Monday, July 20, 2009

Emotional Intelligence

The Marshmallow Experiments

In the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel performed a series of tests on young, pre-school children intended to measure their ability to delay gratification or otherwise exert self control. These experiments later became known as the ‘marshmallow experiments.’ The idea was simple. He left a succession of 4-year-olds in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If they rang the bell, he would come back and they could eat the marshmallow. If, however, they didn't ring the bell and waited for him to come back on his own, they could then have two marshmallows.

The long term results were astounding. Not only were youngsters who were able to delay their gratification much more successful in life and able to avoid problems and issues that undermine success, they had higher SAT scores. It turns out the ability to invest oneself or delay gratification is helpful in all sorts of situations; it lessens the chances of teen pregnancy, abets sitting through boring classes to get a degree, and learning a skill at an ‘A’ level rather than settling for a ‘C’, and on and on.

On the other side of the coin, let us take the example of the generally capable fellow who doesn’t work.  He is living with his parents or his girlfriend.  Chances are very high he basically believes that working at an entry level job is not worth his time. He does not have the emotional maturity to understand the demonstrated benefit that investment or reliability brings.  He wants everything NOW.  Which probably means he is both not developing core competences as a foundation for life, but is also more attracted to immediate pay-off careers like drug smuggling or thievery. Also notice the complicity necessary by significant others in order to retard emotional maturity, and the debilitating effects of co-dependency.

Unfortunately there is another correlation. Delaying gratification correlates to socioeconomic status and parenting styles. It turns out successful life habits and approaches, or the lack of them, are often passed down from generation to generation. Parents hoping the best for their children do well to increase attention spans along with concepts regarding character investment.

Finally, the Stanford Marshmallow experiment predicts SAT performance (by 210 points) better than IQ, and also life success, which IQ doesn’t do so well at all. Think of it. A 15 minute test of a 4 year old already predicts success better than IQ despite all the life events and education he will encounter. Allow that to sink in for awhile.

The Marshmallow test should have fundamentally changed education and the welfare state as we know them.  That it did not can only be attributed to the Progressive insistence that the poor are a direct structural result of the evils of free markets, and that there is little that can be done about the environment other than adopt re-distributive policy as a social engineering response.  The crux of this Marxian notion stands as a pillar that divides socialist and free market thought.

Dimensions of Emotional Intelligence

The book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman (1995), outlines emotional intelligence and catalogs various approaches to learning and educating:
  1. Awareness of One's Own Emotions
  2. Controlling One's Own Emotions
  3. Motivating One's Self
  4. Knowing the Emotions of Others
  5. Relationship Skills
Being taught the ability to overcome or at least delay our brain stem urge for immediate gratification (which mature mammals can accomplish) and to recognize and plan and deal with others, and to learn those skills as early as possible in life, becomes a foundational and valuable life skill.

Increase Emotional Intelligence

The good news is that we can all improve our emotional intelligence, of which self-control is an important component. Read the link for important academic suggestions. Here are some simple, practical ideas:
  1. Exercise. Besides the physical and mental and disciplinary benefits, it reduces your stress level and nurtures habit.
  2. Consciously develop a hobby or sport that involves interacting with other people. If you have a long term partner, involve them.
  3. Join a support group or meet with a counselor to specifically talk about your emotions. Anger Management courses are an option.
  4. Keep a diary where amongst other things, you record and examine your emotions.
  5. Enroll in a course and/or read books on communication skills, emotional intelligence and social skills.
  6. Ask trusted friends and family to give you constructive feedback on your reactions and emotions and how to improve them. Listen carefully and do not debate them. It is their feedback that is important, not your thoughts on it. Learn from the feedback, even if you choose not to follow it.

Other References

  1. Jonah Lehrer, “The secret of self-control : The New Yorker” (May 18, 2009),
  2. Goleman, D. (2006). Emotional intelligence (10th ed.). New York: Bantam Books. Retrieved from

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