Is Social Intelligence More Useful than IQ?
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
About 10 years ago, psychologist and former science journalist Daniel Goleman parked himself on The New York Times Best-Seller List for over a year with a book called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. The book built on a growing body of work among psychologists identifying the ability to know and manage emotions as a key ingredient affecting one's success in life. Judging from its popularity, it was an idea whose time had come.
Now Daniel Goleman has a new book out that builds on his earlier work to explain how our brain works, and this time the focus is on relationships. The book is called Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. In it he argues that we human beings are hardwired to connect and that the way we make those connections can actually shape our brains, our cells, even our DNA.
Later on in the program, an opportunity to talk with singer/songwriter and guitarist Amos Lee. He'll joins us to perform a couple of tunes from his new CD. But first a chance to connect with Daniel Goleman and ask him about his new book.
Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK, and the e-mail address is email@example.com. Daniel Goleman joins us now from our studios -the studios at WFCR, our member station in Amherst, Massachusetts. And it's nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
Dr. DANIEL GOLEMAN (Author, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships): Thanks, Neal, good to be here.
CONAN: And let's start with a definition. What is social intelligence?
Dr. GOLEMAN: Social intelligence means being smart about relationships. It means being empathetic, sensing what the other person is feeling, understanding their point of view, and ease and facility in having smooth, effective interactions. So it's both knowing what the person is feeling and acting effectively based on that.
CONAN: And a lot of this is unconscious.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Luckily, almost all of it is unconscious.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. GOLEMAN: I say luckily because we have to do this so rapidly in order to keep things smooth that if we had to think about it, it would be a mess.
CONAN: You could - you describe it as that moment when, for example, a lawyer knows he's got that killing grip on the jury or the - a person could look at another person's eyes and know they're the one.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Or that this is the moment of a first kiss. I mean you don't want to stop and discuss it. You just want to act.
CONAN: Now some of these things you write about have a lot of common sense feel about them. Is this a case of science coming to confirm what we already know?
Dr. GOLEMAN: I think it's a case of science verifying that something that we had known but thought was trivial actually is far more consequential. For example, the social neuroscience - this new field of what happens in two brains as we interact - tells us that actually our physiologies connect. They coordinate in ways we hadn't understood and has profound implications.
CONAN: Explain a little bit more. How our physiologies connect?
Dr. GOLEMAN: There's something called mirror neurons, newly discovered brain cells that actually act like neural-WiFi. And in each person's brain they attune to people during an interaction so that their physiology reflects the other's. And if you're feeling rapport, if you're feeling really connected -whether it's a business negotiation or a romantic date or parent and child, teacher-student - what's happening is that your heart rate is coordinating, your bodies are coordinating, and it helps things go much more smoothly.
CONAN: And you not only point to these newly discovered mirror neurons, but some of the new technology that's being used in terms of magnetic resonance imaging, MRIs.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, yeah. They're doing - and this is the big advance - you know, neuroscience before has just looked at one brain in one body in one person at a time, and now they're looking at two. And it's opened up a whole new field - social neuroscience - so new the first journal won't publish till next year. And it shows things, for example - this is one finding I love -woman is having her brain imaged. She's told she's going to get an electric shock. She's very apprehensive. Someone comes and holds her hand. The part of the brain that's been most active, which is the stress trigger...
Dr. GOLEMAN: ...is - quiets a little. Her husband comes and holds her hand, it goes completely calm. What this says is that we can be biological allies for the people we love.
CONAN: Emotions are contagious, you say.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, and the social brain - which is not just the neural-WiFi, the mirror neurons, but a whole set of circuits that are just now being mapped - act to lock us in and to reflect in our body what's going on in the other person's body. So that's for better or worse.
I mean you can make someone feel a lot better or a lot worse emotionally, no matter what else is going on by the tone. They've done studies that show if someone gets negative feedback at work in a very positive tone, they actually come away feeling better. And if they get positive feedback in a very surly tone, they feel a little worse. So the emotional channel is extremely potent.
CONAN: Now how much of this are we born with and how much of it do we develop?
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, the wiring is innate, the wiring is genetic, but what happens to that wiring depends on our life experience to a very great extent. Most of these abilities are learned and learnable, and we start teaching it to kids from the very first time we interact with a baby.
The infant's mirror neurons are monitoring us, watching their brothers and their sisters and their mommies and daddies, learning how to interact. So the brain, the social circuitry of brain is actually shaped by social interactions over a lifetime.
