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Emotional Intelligence - Understanding Emotions
May 17, 1996

Two books about emotion, but they could not be more different. Understanding Emotions is a typical American textbook, written for a semester college course, full of meaningless and irritating pictures to break up a text otherwise too dense and forbidding for the poor darlings to read. It makes no special claims to originality, is certainly not meant for anything but a student readership, and has to be judged mainly for scientific accuracy and inconclusiveness.

Emotional Intelligence, on the other hand, is meant for the general reader. The book, the blurb tells us, is "fascinating" and "persuasive", it is said to have been hailed by fellow scientists as "groundbreaking" and "superbly researched". Apparently it is a "US bestseller" by an author who covers the behavioural and brain sciences for the New York Times. Poor New York Times readers if this is indeed a sample of the author's scientific acumen.

What does Daniel Goleman claim in Emotional Intelligence that is so original and groundbreaking? He points out that high IQ does not guarantee worldly success, and that high-IQ men and women may show emotional faults that lower their effectiveness. He proposes the name "emotional intelligence" for the amalgam of motivational, emotional and personality characteristics he regards as important, and indeed seems to regard as more important than IQ. What goes to make up this amalgam? Self-awareness, or knowing one's emotions, managing one's emotions in an appropriate fashion; motivating oneself, empathy or recognising emotions in others; and handling relationships. These are the major ingredients of "emotional intelligence".

All this is presented, not by way of proof - Goleman admits that there is at present no way of measuring "emotional intelligence" - but by way of citing innumerable real-life illustrations of his various assertions. Lay readers may accept illustration as proving something, but, of course, it is usually quite easy to provide illustrations to "prove" exactly the opposite (quite apart from the fact that many of these illustrations are probably imaginary - science is not built on such waste ground). But there is one thing that Goleman insists on, and that immediately destroys his whole case: he states that "IQ and emotional intelligence are not opposing competences, but rather separate ones I these are largely independent entities". But if they are independent, how can we use the same term for both? The term "intelligence", from the time of Cicero onwards, has been used to denote cognitive abilities, factual knowledge, mental ability. How can we use it to cover something entirely different and completely unrelated, without causing confusion and disorientation? We are not at liberty to change the meaning of words and concepts arbitrarily in science; they are defined by historical use and example, by formula and by a whole nomological network. Indeed, such a network already exists to include all Goleman is claiming as "novel".

Psychometricians have never held the view attributed to them by Goleman; they never assumed that IQ was the whole of intelligence and they never assumed it was a sufficient as well as a necessary condition for success in professional life. Already, in the 1930s, one of Charles Spearman's students, W. P. Alexander, showed that success at school was as dependent on what he called "persistence" as on IQ, and E. Webb, another of Spearman's students, had already shown in 1915 that personality traits were uncorrelated with IQ. Personality psychologists have for many years worked with the concept of "emotionality" or "neuroticism" and investigated its relationship with life success; neuroticism is precisely the opposite of emotional intelligence, and all Goleman has done is to invent a new and confusing name for neuroticism and has forgotten to tell his readers about the rich literature that has grown around it.

Besides lacking any originality, Goleman's assault is beset with factual errors. The "family crucible" is not the school for emotional learning Goleman imagines. He claims "the emotional lessons we learn as children at home I shape the emotional circuits", but recent genetic research has shown that environmental factors linked to the family have little influence on personality. These studies are not even mentioned: no doubt they upset the Pollyanna tone of the book. Nor is it true that "these emotional circuits are sculpted by experience throughout childhood"; they are largely sculpted by heredity. Goleman's notion that "behaviourists ruled I emotions out-of-bounds for science" is absurd; J. B. Watson explained neuroses as conditioned "emotional traumas", as do most behaviourists. Marriage failure is stated to be due to "childhood roots"; the evidence suggests that it is due to largely genetic high neuroticism. The list is endless; Goleman never even mentions facts that would upset his account. This is not science as we know it, Jim.

Goleman is right in stating that "temperament is not destiny", and neither is IQ; behavioural geneticists have never claimed anything of the kind. But genetics does powerfully load the dice, and Goleman's reliance on "psychotherapy"' as some vade mecum finds little support in the literature. But again, Goleman does not discuss the evidence; he simply asserts and illustrates. This is a very poor book; what is true in it is not new, and what is new is not true. The emperor's new clothes, alack, are little else but cast-offs of previous writers on the subject, presented as novel revelations.

Understanding Emotions is a very different book, although it deals with similar topics to Goleman's. I am not sure that you can teach people to understand emotions, but you can certainly tell them what is known about emotions, their expressions, their evolutions, individual differences in their development and other cognitive matters.

From the point of view of textbook writing this is reasonably successful; with a good teacher it could form the basis for an acceptable semester course. Unfortunately it has certain faults not uncommon in American textbooks; it is often inaccurate, arbitrary in its inclusions and exclusions and clinging precariously to political correctness and past orthodoxy.

A few examples will illustrate these points. Two pages are devoted to a discussion of genetic factors, dealing exclusively with children, when far more extensive material is available for adults. There is no mention of the important development of molecular genetics, which has enabled us to pinpoint specific gene alleles for specific emotional reactions. There is no mention of the most important finding in recent years, namely that environmental effects are due almost entirely to nonshared (nonfamilial) environments, a finding that completely disproves standard and "orthodox" theories concerning the importance of family influences. This is all quite unacceptable.

The treatment of psychotherapy is even less factual. It begins as usual with Freud, noting recent severe (and justified) criticism of his work. It is then stated that Freud left two positive legacies. The first is that he proposed the device of listening carefully to patients. This is, of course, untrue: the followers of Mesmer had adopted and practised this "device" 100 years earlier. The second was the idea of transference; it is conveniently forgotten that to this day there is no evidence for this. It is asked, does psychotherapy work? - and the answer is an unqualified "Yes". Reference is made to a meta-analysis by Mary Lee Smith, Jene Glass and Thomas Miller showing that in 475 comparative studies there was a positive effect size of .85. It is not mentioned that placebo treatment had an effect size of .56, almost identical to psychodynamic therapy, client-centred therapy, Gestalt therapy and rational-emotive therapy. The only specific effects were noted for various behavioural-cognitive therapies based on principles opposed to the Freudian theory. The most recent meta-analysis by Martin Svartberg and Tore Stiles, using 19 studies comparing the effects of psychoanalysis with the effects of no treatment, found no difference at all. But to say this would be to condemn this book to complete nonacceptance by teachers involved in psychotherapy.

I could not honestly recommend either of these two books, though determined readers would find mention of interesting studies in both. But neither is very reliable, and in science that is one default that is deadly. Even popularisations such as Goleman's should adopt a certain standard of accuracy in what is said.

H. J. Eysenck is emeritus professor of psychology, University of London.

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

Author - David Goleman
ISBN - 0 7475 2622 2
Publisher - Bloomsbury
Price - £16.99
Pages - 352

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