Some people think emotions play a role only in romantic situations or in the heat of a physical fight. Yet in fact, emotions are everywhere: they form our decisions, help us understand the world and are crucial in any interaction with others.
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman explains in detail what impact emotions have on your everyday life. It shows how they can help you, but also how they lead you astray. It also highlights the role that emotional intelligence plays in allowing us to use emotions to create positive outcomes and avoid situations where they can harm us.
It explains how emotional intelligence makes it possible to create a balanced interaction between the emotional brain and the rational brain. It also shows us how this capacity can be acquired and expanded.
Finally, it answers these interesting questions: How does emotional intelligence develop in individuals and why is this capacity so important for society as a whole? Do our emotions hold us back? Would we do better if our emotions were removed and we became unfeeling, logical creatures?
In fact, emotions are vital to us as they provide us with advantages that help us to lead fulfilled lives. One such advantage is the way emotions help us learn from our memories.
When our brain stores experiences, it doesn’t just collect facts. It also records our feelings and these feelings help us to learn from our experiences. For example, if a little boy touches a hot stove, he will experience intense pain. The thought of touching another stove in the future will carry with it the memory of that searing pain. Thus his emotions will hopefully keep him from doing it again.
Another value of emotions is the way they help us to interpret the feelings of others, which can aid in predicting their actions. For example, imagine you’re faced with an angry man. From his body language – maybe his clenched fists or loud voice – you can tell his emotional state. Knowing this, you can predict his future actions; he might, for instance, be ready to hit someone.
The final advantage that our emotions give us is the drive to act. We require them in order to react quickly to a situation. Take that angry man from the earlier example. If we feel that he may be close to a violent outburst, our emotions will make us feel threatened or even angry, thus preparing us to react quickly if he looked like he was about to attack.
People who have lost their capacity for emotion also lose this drive to act. For example, in the previous century, many psychiatric patients went through a brain surgery called a lobotomy, which separated two regions of the brain that are vital for emotional processing. The result of the surgery was that patients lost their initiative and drive to act, as well as much of their emotional capacity.
Our emotions are important tools for understanding and interacting with our environment. However, they are also flawed and can lead us to make mistakes.
One such mistake occurs when we become overly emotional. In order to make sound judgments we need to think clearly. Like a juggler, our minds can handle only so many items at once. And when we’re in a state of heightened emotion, our minds are bombarded with alarming thoughts and disturbing images. Thus, there is no room for rational thought and our judgment is clouded.
For example, when you are frightened you may find yourself overreacting to situations, thinking they’re more dangerous than they actually are. This is why when you’re scared, you might mistake a sheet on the washing line for a ghost.
Another mistake caused by our emotions is when we act suddenly before we have the chance to judge a situation clearly. When information enters our brain, a fraction of it bypasses the region responsible for rational thought – the neocortex – and directly enters the emotional brain. If it perceives this information to be a threat to us, the emotional brain can trigger us to act suddenly, without consulting our thinking brain. This is why you may jump out of your skin when you’re in a dark forest and you see a strange figure out of the corner of your eye.
The final way our emotions can lead us to act irrationally is when we are affected by obsolete emotional responses. Our emotional mind reacts to situations in the present based on past experiences, even when the conditions have changed. For example, a boy who was physically bullied at school may grow up to be a strong man, but still feel threatened by his former bully.
So although emotions are important, they can take control of our minds and disrupt rational thinking. We therefore require something to help us manage them effectively.
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