Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Emotional Intelligence and Delinquency

Emotional intelligence is the ability to read emotions. Someone with strong emotional intelligence might be a very good poker player. He will be able to identify the “tells” he sees on his opponent’s face and act accordingly.

Assuming that your friends have not been botoxed and surgeried beyond recognition, you will, when engaging in a conversation with them, pick up cues from their faces. These cues will tell you when they are enjoying the conversation and when you have veered into uncomfortable territory.

The ability to read these emotions will allow you to continue or to change a topic, without forcing your interlocutor to tell you to stop. If you can do so you will save everyone the embarrassing moments when someone asks you to please change the subject.

Emotional intelligence allows you to economize your conversation, to master the arts of tact and consideration and to make a connection with another person.

Of course, emotional intelligence also involves your ability to read your own emotions, to read them as indicative of aspects of your experience.

The two are obviously connected. You read other peoples’ emotions by mimicking their facial expressions and monitoring the emotion it produces in you.

Emotions try to tell us something. Those who can interpret them correctly are in better shape than are those who ignore them.

One understands that many people can easily confuse emotional intelligence with empathy. If the empath feels your pain, someone with emotional intelligence sees an emotion as a piece of information. He makes use of it in making a decision.

When a poker player reads “tells”, he does not just want to feel the anxiety or the confidence of his opponent. He is looking for information that will enable him to hold ‘em, fold ‘em or go all in.

Now to the fun part.

It has generally been assumed that women have more emotional intelligence than men. And it has also been assumed that women are more inclined to use their emotional intelligence to care for and comfort other people.

Now, this appears to be wrong. Women with more emotional intelligence tend to seek more thrills and to engage in more delinquent behaviors. Apparently, having more emotional intelligence does not necessarily make women more caring and more moral. It makes them more likely to bully and manipulate.

Lori Keong reports in New York Magazine:

For the study, led by Plymouth University’s Alison Bacon, researchers asked 96 college students a series of questions to evaluate them on a spectrum of thrill-seeking tendencies, delinquent behavior, and emotional intelligence. They had expected that while people with thrill-seeking tendencies might also have delinquent impulses, if these people also had high levels of emotional intelligence, that intelligence would help them curb those impulses. This was true — but only for males. Females were actually more likely to engage in delinquent acts if they reported higher levels of emotional intelligence.

Did we get that right? Men who have high emotional intelligence use it to curb their delinquent impulses. Women, not so much.

Keong continues:

Why might that be? Part of it may come down to the fact that, young females tend to process their emotions differently than males and to gravitate toward different forms of delinquency. Troubled young men, the researchers note, externalize their emotions and tend toward violent acts in their delinquency — acts that don’t generally require a sophisticated understanding of how other people think. Young women, on the other hand, tend to internalize negative emotions and may be channeling this energy into forms of delinquency that require more emotional understanding, such as bullying and social exclusion.

“When you think about manipulative behavior or Machiavellian ways of relating, for that to be a successful social strategy, you have to have some degree of emotional intelligence,” said Bacon. “You have to understand what effect your behavior is going to have on other people, in terms of their thoughts, or feelings or emotions … otherwise you won’t have the social skills to pull that off.” In other words, in the wrong hands, emotional intelligence is more than a valuable skill for navigating daily life — it’s also a potentially potent weapon. 

What does this mean?

It suggests that delinquent males and delinquent females have different ways of being delinquent.

Men use force to impose their will on other people. Women use subterfuge to manipulate people emotionally.

Given the male style of delinquency, a sense of the other person’s feelings will shift the game into an alien mode and make it more difficult to continue to bully him.

Given the female style of delinquency, a sense of the other person’s feelings provides an opportunity to abuse and manipulate the other person more effectively.

One suspects that, on the whole men are more likely to be delinquent, except when their emotional intelligence gets in the way. 

Whatever else this research tells us, it helps us to dispel the idea that men and women are the same thing and it counters the notion that men and women function socially in the same way.


