Home » Daniel Goleman on Social Intelligence @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman on Social Intelligence @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Full text of psychologist Daniel Goleman’s talk on Social Intelligence @ Talks at Google conference. This event took place on August 3, 2007 at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

TRANSCRIPT:

Peter Allen: I’m Peter Allen. And I’m the director of Google University. And Meng asked to me introduce Daniel Goleman to you.

Daniel Goleman presents a challenge to us at Google. Having recently been hired here myself and having worked on hiring others, I know how sharply we focus on the quantitative evidence of intellect. We look hard at grades and standardized test scores because we believe they demonstrate ability and predict success at Google.

Now, IQ matters, of course, but Daniel Goleman has based his career as a writer and psychologist on the argument that IQ is only a part of what makes people succeed in their work and personal lives and not necessarily the most important part either.

In his books, Dr. Goleman addresses the role that emotions such as anger, humor, anxiety, optimism, melancholy, and happiness play in all aspects of our lives. He argues also that people can learn how to manage these emotions and that we therefore have the power to transform our relationship with our emotions and through them the relationships we have with our colleagues, our families, and our friends.

Perhaps most interestingly, he also argues that relationships have the power to mold not only human experience, but also human biology. In his belief that the power of education and in his belief in the power of education that –in his belief that positive characteristics like empathy are innate, Dr. Goleman reveals that he is fundamentally an optimist.

What distinguishes Daniel Goleman from old line proponents of positive thinking, however, is his grounding in psychology and neuroscience. Armed with a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard and a first-rate journalism background at the New York Times, Dr. Goleman has authored half a dozen books that explore the physical and chemical workings of the brain and their relationships with what we experience as everyday life.

His most recent book is called “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.” In addition to his writing, he has also played important roles in numerous organizations, including the Collaborative for Academics, Social and Emotional Learning and the Mind & Life Institute. The American Psychological Association has given him its career achievement award for journalism and he’s also been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Goleman’s talk today draws on recent data from cognitive and brain science to show how emotional intelligence adds to the IQ intelligence of which most of us today here are more familiar. He will show that skills such as self-awareness, emotional mastery, motivation, empathy, and social effectiveness have a greater impact than raw intelligence on career success, outstanding individual performance, leadership, and the creation of successful teams.

I’m feeling myself become smarter, more empathetic and more self-aware already, and I’m delighted to introduce Daniel Goleman to Google and Google to Daniel Goleman. Let’s hear what he has to say.

Daniel Goleman: Thank you Peter, for that very kind introduction. But, first, a disclaimer, just hearing about this is not going to make anybody more emotionally and socially intelligent. It might interest you in pursuing some of this.

What I want to do is build the case that these soft skills have hard value in an environment, of work environment like this. Even though the culture of tech may not necessarily explicitly value things like empathy or other elements of emotional intelligence, implicitly, this is what makes people highly effective no matter what they do.

And I want to give you the neuroscience behind this and some concepts that might help you rethink what the elements of success are in the workplace.

So here is the question. What is the relationship between raw intellect, IQ, and the other metrics of IQ, and emotional intelligence? So, by emotional intelligence, I mean how we handle ourselves, how we handle our relationships, the soft side of ability.

I’m going to argue that, because of the way the brain is structured, these soft skills have hard consequence because they are catalytic for whatever other abilities we have. They allow us to make the best use of them, to apply them, and to leverage them.

Now, here’s an interesting way of thinking about it. If you were to do a scatter plot of a large population sample and you did IQ against emotional intelligence, they’re roughly independent, so, you get a kind of a random distribution.

Now, if you take this pool and you map it on Google, or any other company that hires, that places a premium on cognitive abilities, this is the total sample. What you’ve done is really interesting because you’re skimming the top. Okay, let’s say this is IQ of 150 or whatever, it’s very high.

What you have now done is to make a very small difference for IQ, a very little variation in the population at the very top and a very large difference for emotional intelligence. That means that whatever emotional intelligence contributes to success in an environment like this, it matters more per unit than IQ does.

So there’s actually a floor effect here for IQ. You wouldn’t expect that IQ alone is going to help you be highly effective in this work environment because it’s not that much different from every other IQ on the floor.

