seconds.)

The ability to recognize one’s wants, needs, joys, and sorrows. Some are good at recognizing when their feelings are at odds with cultural theories and standards, while others are less skilled at this type of self-awareness. (Wilson, Timothy D. Strangers to Ourselves. England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002., p 135)

Dr. Reuven Bar-On is an internationally known expert and pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence and has been involved in defining, measuring and applying various aspects of this construct since 1980. The “Bar-On model” is described as one of three leading approaches to emotional intelligence in Spielberger’s Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology [2004]. He coined the term “E.Q.” (“Emotional Quotient”) in 1985 to describe his approach to assessing emotional and social functioning. (Source)

Joshua Freedman and Anabel Jensen, PhD, have collected over 50 cited statistics and findings that show emotional intelligence skills are a core need for life, school, and work. For example:

  • 95% drop in discipline referrals to the principals after EQ training
  • EQ is a stronger predictor of college academic success than high school grade point average
  • 85-95% of the difference between a “good leader" and an "excellent leader" is due to EQ
  • Training in emotional competencies to supervisors in a manufacturing plant reduced lost-time accidents by 50 percent


Guidelines for best practice (see website) are additive and synergistic. To be effective, social and emotional learning experiences need not adhere to all of the guidelines listed, but the chances for success increase with each one that is followed. (Cherniss, Cary, Daniel Goleman, Robert Emmerling, Kim Cowan, Michael Adler. Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP) Rutgers University, 1998.)

Brain researchers have identified several brain areas crucial for emotional intelligence and social intelligence abilities.

  • Right hemisphere: The right amygdala: the ability to be aware of and understand your own feelings. The right somatosensory cortex: self-awareness and empathy. The right insula: senses entire bodily state and tell you how you're feeling. The anterior cingulate (located at the front of the corpus callosum): manages impulse control and emotions (especially distressing emotions, and strong feelings). Ventral medial strip of the prefrontal cortex: executive center abilities to solve personal and interpersonal problems, manage impulses, express feelings effectively, and relate well with others.
  • Left hemisphere: Self-awareness and self-management. Self-regulation relies on interaction between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. (Goleman, Daniel. The Brain and Emotional Intelleigence: New Insights. p 12-17, 28-31. MA:More Than Sounds, 2011)

Individuals with damage to the brain’s prefrontal-amygdala circuit show that their decision-making ability is terribly flawed (e.g., make disastrous choices in personal and business lives, obsess endlessly over a simple decision), although they show no deterioration in IQ or other cognitive abilities. (Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995., pp 27-28)

Studies by H. Takeuchi suggest that each factor of Emotional Intelligence (EI) in healthy young people is related to the specific brain regions known to be involved in the networks of social cognition and self-related recognition, and in the somatic marker circuitry. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to monitor one's own and others' emotions and the ability to use the gathered information to guide one's thinking and action. EI is thought to be important for social life making it a popular subject of research. (H. Takeuchi, et al. Regional gray matter density associated with emotional intelligence: evidence from voxel-based morphometry. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011 Sep;32(9):1497-510. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21122. Epub 2010 Aug 25)

In the business world, factors that are really important to succeed in an ethical manner are largely dependent on EQ. These include the quality of leadership and communication, cooperation of employees, creativity and open-mindedness, understanding of another's point of view, and the ability to use empathy in negotiations. (Shepherd, Peter. Emotional Intelligence. Article)

Employers are looking for qualities of personal responsibility, quality, and caring in the people they hire. Given that, schools, colleges, and universities need to offer the basics of Emotional Intelligence in the skill sets they purport to offer. (Goleman, Daniel, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Primal Leadership. MA: Harvard Business School Press. 2002, pxiii)

Cherniss lists 19 points that he thinks build a case for how emotional intelligence contributes to the bottom line in any work organization. (Cherniss, Cary. The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence. 1999.)

Emotional intelligence is a stronger predictor of college academic success than high school grade point average. (Benefits of EQ. Compiled by Six Seconds: List)

Common themes of EQ include:

  • Emotional-Awareness
  • Self-Regulation
  • Responsiveness to Situational Cues
  • Influence
  • Decision-making Astuteness

These dimensions are skill based rather than being native aptitudes, which means they can be taught and learned. (Mallinger, Mark, PhD, and Jess Banks, PHD. Use Emotional Intelligence to Cope in Tough Times, Article)

EQ is separate from IQ. Components of EQ include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Managing emotions, motivation oneself
  • Recognizing emotions in others
  • Handling relationships.

(Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, pp 42-44)

Common themes related to Emotional Intelligence include:

  • Emotional-Awareness
  • Self-Regulation
  • Responsiveness to Situational Cues
  • Influence
  • Decision-making Astuteness:

(Mark Mallinger, Mark, PhD, and Jeff Banks, PhD. Use Emotional Intelligence to Cope in Tough Times - How managers can help staff deal with job insecurity. CA: Pepperdine University, 2008.)

Damasio argues that affective reactions ordinarily guide and simplify decision making. Although originally intended to explain decision-making deficits in people with specific frontal lobe damage, the hypothesis also applies to decision-making problems in populations without brain injury. Subsequently, the gambling task was developed by Bechara (1994) as a diagnostic test of decision-making deficit in neurological populations. More recently, the gambling task has been used to explore implications of the somatic marker hypothesis, as well as to study suboptimal decision making in a variety of domains. Researchers examined relations among gambling task decision making, working memory (WM) load, and somatic markers in a modified version of the gambling task. Increased WM load produced by secondary tasks led to poorer gambling performance. Declines in gambling performance were associated with the absence of the affective reactions that anticipate choice outcomes and guide future decision making. Conclusions: the WM processes contribute to the development of somatic markers. If WM functioning is taxed, somatic markers may not develop, and decision making may thereby suffer. (Accessed 7-16. http://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/CABN.2.4.341)

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has been described as abilities in five domains:

  1. Knowing one’s emotions
  2. Managing emotions
  3. Motivating oneself
  4. Recognizing emotions in others
  5. Handling relationships

(Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, pp 42-43)

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional meanings, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote both better emotion and thought. (Mayer, J. D., and p. Salovey. What is emotional intelligence? In p. Salovey & D. Sluyter (Eds), Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Educators p 3-31. NY:Basic Books, 2007.)

EQ involves the ability to know what feels good, what feels bad, and how to get from bad to good in a healthy, efficient, and functional manner that results in positive outcomes. (Working Definition, 2008. Arlene R. Taylor PhD)

Bar-On defines emotional intelligence as being concerned with effectively understanding oneself and others, relating well to people, and adapting to and coping with the immediate surroundings to be more successful in dealing with environmental demands. (Bar-On, Reuven. The Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i): a test of emotional intelligence. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems, 1997.)

EQ is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence. (Cooper, Robert K., PhD., and Ayman Sawaf. Executive EQ. NY: Grosset/Putnam 1997, pp xii-xiii)

Emotional Intelligences involves the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships. (Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Working with Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1998, p 317)

Emotional Intelligence is a way of recognizing, understanding, and choosing how we think, feel, and act. It shapes our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. (Jensen, Anabel L., PhD, et al. Handle With Care: Emotional Intelligence Activity Book. NY:Six Seconds, 1998, Summary)

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. Some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened, while others claim it is an inborn characteristic. (Cherry, Kendra. What Is Emotional Intelligence?)

Psychologists are reporting a new phenomenon of "desk rage" with workers resorting to stand-up rows with their colleagues because of the pressure they face. Desk rage (anger) may represent low EQ behaviors. Psychologist Sue Keane of the British Psychological Society urged workers to find time for a break. It is estimated that 40 million working days are lost in the UK every year because of stress. (Health Workers at Risk of Desk Rage.)

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and a report entitled Compensation and Working Conditions conducted by the University of Virginia , in 1998 alone, 700 homicides occurred in the workplace in the U.S. Along with the increase in desk rage has been the "Dilbertization" of the workplace. That is, implementing cost-cutting measures that place workers into increasingly smaller workplaces. Integra reports that 1 in 8 office workers now work in a cubicle.(Williams, Ray B. Look out - Here Comes Desk Rage.)

