I DONâe(TM)T know whether authors Daniel Goleman and Karl Albrecht (or their publishersâe(TM) lawyers) have been duking it out over the coincidence of their book titles, but if so, we know from the new neuroscience that their amygdalae would be getting a workout.
The amygdala is located in the temporal lobes of the brain and controls arousal, fear and emotional responses as well as hormonal secretions. Itâe(TM)s more complicated than that, but this is popular science, so letâe(TM)s not get too worked up about it âe" just know that this little mass of nuclei in each of our individual brains is at the base of all manner of social disasters, from road rage to all-out war.
Now that we know this, and many other fascinating facts about the intricate workings of the human brain, will road rage and war come to an end? I doubt it, and this was my problem as I ploughed through these two earnest books. Psychologist Daniel Goleman achieved fame a decade ago with his bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, which posited the then-revolutionary notion that measuring a personâe(TM)s âeoeintelligenceâe as a function only of intellectual ability was wrong-headed. Geeky geniuses, in other words, may know a lot of things, but if they have no connection to their feelings and canâe(TM)t empathize or even hold a conversation with someone else, how far are they going to get in this world anyway? As the brainy couples of Californiaâe(TM)s Silicon Valley deal with a higher-than-average number of autistic offspring and as more parents everywhere attempt to manage their childrenâe(TM)s addiction to the almighty computer, in all its rapidly mutating forms, the issue of both emotional, and social, intelligence becomes a significant question.
In this latest book, Goleman optimistically outlines the latest scientific findings about whatâe(TM)s going on in our brains in any number of social situations: broadly speaking, we are âeoewired to connectâe with each other, it turns out. Our âeoeneural WiFiâe yearns to form âeoewebs of attachment.âe And when we kiss? Well, thousands upon thousands of poets and song writers have already described that feeling, but if you really want it scientifically deconstructed, thereâe(TM)s a whole chapter here entitled âeoeThe Neuroanatomy of a Kiss.âe Itâe(TM)s all got something to do with rapport-building activity in the prefrontal cortexâe(TM)s orbitofrontal area âe" in short form, the OFC. I eagerly await the next teen tv drama of same acronym.
Goleman writes with excitement about the neurological discoveries that suggest, or even prove, that altruism is instinctive, that compassion is as biologically based as aggression, and that the brainâe(TM)s plasticity means that even our genetic predispositions can be overridden, with positive social interaction âe" conclusions that fly in the face of âeoedog eat dogâe rationales that assert we are programmed to ruthlessly pursue our own individual interests, at the cost of othersâe(TM) well being.
Thatâe(TM)s all good news, to be sure, and psychologists and other scientists may find the lengthy descriptions and analyses of neurological research offered here will spawn new and creative thinking about social intelligence, which is Golemanâe(TM)s hope. The book also does a good job of summing up the latest brain research into the differences between male and female behaviours, suggesting that the female âeoetend and befriendâe bent is more socially positive than the male âeoego it aloneâe impulse. As an ordinary reader, I find the insights heartening, but Iâe(TM)m not sure that knowing what my amygdala and OFC are up to in any given interaction will do much to change my behaviour. Brain science may add something of value to the socially progressive (and intelligent) personâe(TM)s sense of whatâe(TM)s right or wrong in the world âe" and provides further defense to the case against right-wing, âeoegreed is goodâe approaches to life, but Iâe(TM)ve never felt the need for scientific proof, to get very basic about it, that being nice to each other is a better bet, socially speaking, than being nasty.
Management consultant Karl Albrechtâe(TM)s book of the same title (but different and telling subtitle), is well written and intelligent, but seems on some level best suited to the needs of the sociopathic business executive. Managers with zero natural social skills will find many nuggets here. âeoeAâe is for Authenticity and âeoeEâe is for Empathy, two chapters remind the reader. âeoeCan Sincerity Be Faked?âe one sub-head asks (apparently yes, says Albrecht, using the eminent example of Ronald Reagan). How best to boost your social intelligence, or âeoeSIâe (and can the forensic drama be far behind)? The conclusions, based on brain science, certainly take the wind out of any Enron-style business sails still billowing in the marketplace. I canâe(TM)t say they blew my mind, but then I like to think Iâe(TM)m not a sociopath: I agree with Albrecht, the best managers are supportive, know how to delegate, have a sense of humour, help you get ahead, give rewards and praise; the worst stab backs, complain, are mean, sour, cruel, loud, micromanagers who sexually harass and drink too much. Who knew?
If business managers, sociopathic or not, who read Albrechtâe(TM)s book learn that social intelligence means going the former route, thatâe(TM)s great. But again, the tips for success are the kind any rational, sane, civilized person would suggest, without benefit of PET scans or MRIs. Neurons will be neurons, but thereâe(TM)s nothing here you couldnâe(TM)t learn from an old philosopher or even your own common sense and life experience. âe"Moira Farr
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