Interesting. I was having a conversation with a guy on a plane next to me once. He turned out to be on the board of trustees at MIT. And he said, “You know, the real job of the board of trustee at a place like MIT is fundraising. And we did an internal study of alumni of MIT to see who are our biggest donors and what did they look like as students.”

And he said, “You know what we found? It wasn’t the quants, the 4.0s, the people who were absolutely brilliant all the way through school who ended up being so successful that they could give us hundreds of millions of dollars. It was people who were good enough to get in and good enough to stay and then get through, who had other abilities already. They were team captains, club presidents. They were starting their own businesses on the side already as undergrads. Those were the people who became the founders and heads of companies that grew to be big enough that they could afford to become our biggest donors at MIT.”

When I was at the graduate school at Harvard, they did a study, interesting study of how well your graduate school entry exams predicted success in that career. They did that in the business school, medical school, law school, ed school. And does anybody care to hazard a guess as to what the correlation is between, say, GMATs, GREs and career success?

Negative… what?

[Audience: Low.]

Low. Random. It’s random. It’s zero, because graduate school entry exams are designed to predict one thing only — that is, how well you’ll do your first year in graduate school. They do that very well.

The predictive power of IQ for career success that’s been found in hundreds of studies is somewhere around 0.2. That means that it accounts for 4% of the variation. It’s a very small factor.

But to look at it in another way in an organization like this, I’d like to introduce you to a concept that was developed by a professor of mine in Harvard named David McClelland that’s a notion of a competence. He said — back in the ‘70s, he wrote what was then a very radical paper in the main psychology journal — he said, “If you want to hire the best person for a job, any job, don’t look at their GPA, don’t look at their IQ, don’t look at their personality test. Instead, begin by looking in your own organization people who now or in the past held that job, the one the person is applying for, identify it by any metric that makes sense, the top 10%, the star performers, compare them to people who are only average in the systematic method. Identify the traits or competencies or abilities you find in the stars and not in the average and hire people who look like the stars.”

That’s called competence modeling now. It’s a very widespread methodology among world class organizations who use it to find out who should be — who should we be hiring, who should we be promoting, what should we help people develop so that we can be successful as a company.

When I wrote a follow-up book to Emotional Intelligence, I looked at a couple of hundred of those models and I was interested basically in one thing only, and that was how many of the competencies that have been developed, identified independently by companies around the world and in many different sectors are purely cognitive, IQ-like abilities, and how many mix cognitive and emotional capacities?

And those are the emotional intelligence ones. And I found that for jobs of all kinds at basically at every level, these emotional intelligence competencies were more important in predicting who would become outstanding. That ratio was about two to one. The higher you went in the organization, the more it matters.

So, for top leaders, you look at a competence model of the abilities that we’ve identified in outstanding leaders. Here, 80% to 90% of them are in the emotional intelligence domain. IQ turns out to be a threshold ability — particularly, of course, here with Google, it’s explicitly so.

You need to be smart enough to get in the game. Once you’re in the game however, what is it that is going to allow you to become an emergent leader and going to allow you to become the person who is most effective? And, here, it turns out these other abilities start to factor in a major way. These are what are called distinguishing competencies.

And I’ll read you the top six distinguishing competencies among star performers. This is for individual contributors in the tech sector. And this is kind of an aggregate of studies that’s been done in many different tech companies. And you can tell me if it makes any sense here.

The number one competence that distinguishes stars from average is the singular drive to achieve, to improve performance, to make whatever I’m working on better, faster, quicker, more powerful, more effective. And the sign of this competence is that people who have it have very high internal standards for success. They’re not really driven by what other people say matters; it’s that they themselves know how good something should be. And they hold themselves to that standard.

You work long hours to achieve that standard. It’s very compelling. People who have this like to keep score. You like metrics. You want to know where you are now: Are you better or worse? How much better can you be? Well, doing this help make it better.

Another sign of this is setting challenging goals. People who are innovative have this ability. Does this make any sense? Yeah? It resonates. Okay, that’s number one.