Ares Olympus said...

re: One understands that many people can easily confuse emotional intelligence with empathy. If the empath feels your pain, someone with emotional intelligence sees an emotion as a piece of information. He makes use of it in making a decision.

I agree there's easy confusion. Like Simon Baron-Cohen's Empathizing–systemizing theory differentates between a Empathy Quotient (EQ) and Systemizing Quotient (SQ).

Meanwhile we have "Emotional intelligence (EI) as an ability to monitor one's own and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior."

And this paragraph suggests why this is an important skill:
"Studies have shown that people with high EI have greater mental health, exemplary job performance, and more potent leadership skills. Markers of EI and methods of developing it have become more widely coveted in the past few decades. In addition, studies have begun to provide evidence to help characterize the neural mechanisms of emotional intelligence."

So I wonder how these two theories relate. It also makes me wonder how they are measured, and if there is a gender difference in how EI is USED in people by gender, we might also consider this is in part CAUSED by how EI is MEASURED.

I also wonder about the study, looking only at college age women. It does make sense that "power corrupts" so if young women find their EI gives them a social advantage, they may abuse that power for a few years until the learn the consequences.

The wiki article talks about this:
"Adam Grant warned of the common but mistaken perception of EI as a desirable moral quality rather than a skill, Grant asserting that a well-developed EI is not only an instrumental tool for accomplishing goals, but has a dark side as a weapon for manipulating others by robbing them of their capacity to reason."

So is EI a skill or an intelligence? If you called it "Emotional skill", perhaps there'd be less confusions as well?

Anonymous said...

Why not just call it emotience?

Ares Olympus said...

I peeked at the original paper, so its looking at "senation seeking" behavior in relation to EI.

What's interesting to me is to also consider that GIRLS physical activity tend to NOSEDIVE after puberty, while BOYS tend to be more active with sports and other physical activity.

Wouldn't it be wild to find out the girls who were abusing their EI were actually physical-activity starved? What if they had been encouraged into directing their surplus energy into sports, they'd be less likely to abuse their EI skills?

Of course maybe it's just biology that girls become sedentary after age 10, and eliminating Gym class from schools has nothing to do with this "natural" process of girls growing up?

"Results indicated that sensation seeking and frequency of DB were positively associated, but this effect was moderated by trait EI for male participants – those with lower trait EI showed a greater increase in delinquency, in line with a rise in sensation seeking. No moderation effect was observed for females, and females with higher levels of trait EI reported more DB."

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The people with the highest levels of self-esteem are incarcerated criminals. I can only assume that emotionally intelligent delinquents have strong self-esteem, too. And there is nothing more important than self-esteem. Ask anyone.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

And high-EI thugs are also quite sensitive about not wanting to be "dissed," which is urban slang for "disrespected." When you consider the minor social infractions that define being "dissed," you wonder if such characters are emotionally intelligent at all. Yet they later go to prison for high transgressions, which are never their fault, you know, because they were so "dissed." After all, it is sensible that someone has to be wounded, maimed or killed because of such a terrible slight. The thug's subjective emotional value system allows them to retain their honor/pride, and have great self-esteem. How about the recipient of the street justice that was meted out to resolve one's being "dissed"? This is why sound thinking about EI is really based on effective choices and superior outcomes, not just empathy, which will justify prideful rage and enable manipulation. You can empathize with the best of 'em and make terrible choices that harm self and others. The primacy of empathy as a high cultural value has raised emotional subjectivity and fleeting feelings to become the ultimate justification for all sorts of antisocial behavior, as well as prideful pandering to another's weakness, rather than their greatness. The result? Chaos. Pure, unmitigated emotional anarchy. It's quite insane. But we all get to be right, because our feelings tell us so. How reassuring. Pardon me if I throw up amidst all this self-congratulation, which is always the hallmark of high liberal thought. Forget the results... it's the intentions that matter!

David Foster said...

Interesting hypothesis & study. But the scale for "delinquent behavior" seemed to oriented toward the kind of things bad boys would be likely to do, rather than the kind of things they were hyphothesizing bad girls would be likely to do, such as knife-in-the-back gossip.