'Emotional Intelligence': growing whiners

September 10, 1995|By Paul R. McHugh, M.D. | Paul R. McHugh, M.D.,Special to The Sun

"Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ," by Daniel Goleman. New York: Bantam Books. 336 pages. $23.95

Daniel Goleman, a New York Times journalist with a Ph.D., has produced a book on psychology for the public that will chill any veteran scholar of psychotherapy and any neuroscientist who worries about how his research may come to be applied.

Each chapter begins with a little story. "Exactly why David Pologruto, a high-school physics teacher, was stabbed with a kitchen knife by one of his star pupils is still debatable" starts Chapter 3. "As so often happens to five-year-olds with younger siblings, Len has lost all patience with Jay, his two-and-a-half-year-old brother, who is making a mess of the Lego blocks," launches Chapter 8. Each of these stories leads into a broad brush description of some contemporary psychological/neurobiological research that the author thinks illuminates the emotional and brain states of the subjects.

The book, though, never sounds a critical note about the research. We are listening to a superficial reporter, not a serious scientist. Thus, every piece of research is "innovative," "unprecedented" or "revealing." The author - following the tradition launched by Rousseau - directs his criticism at our society for failing to produce people who understand their feelings. He believes - and this is the book's message - that psychological research has demonstrated how emotions affect our thought and that we can now act upon this idea.

Dr. Goleman proposes - in support of his concept of "emotional intelligence" - that childhood education should "school the emotions." He describes a class in "self science" at the Nueva Learning Center in San Francisco. The students are taught that "The subject in "self science" is feelings - your own and those that erupt in [school] relationships."

In such a class, teachers encourage emotional clashes among pupils and then dissect the children's feelings with them so that they "understand." Here is a teacher speaking to a fifth-grader who became upset in one of these encounters. "I appreciate the way you're being assertive in talking with [your classmate] Tucker. You're not attacking. You were feeling frustrated." She explains to Dr. Goleman, "We help kids understand that [anger] is almost always a secondary reaction and to look for what's underneath - are you hurt, jealous?"

Sound familiar? It's back - the soppy jargon and shallow thinking of the Encounter Group Movement that was so big in California in the 1960s. The T (for training) groups of that movement were a disguised form of emotional bullying in which the subjects - usually attending for educational rather than therapeutic concerns - were confronted about how they should "feel" by group leaders quite impervious to the superficiality and hostility of their interpretations.

These "learning experiences" simply exaggerated everyone's capacity to feel aggrieved and produced a mini-generation of whiners and emotional exhibitionists. The Encounter movement eventually collapsed under the burden of these results, and was devastated by depictions such as the comedy film "Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice."

Dr. Goleman's book teaches little science but does demonstrate that either he has no memory or he presumes that the rest of us have none. Psychiatrists have heard this message before, saw it tried on consenting adults, and treated the casualties. T Groups for toddlers - no way, not even in San Jose.

* Paul R. McHugh, M.D, has been director of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Hospital since 1975. His book, "The Perspectives of Psychiatry" (with P.R. Slavney), is a widely used text in five languages.

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