Distress erodes mental abilities and makes people less emotionally intelligent. People who are upset have trouble reading emotions accurately in other people, decreasing the most basic skill needed for empathy and, as a result, impairing their social skills. (9oleman, Daniel, PhD, with Richard Boyatzis, and Annie Mckee. Primal Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002, pp 13-14)

Emotional intelligence as consists of three psychological dimensions-emotional sensitivity, emotional maturity, and emotional competency-which motivate individuals to maximize productivity, manage change, and resolve conflicts.

1. Emotional competency

  • Tackling emotional upsets (avoiding emotional exhaustion, not "stuffing it")
  • High levels of self-esteem
  • Tactful responses to emotional stimuli (sometimes no response is the most appropriate response)
  • Handling egoism (taking initiative to prevent and/or resolve conflict)

2. Emotional maturity

  • Self-awareness (especially as brain maturation kicks in)
  • Developing others (as the superego develops with maturity of the cerebrum)
  • Delaying gratification
  • Adaptability (clear understanding that each brain only has its own opinion)
  • Flexibility (knowledge of brain function can be very helpful)

3. Emotional sensitivity

  • Able to respond to emotional stimuli of low intensity (don’t need to be hit over the head with emotional intensity)
  • Empathy (differs from sympathy)
  • Improved interpersonal relationships (tend to "live at joy" most of the time and are not knocked off center by choices of others)
  • Communicability of positive emotions (mindset, affirmations)

(Singh, Dalip, PhD. Emotional Intelligence at Work. 2000. NY:Sage, Summary)

Emotional Intelligence (EI, often measured as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), is a relatively new area of research. It involves an ability, capacity, skill or (in the case of the trait EI model) a self-perceived ability, to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups. (Emotional IntelligenceArticle)

Delnor Community Hospital based near Chicago was able to reduce employee turnover from 28% to 21%, saving $800,000 in less than a year through using stress management and emotional intelligence techniques. (Source)

Noted mathematician, logician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead intellect and emotion to the body and clothing. Intellect is to emotion as our clothes are to our bodies. We could not very well have civilized life without clothes, but we would be in a poor way if we had only clothes without bodies. (Whitehead, Alfred North. Dialogues with Alfred North Whitehead. Boston: Little Brown, 1954, p 232)

Many have low levels of EQ because society has failed to teach essential of handling anger, how to resolve conflicts positively, empathy, impulse control, and other components of emotional competence. (Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, p 286)

In adulthood, while women tend to be stronger in competencies based on empathy and social skills, males tend to be stronger in competencies based on self-regulation. Men and women are equal in their ability to increase EQ. (Singh, Dalip. Emotional Intelligence at Work. India: Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd. 2006, pp 59-64)

Emotions are designed to serve as guides, to help individuals when they face tasks or situations too important to leave to intellect alone. Each emotion offers a distinctive readiness to act and to point people in a direction that has worked well in the past in terms of handling challenges of human life. (Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, p 4)

Emotional pros and cons come from emotional centers in the midbrain that interact with a specific area in the frontal cortex. The basal ganglia (lower brain area) has some direct connections with verbal areas in the cortex but it has very rich connections to the gastrointestinal tract or gut. When making a decision, pay attention to your gut sense, then put it into words. Check your rational decision against your gut feelings. If it doesn't "feel right," you may want to reconsider. (Goleman, Daniel. The Brain and Emotional Intelleigence: New Insights. p 18-20. MA:More Than Sounds, 2011)

Emotional intelligence likely has its source in the heart. Intelligence and intuition are heightened by input from the neurons in the heart. (Childre, Doc and Howard Martin. The HeartMath Solution. CA: Harper SF, 1999, pp 10-13)

The amygdala is the brain's radar for threat, a trigger point for emotional distress (e.g., anger, fear, impulse). It can hijack the rest of the brain (especially the pre-frontal cortex) in an instant. During a hijack you can't learn, cannot be innovative or flexible, and may have memory failure. (Goleman, Daniel. The Brain and Emotional Intelleigence: New Insights. p 29-31. MA: More Than Sounds, 2011)

IQ, at best, probably contributes about 20% to the factors that help determine a person’s life success. EQ, on the other hand, can be much more powerful and contributory to success in life than IQ. (Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, pp 33-36)

IQ is a measure of intelligence quotient. EQ is a measure of emotional quotient. (Singh, Dalip. Emotional Intelligence at Work. India: Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd. 2006, pp 50, 59-64)

