Up Close With Dr. E

Exploring emotional intelligence


Since the introduction in 1905 of the first school based test to measure a child’s mental abilities (IQ tests), IQ testing has become a widespread practice. Because of this, testing has changed how schools identify and help children who need special education and, how we view such basic societal concepts such as employability, social status, and yes, even how we measure self-worth.

IQ tests, developed for one and only one purpose — a way to measure a child’s ability to do academic work — has become a cultural mirror, reflecting back values in our society. Kids who score high on these tests can be enrolled in advanced classes. If they are also hard working and disciplined, they are granted entry into the best colleges, which in turn, opens the final door to job success. As the economies of individual countries gives way to one single, global economy, the pressure on our children to achieve in school increases. For the first time in history, American children are competing with the children from other countries, for jobs.

Politicians seeking public office have been quick to pick up our fears — a parent’s fear that if your child does poorly in school, they will be doomed to a poverty level existence. The “Two Americas” campaign is an offshoot of our fear and goes like this: The “First America” will allow highly educated kids to take high skill level and high paying jobs; The “Second America” will be those who failed academically. So, the final equation is as follows: IQ testing identifies the “First America” kids who are slotted into good schools and colleges, which in turn, link them to good jobs. But wait  ... Is it true that high IQ scores are the single most important predictor of school, job, or life success? Do IQ tests capture every part of my children’s innate intelligence?

New research has thrown out the old idea that IQ tests predict life success. A broader understanding of intelligence now includes the findings that emotions and emotional control, are key parts of defining how “smart” one is. The word emotion comes from the Latin verb, movere, which means “to move.” Emotions are the rocket fuel used to motivate all goal directed behavior. Emotional skills such as persistence, enthusiasm and drive are key elements of life success. However, without a “master skill,” your child will not succeed. This skill is called “impulse control,” and is the regulator of all emotions. Think of it like this: Your car goes forward when you press on the gas pedal. The brake controls speed by stopping the car. Impulse control is your brake.

As a grade school student, I struggled in school. School was hard for me. How can this be explained? The answer is simple: I flunked the marshmallow test.

I am four years old. I am sitting on a chair which is pushed up to a table. On the table are two, plump, fluffy-white marshmallows. I like marshmallows. I am hungry. A psychologist tells me how the test works: “If you wait until I return from an errand, you can have two marshmallows.” He then said, “If you can’t wait until I return, you can have only one, but, you can eat it right now.”

This is a test of impulse control. Can I resist my impulse to eat now? Can I wait-wait-wait until he returns so I can get a double reward? What do I do? I EAT NOW. So, I failed the test. The reason I did poorly in grade school was because I had little control over my impulses. Impulse control is the ability to stop, think and delay gratification until the job is done. In school, my teachers would tell me to “read chapter one and write about it.” As I started to read, my impulses told me, “I don’t like this, I really hate this,” so I quit.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, published his book, “Emotional Intelligence — Why it can Matter More Than IQ.” It opened the door to a critical, new understanding: Children are born with many talents, skills and innate abilities. IQ is but one of them. Emotional intelligence, the ability to motivate oneself, the ability to connect with people, to empathize, to use your “gut instincts,” to be able to create a work of art, to become a leader, are just as important, if not more, than IQ.

When I mastered my impulses, I became a great learner. But even today, I would probably still fail the marshmallow test. (Food is a weakness of mine).

The content of this article is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.

References: 1. Jerome Sattler - “Assessment of Children,” 2. Daniel Goleman, “Emotional Intelligence,” 1995.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week.


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