In the previous article on emotional intelligence we saw how an intelligence is based on the ability to think in abstract ways, and to learn and adapt to an environment. Maybe you’d previously heard about how we have multiple intelligences; IQ, social intelligence, practical intelligence, emotional intelligence, and so on.
What distinguishes these intelligences from each other is the type of information they process. So verbal-propositional intelligence is about vocabulary, sentence structure, etc., and likewise, emotional intelligence is based on emotional information. I just wanted to clarify what this is exactly, as this was missing from the last post.
What is emotional information?
Since Darwin, emotions have been viewed as controlling and signalling our responses to situations – they occur in response to the environment and/or an appraisal of it. They are mostly geared towards things that could have an impact on our chances of surviving and reproducing, and each emotion has it’s own particular role to play in this. So for example, anger comes up when someone transgresses against you, jealousy arises when someone’s flirting with your girlfriend or boyfriend, fear in the face of a potential threat, and so on. The theory goes that each emotion was originally ‘designed’ to solve a particular problem we faced in our evolutionary past, by influencing our response to it. So anger might put people off transgressing against you in the future, jealousy helps to ward people off your mate, and fear helps you stay out of trouble.
Each emotion has it’s own unique signals, which might be facial expressions, body language, voice tone, and so on. This is what ’emotional information’ is. Facial expressions in particular have been particularly well researched. Expressions have been identified for a number of categories of emotion, and wherever you go in the world, you find that these facial signals always go with the same emotions. For example, you don’t find one culture who furrow their brow and pout when they feel ecstatic – everyone smiles. Even hunter-gatherer societies, with no access to our modern culture, signal emotions using the same facial expressions we do.
So in a sense, emotional information is a kind of language; although it differs from verbal language because it relates primarily to relationships among people rather than relationships in a more general sense.
Just found your blog through the guest post you did through problogger.
Enjoyed that post, and have very much enjoyed surfing around your blog. Have subscribed to your RSS feed and look forward to reading more of your posts in the future!
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I believe that this body language is entirely instinctual. It is amazing that across the world, 99% of us smile when we are happy.
JP – yeah, not just smiles either, we all frown when sad, scrunch our faces up when disgusted, open our eyes wide when scared, and so on; there are more but I can’t think off the top of my head.
Warren, thank you sharing a bit about EI. This is one of the relatively rare constructs studied in academic psychology that also has widespread practical applications. As you’re aware, since the publication of Daniel Goleman’s wildly successful book on EI, the popular press, management consultants, and even the entertainment industry, have all picked up the importance of this type of intelligence. And from my point of view, our current interest in EI is no fad, but will be with us in one form or another for many years.