“Empathy” – Who’s Got It, Who Does Not

When President Obama tells us he wants a compassionate Supreme Court justice with “empathy” for people’s struggles, he’s wandered into arguments within psychology of what we mean by the term.

There are at least three varieties of empathy, each with very different implications for spotting the right candidate. The first, cognitive empathy, means that we can understand how the other person thinks; we see his point of view. This makes for good debaters, sales people and negotiators. On the other hand, people who have strengths in cognitive empathy alone can lack compassion – they get how you see it, but don’t care about you.»

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Success: The Rest of the Story

In his fascinating new book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell makes a strong case that people owe their success to a lot more than IQ.  He reviews data and offers convincing cases to show that above an IQ in the neighborhood of 110-115, IQ fails as a predictor of success in a career.  In other words, you need to be smart enough to handle the cognitive complexity of the information you need for a given role or job, be it engineering, law, medicine, or business. That’s the IQ around 115. But after reaching that threshold of “smart enough,” your intellect makes little difference.»

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Can There be an Emotionally Intelligent Society?

I found an intriguing answer to this question when I made a recent visit to the picturesque seaside city of San Sebastian, capital of Gipuskoako, one of three provinces that make up the Basque area of Spain. San Sebastian also happens to be a world-class center for the development of social and emotional intelligence, due to an ambitious initiative to upgrade these human aptitudes not just in schools, but also in families, communities, and businesses.

Thirty to forty percent of schools there have curricula in social/emotional learning, and more are being phased in. There are emotional intelligence programs for parents and families, even communities.»

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Flame Out

At last there’s a way to cool down before we flame online; those folks at Google have come up with a remedy for emotional hijacks at the keyboard.

A “flame” occurs when we’re a bit agitated – frustrated, anxious, jealous, emotionally desperate – and compose an email, hit “Send” … and regret having sent it.

This happens particularly often online, as I’ve explained in Social Intelligence, because the brain circuitry that kicks in to keep us from embarrassing ourselves while face-to-face on the phone with someone gets no signals online.  The result has been called the “disinhibition” effect; what gets disinhibited is our emotional impulses.»

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Good Work!

What’s the connection between our work and leading a good life?

Howard Gardner and I (we’ve known each other since our grad school days) had the chance to explore this question when we got together near Cambridge for a taped conversation (you can listen in on Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values, available from www.MoreThanSound.net). We explored the implications of Howard’s recent research, done with William Damon at Stanford and Mike Csikszentmihalyi, famous for his studies of “flow.” The team has been studying the ways in which people are able to combine excellence in their job with expressing their values – what they call “good work” (see their website, www.goodworkproject.org).»

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What’s Your Emotional Style?

Who among us has not gotten upset by an argument, an unsettling talk with our boss, or a bad grade?

And have you noticed that some of us get over these troubling encounters quickly, while others sulk or fume for a long time?

Just why people some people are better at recovery than others, and what that says about their brain function, was explained to me by Richard Davidson, the director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin. Richie, as I’ve known him for years, was a graduate student with me long ago, and I’ve often written about his groundbreaking neuroscience research in my books.»

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