Number two is impact or influence. And this is being able to make persuasive arguments, being able to hold your own in a debate, being able to marshal data well, to tailor a presentation to the audience when, you know, if people are starting to glaze over one thing, you can shift to another mode, maybe tell and compelling story or something like that. Does that make difference? Do you think that manifests here? Not that important? I’m not going to ask for a vote, just you can nod or no.

[Audience: I think it’s more consistent across the…]

More consistent? It’s more a standard? Okay, so it’s not a distinguishing competency here at Google, necessarily. That could well be. This is for tech, generally. Google is, you know, in a sense, a universe on its own. Not exactly an alternative reality, but quite close to it.

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Number three has been called conceptual thinking, but it really means pattern recognition, seeing what matters, being able to pick up in dare and patterns what’s crucial, to make essential connections to identify the underlying problems and fix them, to recognize what will make a difference, what can I do that will make a difference.

Number four is analysis — breaking problems down systematically, anticipating obstacles, seeing the implication within a complex system of making a change here, how it will ripple through and ramify over there, for example, drawing logical conclusions.

By the way, number three and four are purely cognitive abilities. Number one and two are within the emotional intelligence domain.

The next two are also within the emotional intelligence domain. Taking on challenges without being told to do so, being persistent in tackling problems and in being self-confident, trusting your own judgment, for example. Or my friend, the guy who graduated at 12, he was like supremely self-confident, oh my god.

It also means liking to operate independently, not being told what to do, but having freedom and autonomy. Now, these may be more normative than distinguishing. It would be — it’s an interesting question here at Google where you have kind of the cream of the cream to look around at the culture and look around if you can identify what makes someone outstanding in any way, what the qualities are here that make people outstanding versus people who are outstanding in other universes, but kind of just normal every day here.

And I’m not claiming to know that, but I think you would be using the same methodology I’m telling you about.

So, let’s look at the neural basis of emotional intelligence versus IQ just to give you a sense of why this matters. And if you humor me, this is like a side view of the brain, just go along with that, okay?

The brain of all from the bottom up in evolution, and the brain is basically an elegant machine for survival and has been shaped by what works in survival. It turned out that among mammals, once we got to mammals, you needed to have a brain that registered emotions because emotions have in evolution the primary survival function.

There’s one structure in the midbrain that’s called the amygdala, which has the brain’s sentinel, has a privileged position in perception. Everything we see in every moment goes mostly to the sensory cortex, but a small part of it goes to the amygdala, not to other structures but to the amygdala, which scans it to see is this a threat. That’s a constant question in evolution: Is this a threat?

Or, more generally, the amygdala has presumably been structured in answer to one critical question for survival: Do I eat it or does it eat me? This is not a question you want to go Google, because in evolution, if you do, it just ate you. And so you didn’t pass on this design of brain to us.

The amygdala is a hair trigger. In other words, it would rather be safe than sorry. It gets a very fuzzy picture of what’s going on, but if it thinks it has a match, it has the ability to trigger what is called the HPA axis, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This is–this creates a rush of stress hormones, it changes the entire way the brain prioritizes information.

Once this axis has been triggered, it means that, for example, if the emotion is fear, everything relevant to what’s scaring us is what preoccupies attention. It captures attention. It changes the hierarchy within the memory so that we remember and think about only what pertains to the thing that is scaring us at the moment.

And it does all the other things of the classic stress response. It takes — it sends energy to the limbs so we can run or fight and flee or freeze, whatever. So, it’s the classic fight-flight-freeze trigger.

The problem is that the amygdala functions today the way it always has, and we don’t operate in a world now that has actual physical threats. We have — we operate in a complex symbolic reality where what we face are complex symbolic threats.

He is not treating me fairly. She is dissing me. Whatever it may be, these threats today trigger the HPA axis, the amygdala. And, so, when we are caught in the grip of a distressing emotion, it means that attention narrows and fixates and we get into a state which is suboptimal for most of life in ways I’ll unpack for you.

Now, one of the things that the amygdala does is create — when it really thinks something is urgent – create what is called an Amygdala Hijack, the signs of which are three. We have a very strong emotional response. It’s very sudden and intense, and you do something or say something – or send an email that when that that settles, you really regret. Right? That is a sign of an “amygdala hijack.”