Managers who use emotional intelligence can ameliorate stress related to job insecurity and also help to reframe the situation so that it positively impacts employee performance. In a complex and insecure business environment, available tools to successfully survive and to serve both employees and the companies for which they work include familiarity with and choice of appropriate responses to emotional as well as to cognitive concerns. (Mallinger, Mark, PhD, and Jess Banks, PHD. Use Emotional Intelligence to Cope in Tough Times, Article)

The leader in a group has power to sway everyone’s emotions. When leaders drive emotions positively they bring out everyone’s best (resonance). When they drive emotions negatively they spawn dissonance. The leader’s level of Emotional Intelligence is key. (Goleman, Daniel, PhD, with Richard Boyatzis, and Annie Mckee. Primal Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002, pp 5-6)

Four learned skills are important to leadership, although no leader ever has equal strengths in all areas:

  • Self awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

(Goleman, Daniel, PhD, with Richard Boyatzis, and Annie Mckee. Primal Leadership.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002, pp 38-40)

EQ is not fixed at birth. It is learned (or not learned). You can develop increased EQ through a step-by-step process which is not difficult and not simple, either. EQ can be honed throughout life. (Singh, Dalip. Emotional Intelligence at Work. India: Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd. 2006, pp 50, 59-64)

Key ingredients of effective programs to teach EQ include:

  • Identify, label, and express
  • Assessing intensity
  • Impulse control
  • Delay of gratification
  • Difference between feelings and actions
  • Appropriate self-talk
  • Reading/interpreting social cues
  • Understanding others’ perspective
  • Positive mindset
  • Self-awareness
  • Verbal and nonverbal skills

(Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, pp 301-302)

EQ can be cultivated and learned in childhood and at any stage of life. It matters immensely for one’s personal destiny (e.g., more crucial to happiness than intellectual intelligence), although it is routinely ignored in educational institutions in favor of academic abilities. (Koch, Richard. The 80:20 Principle. NY:Currency Doubleday, 1999, p 223)

The neurobiological evidence suggests that the aspects of cognition that humans recruit most heavily in schools, namely learning, attention, memory, decision-making, and social functioning, are both profoundly affected by and subsumed within the processes of emotion; we call these aspects emotional thought. Students can move forward with healthy emotions (e.g. confidence, exhilaration, bravery) and get “stuck” with less healthy emotions (e.g., shame, guilt, and regret). [Accessed 4-16. Immordino-Yang, MH and A. Damasio (2007). “We feel, therefore we learn: the relevance of affective and social neuroscience to education. Mind, Body, and Education.” 1, 3-10. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-228X.2007.00004.x] Accessed 7-16

EQ doesn’t necessarily equate with “being nice.” EQ doesn’t mean letting emotions and feelings “all hang out.” Women are not “smarter” in EQ nor are males “superior” to women in EQ. (Singh, Dalip. Emotional Intelligence at Work. India: Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd. 2006, p 50)

What most people typically see when observing behaviors of others can be thought of as the “tip of the iceberg.” High levels of Emotional Intelligence help one to see what is underneath or behind the behaviors. (Freedman, Joshua. The EQ Advantage, Article)

Emotions such as fear and aggression appear to surface in the right pre-frontal lobe. The brain’s left pre-frontal lobe seems to hold the “off” switch for keeping distressing emotions in check. (Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, pp 25-26)

Gardner had divided personal intelligences into two parts:

  1. Interpersonal – the ability to understand other people and work cooperatively with them
  2. Intrapersonal – the capacity to form an accurate, veridical model of oneself and use it to operate effectively in life

(Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, pp 39-40)

Stanford University studies: The emotional mind reacts to the present as though it were the past. The system of psychological adaptations that comprises each individual meets the present only as a version of the past. (Toobey, John., and Lida Cosmides. “The Past Explains the Present”, Ethology and Sociobiology, 11, pp 418-419)

Since 1990, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer have been the leading researchers on emotional intelligence. In their influential article “Emotional Intelligence,” they defined emotional intelligence as, “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions” (1990). Salovey and Mayer proposed a model that identified four different factors of emotional intelligence: the perception of emotion, the ability reason using emotions, the ability to understand emotion, and the ability to manage emotions. (Cherry, Kendra. What Is Emotional Intelligence? Source)

Road rage likely represents low emotional intelligence. Drivers likely inherit the seeds of aggressiveness and territoriality from parents and the media. Prodes strategies for drivers who want to learn to raise their EQ. (James, Leon, and Diane Nahl. Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare. NY: Prometheus Books,2000.)