CONAN: And this again lessons that anthropologists might argue go back to as far as human history can be traced. This is science beginning to see that actually happening in the brain.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Exactly and, you know, it's been theorized by people who study evolution and human prehistory that one of the great advantages for humans over other primates was how well we coordinate in a human group, both in raising children and defending ourselves and feeding and so on. And now they're discovering that these social circuits are what lets that happen.
CONAN: Our number, if you'd like to join our conversation with Daniel Goleman, is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's start with Keith(ph). Keith's calling us from Denver, Colorado.
KEITH (Caller): Yeah, hi, Dr. Goleman. I'm just curious how the coordination of mirror neurons in two people in a conversation allows the conversation or the interaction to go more smoothly, sort of the leap from the physical explanation to exactly how the social interaction goes better as a result of that.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Sure.
KEITH: And I'd appreciate a better explanation of that.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Sure. That's a very good question, Keith. First of all, mirror neurons create in our brain what's going on in the other person's brain. They were discovered by accident. They were mapping the motor cortex of a monkey. This is the part of the brain that moves the body. They were studying one cell that only fired when the monkey moved its arm.
One day the cell fired without the monkey moving its arm. They were puzzled. Then they realized a law assistant was eating an ice cream cone right in front of the monkey, and the monkey's neuron for lifting an arm fired when the lab assistant lifted his arm.
This is what goes on in our brain. Whatever we see, whatever we sense in the other person, is recreated for us. It gives an immediate felt sense. But consider this. If we're multitasking, you know, you're doing - you're on your e-mail while you're talking to somebody, you're not quite there, or if you're not really connecting, what they found in studies at Harvard Medical School - Carl Marci is the one who did them - when people are off in a conversation, their physiologies don't connect.
When they're having a moment of real rapport, if you monitor heart rate and other physical measures, they look like two birds dancing together. That is they rise and fall in perfect coordination so that mirror neurons and the other social circuitry seem to map for us what's going on in the other person so we don't have to think about how are they taking this, what should I do next? These circuits do it for us, and that's why it keeps things so smooth.
CONAN: Interesting, you write later in the book, psychopaths obviously have difficulties with this.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, there are three types of personality that have problems, disturbing problems. They're called the dark triad. They are narcissists, Machiavellians and psychopaths or sociopaths. And all of them have a defect in empathy, which means they don't care about the consequences for the other person of what they do, so they can be manipulative. They can use their ability to attune - to the extent they have it - just for what interests them. They don't care about the other person and it leads to great trouble.
CONAN: Keith, thanks very much for the phone call.
KEITH: Thanks for your answer. I appreciate that.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's talk with Mark, and Mark's on the phone with us from Lakewood in Ohio.
MARK (Caller): Hi, I was just wondering if that was why military uses basic training and puts an awful lot of men together in a very stressful situation, to make them rely on one another for a long while before they get out as a group?
MARK: If that's what they were developing for centuries without even knowing it.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Yes, I think that whenever a group of people is melded together in a team, whether that team is a platoon or Olympic crew or business team, to the extent that they have this nonverbal rapport, they will more automatically and effectively coordinate what they do. If they're off, it just won't work so well. So I think that the, you know, the military idea that's been around for centuries of developing a kind of platoon spirit and loyalty is reflecting that. But they also use the same thing in sports, and now they're using it in business.
CONAN: Mark, thanks for the question. Is it the same in men and women?
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, the circuitry is the same, but there are some systematic differences. And of course, Neal, this is a very dangerous question you're asking me…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. GOLEMAN: …but I'll be courageous and go right ahead and say there is data that shows, first of all, when you compare genders, they're largely overlapping bell curves, but there are a few systematic differences. Women tend to be a little better than men on average at sensing in the moment what the other person is feeling. This doesn't mean that they're better than men at emphatic accuracy - which is knowing how the person is thinking, how the person is seeing the situation - but they do have an edge and just intuitive sense of where the other person is emotionally.
On the other hand, to balance the scale, the men tend to be better than women on average at managing distressing emotions within themselves. So I think each gender has its strengths, and each gender has something to learn from the other.
CONAN: And as a species, you say we're especially good - you write later in your book about determining whether apologies are sincere and whether in fact sincere enough not to demand some sort of retribution.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, yes, and this is part of the - this reflects the fact that the social circuits actually seem to have gotten stronger and stronger the more important it was to read power dynamics within a group. Who's your friend? Who's your ally? Who can you depend on? Can you trust this person? Is this person being sincere? And so the social brain is very fine-tuned for those kinds of readings.
CONAN: We're speaking today with Daniel Goleman. His new book is Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
Later in the program, Amos Lee joins us from our bureau in New York to sing us a couple of tunes from his new CD, Supply and Demand.