And it happens to really intelligent people because we get really dumb when the amygdala takes us over, because we’re being run by our fears and our anger, by emotional repertoires that were learned unconsciously in childhood. We become very childlike.

Now, the good news is when we have an impulse from the amygdala that goes up to an area just behind the forehead, which is the prefrontal cortex. How did that happen? Did you do that?

It’s okay. No problem. Sorry. You know the guy.

So, the prefrontal cortex is very important. It’s the brain’s executive center. The PFC draws together information from all over the brain. So when you’re having amygdala hijack, like this guy is not treating me right, I’m so pissed off, I could slug him — I’m sure it never happens here, but just hypothetically, if it ever did — that impulse goes up to the executive center and it scans all other incoming information. It kind of Googles the brain very quickly and it tells… and it comes up with that crucial fact you need to know now, like, “Oh, but this is your boss. So, I’m not going to slug him. I’m going to smile and change the subject.”

And that is exactly the difference between cortical, purely cortical abilities, which operates solely in the top of the brain, the neocortex –that’s where the IQ resides — and emotional intelligence abilities, which integrate the executive center and the emotional centers because it’s not just the amygdala, it’s an extended network through the hippocampus and other elements.

The amygdala is very widely connected throughout the brain.

So, when I talk about emotional intelligence at the neural level, I’m talking about this cortical, neocortical, actually prefrontal, subcortical integration of abilities.

Now, there are four parts to emotional intelligence. There are four different domains. The first two — oh, I forgot something really important.

Prefrontal cortex, while I’m on the subject, it turns out that when the amygdala hijacks, it drives and takes over the right side of the prefrontal cortex. If you do a brain imaging when someone is having a hijack, someone is really scared or angry, you see a lot of activity in the amygdala and related circuits and a lot of activity on the right.

When we’re feeling good, we’re having a great day, we’re… good energy, I could take on anything, very enthusiastic and so on, you see a very different picture in the prefrontal cortex, the right is quiet and the left is hardly active.

Each of us — it’s been discovered by a fellow named Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin — each of us has a resting ratio of right to left activation that predicts quite accurately our mood range day to day. There’s a bell curve for it. Most of us are in the middle. We have good days, we have bad days.

If you’re very far to the right, it means that you are probably clinically depressed or have an anxiety disorder. If you’re very far to the left, things just roll off you. You hardly ever have a bad day.

And what the left does that the right does not do is have an inhibitory circuit for the amygdala. So, the amygdala sends out these thoughts that could become what are called depressogenic thoughts, something really upsetting or that could provoke an anxiety or make you really angry. And the left prefrontal cortex basically says, “Shut up. I don’t want to… I don’t need to hear that now,” and it calms the amygdala.

So, people who have this ability have more good days, more high energy, more self-confidence, more enthusiasm and better moods, basically.

So, the first two elements of emotional intelligence have to do with self mastery. And they are based — this circuitry is the neuro platform.

The first of these is self-awarenessknowing what I’m feeling, knowing why I’m feeling it. Self-awareness is very important for decision-making, particularly personal decision-making, but also business or even technical decision-making for quite an interesting reason.

There was a study done by a man named Antonio Damasio. He is now at UCS. He’s an expert on this circuitry. And because he is an expert on this circuitry, a very bright corporate lawyer who unfortunately had a prefrontal brain tumor which was operated on quite successfully and early but during surgery they snipped the connection between the amygdala and the PFC.

This lawyer went to see Damasio because his life was collapsing. And Damasio tested him and couldn’t see anything wrong. The lawyer’s life had collapsed in this way. He seemed to be able to function just as well after surgery as before, but he couldn’t keep his job. He lost his job. He couldn’t keep any job. His wife left him. He lost his house. He ended up living in his brother’s spare bedroom.

And, in despair, he goes to Damasio. He says, “Well, you’re an expert on the circuitry, can you figure out what’s wrong with me?”

Damasio gives him a battery of neuropsychological tests. Nothing wrong. Attention, memory, just as good as before surgery. IQ was very high still after surgery as it was before. But he couldn’t keep a job. And then Damasio got a clue. He asked him this question: When shall we have our next appointment? He realized that the lawyer could give him the rational pros and cons of every hour for the next two weeks, but he didn’t know which was best.

