“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know“, it is often heard by employees in different companies. These employees are stimulated to attend happy hour at the office, avoid eating lunch alone and chat up the boss if they’re alone with him or her in the elevator. Even the most technically proficient employees will likely be passed over for that promotion if they can’t work well in groups or lead a meeting. Those who do manage to get ahead likely possess emotional intelligence, a measure of how well a person can handle his own emotions, as well as the emotions of other people. It includes features such as empathy and emotional control.
An IQ score, a number comprised of analytical, mathematical and memory abilities, can seem like all a person needs for intelligence, and it can be an excellent predictor of how well he/she will do in school. Yet there are examples of how poorly an IQ score can predict a person’s earning success and happiness in life. For that, you had to turn to emotional intelligence and a person’s ability to use his or her emotions to navigate the world. While IQ scores rely on a person’s ability to identify one correct answer, daily life situations sometimes involve more than one right answer, as well as the ability to get along with more than one type of person.
Researchers still differ on an exact definition for emotional intelligence and ways to measure it (if it can be measured at all, some scientists may say). Could emotional intelligence be more than an indicator of future success? It might also tell how our brain health stands. Let’s take a look at the scope emotional intelligence might play in predicting the likelihood of falling victim to depression, dementia and other brain disorders.
Emotional Intelligence and the Brain
A person’s IQ score has remained the standard in intelligence debates; it’s the kind of number that goes on your permanent record. As a result, scientists have tried to use this little number as a way to ascertain the state of the brain. Take the case of dementia, in which memory fails and a person begins to lose the ability to remember simple facts and tasks. A decline in cognitive function, illustrated by a falling IQ score, has been used as a mean of predicting dementia.
However, this method has some failings, because people with very high IQs display the symptoms of dementia much later, and they score above predictive norms on cognitive tests. These people then decline much faster once they begin exhibiting symptoms because the disease has already progressed. Because they score so much higher than the norms, they miss out on valuable early intervention opportunities. Conversely, those with lower IQs have the potential to be misdiagnosed with dementia because they score below the cognitive norms.
Because dementia usually includes an emotional component as well as these failings in memory, it may be useful to factor in someone’s emotional intelligence during diagnosis. But how does emotion even factor into the brain? While many parts of the brain may be involved in regulating emotion, it really comes down to what’s going on in the left and right hemispheres. The right side of the brain takes in the sensory information related to emotions and processes it. Then, that information is sent to the left side of the brain, which is responsible for language. The left side of the brain gives these emotions a name. Also central to the process are the cerebellum, amygdala and the corpus callosum, which transfers the information between the right and left hemispheres. While we may not know everything about emotional intelligence, it’s reasonable to assume that a low level of it is due to a malfunction in one of these parts of the brain.
But can we use that knowledge to ascertain brain health? Not yet, since scientists still don’t know exactly what causes many brain disorders. However, emotional intelligence may prove to be most valuable in terms of identifying and addressing risk factors. For example, smoking is a risk factor for many brain disorders, but a study conducted by a Barcelona university found that students with high emotional intelligence were less likely to consume tobacco or cannabis. These students seemed to be able to regulate their emotional state so that they were less tempted to use tobacco products, while those with lower emotional intelligence may be drawn to substance abuse to compensate for a poor emotional state.
Similarly, while a person with a high IQ may know the basics of nutrition, it may take an emotionally intelligent person to make the right food choices. In one study, researchers found that those with higher emotional intelligence were able to make better product choices in the store. The ability to select healthier products may protect the emotionally intelligent from the extremely dangerous risk factor of obesity.
Emotional intelligence has also been linked to better stress management and lower psychological distress, as well as lower rates of depression. When people are unable to recognize and control their emotions, they’re more likely to have lower satisfaction with life. Does someone dissatisfied with life sound fun to be around? While it might sound obvious, emotionally intelligent people have better social networks to assist them should sickness occur; socializing may also help delay the onset of dementia. Because the emotionally intelligent get along with various types of people, they may also have a greater willingness to see a doctor and a greater likelihood of heeding the doctor’s advice.
So there seem to be a few positive direct links between high emotional intelligence and brain health, but what happens when there’s a lack of emotional intelligence?
Alexithymia and Lack of Emotional Intelligence
Scientists released a study indicating that psychopaths may have different brain patterns from the rest of the people. While psychopaths remain intellectually aware of society’s rules, they seriously lack emotional intelligence. The profile of a psychopath includes impulsivity, high aims without the discipline to achieve them, a inclination for boredom, no close personal attachments and a lack of empathy. When monitoring psychopaths’ brain waves while they examined certain words, including those that bring up a host of emotions for most people, he found that there was no activity in the parts of the brain involved in emotion. These psychopaths are described as “emotionally color-blind“.
They have abnormal brain functions in areas related to processing emotion and language — meaning that there’s a neurological rationale for some heinous crimes, as opposed to some environmental factor such as child abuse. If these psychopaths were to be tested for IQ, they would likely show up as normal, but it’s in a lack of emotional intelligence that we see the disturbances in brain health.
If a person is on the low end of the emotional intelligence spectrum, he or she may have a condition known as alexithymia. Alexithymia is a state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions.
Typical deficiencies may include problems identifying, describing, and working with one’s own feelings, often marked by a lack of understanding of the feelings of others; difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal, confusion of physical sensations often associated with emotions, few dreams or fantasies due to restricted imagination; and concrete, realistic, logical thinking, often to the exclusion of emotional responses to problems. Those who have alexithymia also report very logical and realistic dreams, such as going to the store or eating a meal. Clinical experience suggests it is the structural features of dreams more than the ability to recall them that best characterizes alexithymia. Alexithymia has been linked to eating disorders, panic disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder . The condition may also provide clues about autism spectrum disorders one day; one common theme of autism disorders is a lack of emotional connection, so that those with the disorder can’t pick up on social cues. Decreased cerebellum activity has been linked to autism and Asperger’s disorder.