I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Daniel Goleman is our guest today. His new book is called Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. Of course, you're welcome to join the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's get another caller on. This Obalardo(ph), who's with us from St. Louis.
OBALARDO (Caller): Hi, yes. My question is for Mr. Goleman. I attended Landmark College. It's a college for people with learning disabilities. And I'm one of those people who are socially intelligent, but I've had to struggle and fight my way through academia. I'm going to apply to Oxford Law School, and I have an interview on Friday in New York. And I'm just wondering how I can relate to my interviewer that I am this type of person; my academic background may not, you know, be very, very, very strong…
OBALARDO: …but that there's a need for people like me to reconcile what's going on in education and in the business world. Because I believe that the world is really in need of people who are innovative and creative thinkers.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Obalardo, I agree with you 100 percent. And in fact I've published some research and reviewed research that suggests that you're absolutely right. That once you get through the academic world, where it's you're cognitive abilities, the speed with which you learn - I mean a learning disability just means it might take you a little longer to get there, but you'll get there -that those hurdles are strongest during the school years. But once you get into the workforce, then what turns out to distinguish the stars from average is emotional and social intelligence: how we manage ourselves, how we handle relationships.
Businesses are starting to put a premium, for example, on employees with social intelligence abilities: people who will be good with customers, good with clients, good in negotiations, good on a team, good as leaders. And I think you can stress for him that data is showing that in fact once people are out and working, these abilities matter more.
However, it is important that you be able to handle the technical knowledge of a given field. You're aiming very high. Oxford is a tough place to get into for anybody, and I'd suggest that you have some backups. Because once you're in the field of law or any field, truth to tell, nobody cares where you got degree. It's how good you are on the job. So good luck with that interviewer. If you don't make the selection there, try somewhere else, but keep going. Good luck to you, Obalardo.
OBALARDO: Take care.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, too. Let's go now to - this is Sally(ph), Sally with us from Littleton, Colorado.
SALLY (Caller): Hello, thank you for taking my call.
SALLY: Yes, we have a son who is seven years old, and he has Asperger's. And I was just curious, I just read in Scientific American about the mirror neurons and was just interested in ways we can continue to teach him this social intelligence, which to him is definitely not innate...
SALLY: ...but we constantly are doing, you know, direct instruction with him. And was just interested in your thoughts with ways that we can continue to instruct him with this and if there were any other resources that you knew of that we could use.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Yes.
CONAN: And we're getting...
Dr. GOLEMAN: Sally...
CONAN: ...we're - just to interrupt - we're getting some e-mails as well on not just Asperger's but autism, but please go ahead.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Yes, sure. And, Sally, it's a very important question. It turns out - and I have a chapter on this in the book Social Intelligence - that the same circuitry, which is the basis of social intelligence abilities, is the part of the brain that's impaired in autism and Asperger's. But the good news is that there are other routes to effective social interaction and there are good training programs. And I just heard from a woman whose daughter has Asperger's. She found a wonderful program in New Haven, Connecticut. I posted the details on my Web site, danielgoleman.info, or at least it'll be there by the end of the day.
Dr. GOLEMAN: And it's a - you'll be interested to see that it's a program involves parents as well as a structured learning environment to help kids learn to use alternative brain circuits to do the job of interacting effectively. So good luck to you, Sally.
SALLY: Okay, well, thank you so much.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Sure.
CONAN: You argue in the book - and you've presented it here - how obviously, you know, this shows how relationships can affect our brain and our cells. You talked about the monkey's arm, if you will.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Yes.
CONAN: How does it affect our DNA?
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, this is rather surprising. It turns out that they're documenting now that at least two effects from social interactions to genes. And the surprise for most people is that how you turn out behaviorally is not just determined by the genes you're born with; more critical is whether they express themselves or not. Many genes we have never express themselves. We may as well not have them.
And genes are designed to be acted on by the environment. This is a new understanding called epigenetics. And newer still is social epigenetics, that certain genes, particularly for social behavior, are designed to be acted on by relationships. So if you have parents who are empathetic, responsive, who pay attention to you and know how you're feeling and act accordingly, help you recover from distress, it actually seems to affect the gene expression for your resilience. Resilience means how quickly you recover when you get upset from stress. So that's one pathway that's being identified.
Another has to do with people who are under unremitting stress, who are the only person caring for a severely disabled family member, for example. And they've found there a shortening in what's called a tele-mirror(ph) genes. The tele-mirror is the tail(ph) that shows how many times more this gene can divide after which it ceases to function. So it seems to show an impact from social stress to the life of certain genes. So this suggests a very profound level at which relationships can affect us, which is quite a surprise. I was surprised when I found out about it.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's get another caller in. Denise(ph), Denise calling us from Redding, California.