In other words, Damasio argues, when we have a thought, our emotional centers valence it for us. When we’re making a decision, our emotional centers prioritize for us. He no longer had that ability.

Damasio argues that in order to make a good decision — you know, which strategy should we follow, should our team go for plan A or plan B, how does this guy compared to the, you know, X other guys I’ve dated, should I marry this guy or not, should I leave this job for another — all of those decisions depend on our ability to draw on the wisdom of the emotions.

The wisdom of emotions is not just a pretty phrase. It actually refers to something that goes on very low in the brain, in the basal ganglia, its base brain. The basal ganglia observes everything we do in life, every situation and extracts decisions rules. That worked, that didn’t work. When I said that, I really blew it. When I said that, it really worked.

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Our life wisdom on any topic is stored in the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is so primitive that it has zero connectivity to the verbal cortex. It can’t tell us what it knows in words. It tells us in feelings, has a lot of connectivity, the emotional centers of the brain and to the gut. And it tells us this is right or this is wrong as a gut feeling.

So part of self-awareness is the ability to tune in to those subtle feelings. And this is very important for example, not just in decisions but when it comes to ethics and integrity. The answer to the question is what I’m about to do in keeping with my sense of ethics –meaning, priorities, values or whatever. It doesn’t come to us verbally. It comes to us through the same nonverbal neural system.

And we’ve got to be able to attune to feeling to read yes or no. So it’s a kind of moral rudder, too, in life.

The second ability in emotional intelligence is managing emotions. And managing emotions really has to do with our inhibitory ability. I don’t mean managing all emotions. I mean managing the disturbing, crippling, dysphoric emotions, the ones that get in the way, because emotions of course are what make life rich. You want to mobilize your passions.

In fact, the center for motivation for maintaining goal and pursuing it is in the left prefrontal cortex. The left prefrontal cortex with the connection to the hippocampus as a node for memory is what helps us keep in mind how good we’re going to feel when we finish this. And that’s probably very important around here, I think, because if you don’t have that capacity to keep reminding you about how it’s going to feel, you give up.

So, motivation very much depends on this circuitry. Another ability has to do with how — with the relationship between emotionality, impulsiveness and learning. There was a study done just down the road here, at Stanford, many years ago with four-year-olds, kids in Stanford preschool. And these are children of professors and graduate students at Stanford.

And each kid was brought in the room one by one, sat down at a small table, and a big juicy marshmallow was put in front of them. And the experimenter says to the kids, “You can have this marshmallow now if you want, but of you wait to eat till I come back for running an errand, you can have two then.”

Then the experimenter leaves the room. This is a situation, a predicament really that tries the souls of any four-year-old, I think.

[Audience: Or the rest of us.]

Or the rest of us for that matter, yeah. And I’ve seen the footage. It’s very funny. Some of the kids will smell it and then jump away like it was very dangerous. Some kids go off in the corner and sing and dance to distract themselves. About a third of the kids wait out the endless four or five minutes till, you know, the experimenter comes back and they get the two. And about a third couldn’t stand it. They just gobble it down on the spot.

But the payoff finding came fourteen years later. These kids are tracked down as they’re about to graduate high school. And the two groups are compared — the kids who grabbed and the ones who waited. Very interesting, kind of, staggering differences it turns out from such a small data point.

The kids who waited compared to the ones who grabbed get along better with their friends. They’re still able to defer gratification and pursue their goals.

And the stunner was this. On their SATs, they scored 210 points higher. It’s at 16 or more than standard deviation. I told this to the people at Princeton who make up the SAT, they were stunned. They said that’s as big as the difference we see between kids whose parents have — one parent has a graduate degree, at least, and kids whose parents have no education. It’s a huge difference. But these were all children of Stanford folks, very high IQ family.

So what’s going on here? What I think is going on is that impulsivity, agitation is the sign of the amygdala being poorly inhibited. And kids who can’t inhibit the amygdala do something or have a predicament in learning situation which handicaps them. And, that is –remember what I said that when the amygdala fires up, attention focuses on – and fixates actually on what is disturbing us, you know, those other girls won’t play with me. The melodramas of, you know, late elementary school, whatever it may be.

