The Problem with Emotional Intelligence

the problem with emotional intelligence

If you’ve heard about the Harvard “Bloomers” study for determining intelligence in elementary school, you might already know the problem with emotional intelligence.

If not, you probably want to keep reading.

Robert Rosenthal’s Bloomers

In 1964, a psychologist and Harvard University professor named Robert Rosenthal worked on a groundbreaking social experiment on intelligence.

The experiment was very simple. He separated several students into two groups: Those who placed well on the Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition and those who didn’t. Teachers were then notified which students were ready to see strong IQ growth based on the test. The teachers were told to provide these students who were “ready to bloom” (known as bloomers) with whatever they needed to succeed.

The results were outstanding. The “bloomers” were given all kinds of opportunities and the teachers nurtured the potential they saw. Sadly, they could also see the lack of potential in the non-bloomers and saw them as “less likable, less likely to succeed in life, less happy.”

Except those weren’t the actual results of the experiment. The experiment was something much different and it highlights the problem with emotional intelligence.

The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition

The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition would have been a marvel of modern psychology and science if not for one small problem: it didn’t exist.

There was no test. There were no IQ results. The students were randomly put into two groups. The students that fared better were the ones who were given the tools to succeed.

And by now you may be seeing the problem with emotional intelligence. It’s similar to the problem of intelligence identity vs. intelligence mastery.

Identity vs. Mastery

Psychologists now tell us to avoid labels like “smart”. They have found that telling a child they are “smart” gives them an identity and wearing that mantle of identity can have negative consequences. 

When a child is praised for being smart, they can often avoid situations that they feel may make them look dumb. They fear losing the identity, and, with it, the praise.

Psychologists instead tell us to praise the behavior. “You really study hard”. “You had some really ingenious ways of preparing”. “Way to try something new!” This focuses kids on doing the work and taking on challenges. Why? Because intelligence is something that grows over time. The more you learn, the more you grow. The more someone has access to learning, they more they can learn. They more they are afraid of looking bad, the less chances they take.

Which is the problem with emotional intelligence.

The Problem with Emotional Intelligence

When we realize IQ is expanded the more we challenge ourselves and it can be stunted by fearing those same changes, we start to see the problem with emotional intelligence.

What we call emotional intelligence is simply learned behavior. If we lived in a safe environment where we were loved and nurtured, we didn’t need to prove ourselves. We were able to focus on others and grow and expand our universe. In contrast some people have lived in environments full of turmoil and judgement where they always felt they had to show they are worthy.

Emotional intelligence strives to focus on connecting with the other person. It’s focused on understanding and helping others. Low EQ, as it’s called, means that you focus on yourself and your own needs over the needs of others. You lack empathy and understanding. You are constantly focused on what’s good about you.

But Low EQ appears to be learned: a constant need to prove oneself because of a lack of acceptance or the presence of constant judgement. The problem with emotional intelligence is that it should spot this: if someone has “high EQ”, they should see someone with “low EQ” not with the label of “low EQ” but as someone who needs acceptance without judgement.

Maybe we need to think about why someone struggles instead of focusing only on how we can get ahead. Maybe we’re at our best when we’re removing the labels and seeing the people.

Maybe that’s real emotional intelligence.

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About the author

David is a father, speaker, blogger (obviously), and author of How to Create Amazing Presentations sharing the tools, tips, and techniques of the experts to make you an amazing presenter, 7 Steps to Better Relationships built on the stories and lessons on this blog with seven easy steps to help you maximize your interactions with the people you care about most, and The Man in the Pit to help you care for loved ones struggling with depression.

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