DENISE (Caller): Good morning - or good afternoon, gentlemen.
CONAN: Thank you.
DENISE: I have a question regarding an accident that I was in as a news reporter, and I was diagnosed with cervical dystonia. It was secondary to the closed-head injury. My question is as the last two years have gone by, I've noticed more people saying to me you're just too analytical, you know. And I know that DNA-wise my birth father is German.
DENISE: I'm having a difficult time with that social intelligence at this point.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DENISE: I don't know how to put that together (unintelligible).
CONAN: And I guess the question is can it be affected by injury?
Dr. GOLEMAN: The answer is yes, because this does rely on brain circuits, some of which are very vulnerable to injury because they're right in the front of the brain. It's called the prefrontal area, which is more easily damaged, more often damaged. But the good news is that the brain is plastic, that if you go through the right rehabilitation - I don't know if you're doing intensive physical therapy or other kinds of therapies, but it's very important after a brain injury of any kind in order to regain loss function. And I hope you're in touch with a really good neurologist up there in Redding.
Dr. GOLEMAN: You might go to UC Davis. I think that's not very far.
DENISE: Yeah, I am at UC Davis.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Oh, you are. Yes, good, well, you've got first-rate medical care. But it's very important that you participate in the rehabilitation and ask them about this. Don't ask me. I'm not a neurologist, but you do have one. That's the good news. And ask him specifically about this part of what you're noticing in loss of function. And keep working at it, dear. Good luck.
DENISE: Okay, all right. Thank you so much.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Denise.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Sure.
CONAN: Let's go to - this is Todd. Todd is with us from Kalamazoo in Michigan.
TODD (Caller): Hey, how you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
TODD: This is a really fascinating topic to me. I'm actually - I run a theater company, and I teach movement to actors so that they can find a larger emotional physicality that they can use when they're doing their work. And one of the ways I go about doing that is through a kind of a European style of training with mask work - giving the actors and having them do some long-term work in masks that are very theatrical. And in order to make the masks live, they have to mirror - they have to support the mask with their - the emotion in the mask with their bodies…
Dr. GOLEMAN: Hmm.
TODD: …so that they can find a greater expression of sadness or passiveness or aggressiveness. And I've always been really curious about the effect of, you know, mirror neurons and whether or not this kind of work is giving them like a subtle remapping of the brain or at least permission to use different physicality or emotional physicalities...
Dr. GOLEMAN: Sure.
TODD: ...than when we do in life.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Todd, I think that's quite ingenious. And if anyone is a graduate student listening to this, I think you should study Todd's method, because I bet that you're having a neural effect, because you're forcing people to use an alternate pathway. Most of our emotional expressiveness is in voice and face. But the body, of course, too, is a channel for expressing emotion.
Dr. GOLEMAN: And if you mask the face, then you force people to find more powerful ways of using the body. And by the way, actors are very skilled drivers of the audiences' mirror neurons. When an actor is on and the audience is really with that actor, it's a mirror neuron lock.
TODD: See, I've always felt that, and this is so fascinating to me.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Todd, well, you're on to something. Thanks, Todd.
CONAN: And good luck.
TODD: Thank you so much.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Nancy in New York State. Does the reaction of mirror neurons suggest the phenomenon of chemistry between potential lovers is a reality?
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, yes. And it's not just mirror neurons. I talk about other brain structures that are involved, for example, in the moment of a first kiss, which I think is quite relevant to your question. So it's the social brain, generally, which involves mirror neurons.
But a lot of other parallel circuitry that gives us that unstated sense that we're beyond rapport here. We're really ready to kiss for the first time. And by the way, the same circuitry has brain cells that bring the lips together at just the right speed, so it's not a disaster. So I think we have a lot to thank our social brain for.
CONAN: And considering the importance of first kisses, the fact that we should have this exquisite circuitry designed to facilitate it shouldn't be a surprise, I guess.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, I think we can just conclude that nature approves of first kisses.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Right. Let's see if we can get Barbara. Barbara's with us from Roanoke, in Virginia.
BARBARA (CALLER): Hi. Daniel Goleman, first of all, your work is great, your lifetime of work. My question is, in terms of the brain functions that you're describing, what is the researching showing how other animals - for instance, dogs have been noted as one of the best human ethologists - how is that related?
Dr. GOLEMAN: Yeah, you know, that's a wonderful question, because mammals share the same circuitry. A lot of the best work on the social brain has been done in other mammalian species, because we've got - we share most of the same circuitry when it comes to emotions, when it comes to reading faces.