When that happens, it occupies the space of what’s called the “working memory.” Working memory is attention. You may remember from cognitive science the working — the capacity of working memory is a magic number seven plus or minus two bits of information.

Well, if six of those bits of information have to do with those other girls on the playground, it means you have one bit of information left for what the teacher is saying to you. In other words, the SAT, which is an achievement test — it’s not an IQ test, an achievement test, it’s a test of how much you learned over the course of school — shows that if you are chronically handicapped in this ability, you will not be able to learn. That’s the bottom line from that study.

And I think it’s true in any situation, in any work situation no matter what you’re trying to do. The extent to which your mind is preoccupied by distressing emotions is going to shrink cognitive capacity and make it harder for you to do the work at hand.

On the other hand, you could say that the ability to inhibit distressing emotions from the amygdala is an enabler of cognitive capacity because it leaves full attention available for what you’re trying to do.

So, let’s look at this from another angle, and that is if we were to — this is the way to map what’s happening with that HPA axis, the amygdala reactivity against performance in any domain.

So, here’s performance and here’s high and low HPA actively. And the function between them is an inverted U. This has been known for a hundred years in psychology. But what this really means is that when your HPA axis is low, that’s another way of saying you’re really bored. You’re just not into it, not engaged. And if you look at what’s going on the brain, there is a very fuzzy pattern of activation. Basically, your daydreams are as strong as your, okay, work cortex or whatever is going on.

However, the more engaged you get, the more motivated, the closer the deadline, the more interesting the challenge, et cetera, the more cortisol — that’s an indicator of HPA level — goes up and performance goes up. There is an optimal zone here which is where you want to get and stay. This is marked by what’s called Flow.

I don’t know if you know the literature on flow. Some of you do. But for those who don’t, a study by a guy named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, actually. We call him Mike, for short. And he did something really interesting several years ago. He studied people who were from many, many domains like brains surgeons, basketball players, ballerinas, chess players, and so on, and he asked them to describe the same thing. Tell me about the time you outdid yourself. Even you were surprised by how well you did.

And he realized that they’re all describing phenomenologically the same brain state. And it’s a state in which your attention is fully focused, it’s unbreakable, undistracted. Your skills are really challenged by the demand but adequate, able to handle it and it feels really good.

He argues most of the things we do in life voluntarily we do because they get us in a kind of a flow state. People who are — you know, when you really have — you know, you’re feeling buzzed and on, that’s flow. One of the signs of it is feeling good.

Damasio, the same guy who consulted with a lawyer says that the feeling of enjoyment during an activity is an indicator or proxy for optimal cognitive functioning. Optimal cognitive functioning means your IQ is going as much as it can. You know, you can be creative. You can be innovative. You can make associations. You can figure — solve problems at your best.

Then, however, if this continues, HPA activity continues, like you’ve got too much to do, too little support, too little time, your life is falling apart, you feel frazzled. The neurophysiology of frazzle is not — is that the HPA axis has gotten to a point where you’re not only secreting huge amount of cortisol but a big dollop of adrenaline and things fall apart cortically because you’re completely preoccupied by what’s causing the frazzle, with just dealing with the problems of life.

So, the best place to be for cortisol effectiveness, to leverage IQ skills is right there. And that is an emotional place. It’s a place that is determined by the emotional brain.

So, in this sense, I’d argue that the self-mastery aspect of emotional intelligence is catalytic for whatever cognitive abilities or talents you may have.

Now, the second two elements of emotional intelligence have to do with what’s called the social brain. The social brain is actually quite newly discovered. The discovery occurred when neuroscientists decided to go beyond studying one brain and one body and one person and to look at what happens in two brains, when two brains and two bodies and two people are interacting.

And they discovered circuits that they didn’t even know existed. They discovered that the brain is designed to connect, or wired to connect with the social brain of the other person. It’s the only part of human anatomy that is designed to attune to and regulate itself according to the internal state of the other person.

The big, the first big breakthrough was something called Mirror Neurons. Mirror neurons were discovered one day when some Italian neuroscientists were mapping the motor cortex of a monkey and they’re doing single cell recordings. And, one afternoon, they were watching a neuron which only fired when the monkey raised its arm.