All organizations are living systems composed of people who think and feel. Smart people and smart organizations will recognize and seek to measure and balance thinking and feeling. (Childre, Doc and Howard Martin. The HeartMath Solution. CA: Harper SF, 1999, p 243)

SEL is a school-based program that is designed to teach the entire spectrum of emotional intelligence abilities. This can be done from kindergarten through high school. There are many strategies that can be used. The "stop-light" metaphor, for example. When a child gets upset, they are taught to picture a stoplight:

  1. Red light. Stop. Calm down and think before you act.
  2. Yellow light. Think of options, their consequences, and select the best alternative.
  3. Green light. Try out your selection and see how it works.

(Zins, Joseph E., et al. Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What does the Research Say? NY:Teacher's College Press, 2004)

The phrase "dark triad" has been used by psychologists to refer to narcissists, Machiavellians, and sociopaths. They can be good at cognitive empathy but lack emotional empathy and empathetic concern. They represent the dark side of emotional intelligence. (Damasio, Antonio. A Neural Basis for Sociopathy. Archives of General Psychiatry 57, 2000, 128-129)

Studies have shown that sociopaths have deficits in several brain areas key to emotional intelligence: the anterior cingulate, the orbitofrontal cortex, the amygdala, and insula. There are also deficits in the connectgivity of these regions to other parts of the brain. There are extreme sociopaths known because of their cold-blooded crimes. There are also less extreme types. For example:

  1. Bullying boss - charming to superiors but a tyrant to direct reports and others
  2. Embezzler - a crook such as Bernie madoff
  3. Freeloader - may be a schmoozer but does very little actual work

(Goleman, Daniel. The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights. p.66-67. MA: More Than Sound, 2011)

Emotions neuroscientist Dr. Antonio Damasio has said that humans have about an 80% overlap of emotions and cognition. About 80% of our emotions blend cognition and feelings while 80% of our cognitive processing blends emotions into it. Our brain blends much, much more of our emotions with much more of our daily cognitive lives than earlier thought. (Accessed 7-16. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763405001053)

Emotional intelligence likely has its source in the heart. Intelligence and intuition are heightened by input from the neurons in the heart. (Childre, Doc and Howard Martin. The HeartMath Solution. CA: Harper SF, 1999, pp 10-13)

Bologna, Italy study: People with higher levels of EQ tend to experience less stress. In increasingly complex jobs, EQ becomes increasingly important. Three important conclusions:

  1. Emotional intelligence predicts high performance
  2. Stress reduces performance
  3. Emotional intelligence mitigates the effects of stress

(Lorenzo, Fariselli et al. White Paper: Stress, Emotional Intelligence and Performance in Healthcare. 2008, Article)

A reasonable inference emerges that one of the primary benefits of high EQ is the increased ability to function well even under stress. It appears that one way EQ helps improve performance is by mitigating the negative effects of stress. (Fariselli, Lorenzo, et al. White Paper: Stress, Emotional Intelligence and Performance in Healthcare. 2008, Article)

University of Washington studies: results of EQ education to students grades 1-5. Results showed improved:

  • Emotional recognition
  • Thinking before acting
  • Self-control
  • Cognitive planning
  • Social cognitive skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Classroom atmosphere

(Goleman, Daniel, PhD. Emotional Intelligence. NY: Bantam Books, 1995, p 306)

People with high emotional intelligence tend to be more successful in life than those with lower EIQ even if their classical IQ is average. (Source)

The Bar-On Emotion Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), is a self-report measure of EI developed as a measure of emotionally and socially competent behavior that provides an estimate of one's emotional and social intelligence. The two tools based on Goleman's model:

  1. The Emotional Competency Inventory (ECI), which was created in 1999, and the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI), which was created in 2007.
  2. The Emotional Intelligence Appraisal, which was created in 2001 and which can be taken as a self-report or 360-degree assessment.


Refer to Visualizing and the Brain for additional information.

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