And anyone who has a pet knows that your cat, your dog, reads you constantly. My wife and I have two horses, and they're very keen observers of our emotional state, and they're using the same circuitry.
BARBARA: Ah-ha. So they've done the same research on animal brains, like dog brains…
Dr. GOLEMAN: Well, what they've done - yeah, they often use animals, because you can do things with animals - experiments and so on that you can't do so easily in humans. What they've done less of is brain imaging, because it's very hard to get a horse to hold still for an MRI, for example. But the converging data says yes, we share the circuitry for the most part.
BARBARA: Interesting. Thank you so much.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Sure thing.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Barbara.
CONAN: Our guest Daniel Goleman's new book is Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Let's talk with Bill, Bill calling us from Oshkosh in Wisconsin.
BILL (CALLER): Hello. Daniel?
Dr. GOLEMAN: Yes, hi Bill.
BILL: Hi. We were classmates at Amherst, I believe. So now it's time I got you on the phone after all these years.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Oh, my goodness.
CONAN: And where's that donation to the alumni fund?
(Soundbite of laughter)
BILL: Well, I was going to ask Daniel that.
Dr. GOLEMAN: He means me, I think.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BILL: Well, Daniel, it's not like the…
Dr. GOLEMAN: Bill…
BILL: (unintelligible) I've been calling him. What - as an anthropologist and as somebody who has sometimes maybe been socially challenged in certain ways, I found that in my work that there've been a number of students who have trouble learning in a certain way. And that's cognitive type differences.
And also cross-culturally, there are often problems where people don't quite know how to fit it together. The Peace Corps training's worked, that type of thing has worked. But also we have a stereotype in American movies, you know, where the very emotive, lively, exciting young man goes home to meet the beautiful blonde girl's parents who are - not to mention any particular faith -but let's say of Northern European extraction, and there's a palpable chill in the air.
And it's a comic moment, but I guess my question is if people - couldn't people be trained - and it seems from the other questions it's possible - to take more account and learn more about these differences from focused negotiators, these professionals, perhaps in teaching students. And it would teach them better to work on problems that they have.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Bill, you point to something very important, which is the fact that every human group has the same social circuitry, but since most of this is learned and learnable, different groups, different cultures, even different families, may teach different ways of expressing emotions, of signing it, and of noticing.
And cross-culturally is probably the biggest challenge. I was just in Europe last week and I was asked about this, because they do a lot of business globally where it's very important to know the difference between to know the meaning of a sign that's in Japan and in Brazil. They have completely opposite meanings.
And part of empathy, part of what the social brain can learn and wants to learn is how do people where I am now operate. And I think that we need to get better at teaching Americans - who don't run up against enough people from other places as compared to say Europe - teaching Americans how to be more empathic, more attune to people who have different backgrounds.
CONAN: Hmm. Let's see if we can get one last call in. This is Pat, Pat calling from Wyoming.
PAT (CALLER): Hello?
CONAN: Hi, go ahead, Pat.
PAT: Yes. I'm an attorney and I handle quite a few custody cases, domestic relations cases. And periodically, we run into situations where one or the other of the parent has, I guess, social interaction problems such as borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorders, those kinds of disorders. And, quite frankly, the courts up to this point have kind of looked at, you know, whether or not there's going to be a physical harm.
And what we're discovering and I think what we're seeing and perhaps you're seeing in your research is is that sometimes the mental harm and the mental disabilities by the failure to learn from those parents is as impact as some of the physical disorders. And I'm just wondering if there's been much research on that area.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Yes. I think there's lots of research on how a parent respond style, parenting style, affects a child's learning in this area. But, of course, children are very resilient and can learn from other people. If they don't get it from one parent, they get it from a teacher or from the other parent or from a sibling. So it doesn't depend entirely on one parent.
The other thing is that if a parent is motivated, they can get better at tuning in, at being responsive, at being basically a good enough parent. So I would say that the fact that a parent has given diagnosis seems to - wouldn't necessarily disqualify them as a caretaker. But you would want to be sure that the child had other human resources, other people who care who can buffer them, who can help them with things that they're maybe not getting from a give parent.
PAT: Does there seem to be…
CONAN: Pat, I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there. We're running out of time. Thanks very much for the call, though.
And Daniel Goleman, we wanted to thank you for your time in joining us today.
Dr. GOLEMAN: Quite a pleasure, Neal. Thanks.
CONAN: Daniel Goleman's new book is Social Intelligence: the New Science of Human Relationships.
When we come back from a short break, singer-songwriter Amos Lee performs and takes your calls about his music, his career and his new CD, Supply and Demand. Stay tuned for that. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.