And, one day, the cell fired and the monkey hadn’t moved. The monkey’s arm hadn’t moved. And then they realized what’s going on. It was a hot day and a lab assistant had gone out to get an ice cream cone and every time he took a lick, the neuron in the monkey’s brain for doing that fired.

That’s what mirror neurons do in our brains. It turns out that we have a diffused set, a ray of neurons, that elicit and activate in us a mirror image of what the other person is doing, feeling, or intending. And this is what allows us to synchronize interactions. This is what lets all the tacit, the tacit decision rules that let an interaction go smoothly occur without our having to think about it.

The social brain operates from the unconscious level, beneath consciousness, but it tells you when a conversation is about to end. In a room, when you’ve got a group trying to make a decision, social brains know the moment before someone announces it that we’ve got a consensus here because we’re reading everyone else’s non-verbals all the time.

And then somebody says, “Oh, I guess, it looks like this,” and everybody nods and then you can leave, but it’s done by the mirror neurons.

Another thing that’s very important they find is that this means there is an emotional subtext to every human interaction. No matter what’s going on explicitly, tacitly, we’re making each other feel a little worse or a little better, or a lot worse or a lot better at this sign off level.

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They’ve looked at top leaders in many different organizations, people who are identified by some hard metrics within the organization that they’re on top ten percent, and they watched how they interacted with other people. And they found, interestingly, those most effective leaders laughed three times more. In both, there was laughter three times more in that interaction than the mediocre leaders.

It turns out there are mirror neurons whose sole task is to spot a smile or a laugh and make us smile and laugh in return. It’s like an intimate brain to brain connection. It builds rapport. If you look at what’s going on during moments of rapport, you’re seeing the social brain in action.

If you maunder the physiology and neurology of two people’s bodies while they’re having a conversation, if things are awful, just not connecting, or not communicating here, the two bodies, the physiology is independent.

But when people feel really connected, this is really, you know, had a good rapport, we had good chemistry, you see the bodies are going like this. And I’m talking about heart rate. I’m talking about physiology. I’m talking about autonomic function. We’re on the same page.

The ingredients of rapport, a moment of rapport are three. Both people are paying full attention. You’re really attuned. The non-verbals look like a choreographed dance. You know, when I do this, you do that. It’s not anything we decide to do unless we’re doing each other or offering salsa lessons here, but other than that.

But this is what creates a feeling of being well connected. And the third thing that happens emerges from that is it feels good. So, the key to rapport is to pay full attention and let the social brains do their dance. That creates that chemistry.

Some other interesting findings from the social brain, one has — I find very fascinating. People — women, one by one are having the brain’s image and they’re just been told they’re going to get an electric shock. You see the HPA axis light up. If someone comes and holds some woman’s hand, it quiets down. If a little bit, however, if her husband comes and holds your hand, it goes completely calm.

In other words, we are biological allies for the people in our lives who love us and who we love. Your mere presence for someone who you care about, who’s distressed, does something inside their body which is healthful.

On the other side of the equation, of course, it can work quite the other way. I was talking to a woman who had a death of a sibling and she’s very upset and she got a condolence call, a phone call from someone who had a brother died and she thought she could really open to him by how she felt, so, she’s kind barring her feelings of loss and grief.

And then she noticed, in the background, she could hear the clicking of a keyboard. Really? Are you kidding? No way. And she realized that this guy was doing his e-mail, and she said she felt like she’d been punched in the stomach.

And the circuitry for emotional hurts, social rejection is identical to that which registers pain. So, because we don’t have enough time, I won’t tell you how old this manifest is in text stars, but it’s in the books or — and you’re all getting the book for free, right? Yeah. Some of you. Okay. That’s beyond my control.

Yeah. Well, I just punch on the stomach, so I guess that’s the end of my time.

Let me fast-forward here to say that the good news is that the circuitry which manages these emotional intelligence abilities is malleable through life. It’s called neuroplasticity. And we can continue to strengthen and build this circuitry if we have the right learning situation.

It turns out one of the ways to build this platform generically, and this is kind of a surprise, is through meditation.

