Monday 15 December 2014

Emotional Intelligence Myth#1: The Amygdala Hijack

Recently I read a very interesting article by Linda Elder, an educational psychologist, Critical Thinking and Emotional Intelligence.  One of my core beliefs (bowing to J S Mill) is that you learn more from critics of an idea than enthusiastic adherents and I thought her article insightful.

Linda begins by defining the human mind as comprised, at minimum, of three basic functions: cognition, feelings, and volition which constantly interact and influence each other.  Most EQ believers would agree with this definition. 

Her next step is more contentious.  She then argues the mind’s triad is under the sway of two contrary tendencies of the human mind, the tendency of the mind to gravitate toward egocentrism (the child), or the tendency of the mind to take into account a more comprehensive, and more "rational" view (the adult).  As one becomes older Elder argues that there is not necessarily a shift from child to adult but that we learn multiple ways to manipulate others, to influence or control others to get what we want. We even learn how to deceive ourselves as to the egocentrism of our behaviour.  However we can as adults become non-egocentric, both intellectually and "morally."  For example science itself exists only because of the capacity of humans to think in a non-egocentric fashion.

The importance of this step becomes apparent when Elder begins to critique Goleman.  Goleman stresses in his books and articles, quoting brain research, how important it is to differentiate between the neo-cortex that formulates thoughts, and the amygdala/limbic system (or early evolution reptilian brain) that generates emotions, and yet acknowledge that each must have, respectively, an emotional component and a cognitive component built into them.  Thus we have two brains and two minds and that the neo-cortex has nothing but higher motivation, desires, and values and the amygdala nothing but lower modes of cognition.  In addition the amygdala/limbic brain works faster and more intuitively than the neo-cortex

Also according to Goleman what can happen is that under emotional stress the amygdala can hijack the operation of the neo-cortex.  As an example Goleman uses a burglar Richard Robles out on parole after having served a three year sentence for more than 100 break-ins to support a heroin habit. Robles, according to the story, decides to break into, and rob just one more home and breaks into an apartment of two young women. While he is tying one of them up, she says she will remember his face and help the police track him down. In a frenzy he grabs a soda bottle and clubs both girls to the point of unconsciousness, then awash in rage and fear, he stabs them over and over with a kitchen knife. Looking back at that moment some twenty years later he says, "I just went bananas. My head just exploded.”

Elder disagrees and proposes that Robles represents a paradigm case of a person engaged in egocentric, self-serving thinking, completely unconcerned with the rights of others. He used his cognition to rationalize his actions, leading him to believe that killing was necessary to avoid being caught.  I agree, using the Humm Wadsworth components Robles is a classic Hustler with very low Normal, viz. the ideal psychopath.

Elder also proposes a second argument against the two ‘brains’ model that I also find compelling.  While it is easy to see that the various sciences: biology, chemistry, geology, physics, mathematics, etc., are products of the rational neo-cortex brain it is difficult to see how the arts: poems, novels, plays, dances, paintings, etc., are products of the amygdala.  I can understand how the fight or flight response is generated there but not vast range of artistic creations. 


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  2. My only problem is that the EQ technology you are using in your training courses does not include a person's temperament.
    People drive performance, emotions drive people, temperament drives emotions.

    Emotional Intelligence is achieving self- and social mastery by being smart with core emotions.
    Self-Mastery = Awareness + Management (Steps 1 & 2 as defined by Goleman)
    Social Mastery = Empathy + Social Skills (Steps 3 &4 as defined by Goleman

    However the key to emotional intelligence is understanding your core emotions compared to your transient emotions. Your core emotions are driven by your temperament – what you are genetically born with. Based on a study of 11,000 identical twins nature is around twice as important as nurture. I have found the Humm-Wadsworth model of seven core emotions the most practical tool for people to use and once understood (takes a day) dramatically lifts their emotional intelligence. If you want to learn about the Humm download a free white paper on using Emotional Intelligence in either selling or management .
    My e-books available in Kindle format explain the technique in more detail.