The EQ tide is turning

A very interesting article Emotional Intelligence Needs a Rewrite by Northeastern University Psychology Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett was recently published in Nautilus Magazine. The article demolishes two of the key assumptions of Emotional Intelligence:

  1. The first is that it’s possible to detect the emotions of other people accurately through facial expressions.
  2. The triune, or three-layer brain, has no basis in reality

According to Barrett numerous scientific studies have confirmed that when we place electrodes on people’s faces to record their muscle movements, we see that they move in different ways, not one consistent way, when their owners feel the same emotion. Even in the brain, we see that instances of a single emotion, such as fear, are handled by different brain patterns at different times, both in the same individual and in different people. This diversity isn’t random. It’s tied to the situation you’re in. In short, when it comes to detecting emotion in other people, the face and body do not speak for themselves. Instead, variation is the norm.

Similarly most books and articles on emotional intelligence start by claiming that your brain has an inner core that you inherited from reptiles (the fight or flight response), wrapped in a wild, emotional layer that you inherited from mammals (the amygdala), which in turn is surrounded by the prefrontal cortex which is a logical layer that is uniquely human and spends its time trying to control the other two layers. At the recent EQ Congress in Oporto that I attended both these hypotheses were repeatedly asserted.

According to Barrett this is not how the brain works. It is not a battlefield. Your brain’s most important job is keeping your body alive and well so that you survive and thrive (and eventually reproduce). The brain is like a sophisticated fortune-teller, constantly making predictions that ultimately become the emotions you experience and the expressions you perceive in other people. This constant storm of predictions—which occur automatically and completely outside of your awareness—forms the basis for everything you think, feel, see, smell, or otherwise experience in any way. Emotional intelligence, therefore, requires a brain that can use prediction to manufacture a large, flexible array of different emotions. If you’re in a tricky situation that has called for emotion in the past, your brain will oblige by constructing the emotion that works best.

According to Professor Barrett the trick to lifting your EQ is to develop emotional granularity, by broadening your emotion vocabulary so the brain has range of options rather than single, simple answer to a situation.

I think another effective way to this is to learn the 7MTF/Humm model of temperament. Emotions drive people but it is temperament that drives emotions. In the 7MTF/Humm model we have all have seven core emotions. The strength of each core emotion is determined by our position on the spectra of seven mental illnesses. Typically two are strong, three are average (within + or –1 standard deviation) and two are weak. Just 3 levels of intensity supplies 2,187 combinations. This is more than enough emotional granularity.

I have blogged before about my doubts on the triune brain and amygdala hijacks. I have also blogged about my difficulties with micro-expressions. Now I have read Professor Barrett’s article I am beginning to increasingly believe I am on the right track.


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Chris Golis - Author


"Put in a sales perspective, I loved your presentation! I got a lot from what you talked about and I will read your book."

Peter Morris, Executive Officer, Lomax Financial Group

Your presentation on 'Lifting your Level of Emotional Intelligence" to 10 CEOs scored an average 8.9 out of 10 for the topic and 8.5 for the presentation which is great. A couple of the attendees gave you a 10 out of 10, and the comments were:

- Great presentation. Very informative.

- Excellent presentation.

- made me think.

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