The “Other Lobe” and Emotional Intelligence

April 4, 2009 at 10:46 AM
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The “Other Lobe” and Emotional Intelligence


An article appears in today’s Boston Globe by Drake Bennett, “The Other Kind of Smart: Is it Time for Schools to try to Boost Kids’ Emotional Intelligence?”  We just had to react to it.


The article is a good read and covers an important topic discussing various programs and curricula that could help our children build skills in reading and better interacting with the emotions of others.  One can imagine that such heightened skills would reduce bullying and allow greater cooperation on academic learning – the so-called “reading, writing, and arithmetic.”  We recommend you read it and gave the link above.


However, we also want to point out that this is not quite what we had in mind when we began our blog.  The distinction we want to draw is more than just our focus on college education vs. the article’s focus on K-12.  The other lobe of the brain function that we want to discuss is really more in logical computation as pointed out by Damiaso, who is also cited in the article.  It is situated in a Community of Practice.  We see it in social media in the web.  It is about making decisions, both large (what career path should I follow?) and small (does this sentence or equation make sense?).  We like this kind of “other lobe” learning best when it occurs outside the traditional highly controlled classroom where students are too often passive learners.  Perhaps the best example is Cooperative Education or what is known outside the United States as Work Integrated Learning.  Here the student is temporarily a full member of an independent enterprise (think law firm or hospital).  They are paid.  They are on their own, just like they soon will be after graduation.  Other such experiences also provide such independence and challenges and include study abroad, undergraduate research with a faculty member, service and service-learning, internships, community research, etc. 


Most importantly, we want to argue that this use of the emotional system directly enhances field specific knowledge.  It just happens outside the facts-and- theories academic intelligence in our cognitive systems.  It comes from practice.  To talk about it often requires reflection. There is a lot of intelligence in the nervous system we take for granted, like the automatic calculus problem we solve when we place our hand in the path of an arcing ball thrown gently to us by a friend or whether we think what you say makes sense.


So, read the article and the larger literature it cites, but we think you shouldn’t confuse its good work with the points we are trying to make.  Write back with what you think.


-Jim and Shwen

Anterior cingulate cortex and cortical re-representation of limbic processes of emotional conflict

2 Responses to “The “Other Lobe” and Emotional Intelligence”

  1. Vanessa says:

    I somehow missed this Globe article (too much homework) but I have some points to make. First, I liked the article in the Globe but I do think they over simplified the literature a bit, I’m guessing, for the sake of the audience. The connection between emotion and intelligence of any sort is much more complex than the ability to correctly perceive emotions and other nonverbal cues. In fact, from the literature cited in the article, it is unclear whether the significance lies in the practice of decoding nonverbal cues, or through practice itself. It s unclear also from the article if perception or expression of nonverbal cues need to be improved, as research in the nonverbal communication literature has found that one does not reflect the other. Further, there are certain populations of children and students that are better at perceiving nonverbal cues, such as musicians, dancers, and even athletes. It would have been interesting if the article had made more reference to these programs, as it is not the case that they don’t already exist, just that they may need more attention and funding. Further, people in general are pretty good at perceiving nonverbal cues (at least they are better than random guessing), so the question lies in what provides people with a perceptual advantage? My own research has looked at this, and I have found a distinct relationship between experience and perceptual accuracy, with regards to dancers compared to non-dancers. Definitely an interesting topic nonetheless!

  2. Jim Stellar says:

    Thanks for the comment. This is particularly relevant since a post we are doing together is about to go up. I won’t anticipate it here, but I want to raise the general question about the linkage between the logic circuitry of nonverbal cue perceptual systems and the logic circuits that provide us with our ability to talk about and cognitively think about matters. This issue gets back to that quote we cited in the “About” section of the blog from Pascal, “The heart has reasons of which reason does not know.” Folks with better developed nonverbal cue processing (whether learned or unlearned) are probably better at making the most out of their co-op experiences, but are they better at learning from their experiences on co-op? Also, how do we help them get the most out of that learning, perhaps by reflection?

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