Davidson, who discovered the left-right racial has been studying Olympic-level meditators and he finds that there’s a dose response relationship. The longer you’ve been meditating, the stronger the circuitry in the left prefrontal cortex becomes for managing and inhibiting distressing emotions, and the better you feel.

And it’s not just Olympic-level meditators, he’s found in studies — study in a high pressure tech company, which will not be named, that if you start to meditate, you see the beginning of strengthening of that very circuitry within the first eight weeks.

So, the neural basis for all of this can be generally upgraded. It’s the bottom line. And the Meng tells me that there’s a meditation group here once a week and I think there’s going to be a course at Google University for those of you who are interested.

But let me end with a finding from this study of advanced meditators. There was one guy and he was actually here, Matthieu Ricard. He was being studied and they wanted to see, those that kind of studying the social brain aspects of it, they wanted to see how he did in a kind of a debate, a confrontation. And they used a paradigm that’s familiar from marital research where a couple will have a talk about something they disagree about and have their neurophysiology measured, heart rate and so on during the conversation.

But because he was a monk, they couldn’t ask to do it with his wife. So they did kind of a quiet survey in the UC system of who the most abrasive confrontational professor might be and, oddly enough, everybody agreed right away. So, they called that guy and said in the interest of science would you take part in this. They didn’t say why he’d been selected. And he said sure.

And — but then as the day grew near, he kept making demands, which became more and more unreasonable. So they had to dump him and go with the second most confrontational.

So the day comes and Ricard, who gave up his promising career in microbiology at the Pasteur Institute, his mentor actually won a Noble Prize, he decided to drop that and go meditate in a hut, in Nepal for 25 years. The proposition was that this professor should give up his ten-year position and do the same thing.

So the measures, the blood pressure, and so on show that — or heart rate rather, and so on — showed that at the beginning of the debate, the professor was really worked up, really agitated. His HPA axis was flipping out. Ricard was very calm.

Over the course of the 15-minute debate on a topic, Ricard stays completely calm and the professor gets more and more, and more calm. At the end of 15 minutes, he’s having such a good time, he didn’t want to stop.

And what this says is that if we have a very well-groomed, left prefrontal cortex, we can spread that good feeling as part of every interaction with everyone during the course of the day.

Thank you very much.

Do we have time for questions?

Peter Allen: I think we do have time for questions, if you like to take some. Shall we?

Daniel Goleman: Yeah. Any questions? Yes. There’s a mic there actually. It may be…

Peter Allen: We have to take only one or two questions.

Daniel Goleman: One or two. We need to vacate the room.

Audience: So, there’s a recent book by Al Gore, Assault on Reason, and the first, you know, 20, 30 percent has a lot to do with research like this, about, you know, how people make decisions and fear drive things. Have you seen that? And do you have any comments on, you know, if he’s taking too many liberties or if it’s fairly straight off.

Daniel Goleman: I’m afraid I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment.

Audience: Hi. I’ve read that one of hallmarks of people with ADD is they’re more impulsive…

Daniel Goleman: True.

Audience: And that the same level of stress which would be productive for typically, typical people can send them into… grow the HPA overall…

Daniel Goleman: Sure.

Audience: Besides meditation, are there things that…

Daniel Goleman: Well, you could say that meditation is a non-pharmaceutical Ritalin for those kids, because what it does is strengthen their own capability to calm that impulsivity. And I personally feel it makes more sense to give kids — to have kids do some internal skill building than to medicate them.

Audience: Do you have any advice for parents if you have children who are — don’t seem to have a lot of emotional intelligence? And can pets help?

Daniel Goleman: Can pets help? Well, a really emotionally intelligent pet probably can.

First of all, the thing about kids is by definition, they don’t have a lot of emotional intelligence. There’s the learning, the reason is that this PFC amygdala circuitry is the last part of the brain to be put in place, anatomically doesn’t fully mature until mid-20s. So you have to be patient with kids because they don’t have from the get-go the inhibitory abilities that we do.

And when you help them empathize, when you help them — they use something, there are programs called social emotional learning which teach these skills in schools, and one thing they have is on the wall of every room, a stop light that says, “When you’re upset, remember the stop light, red light, stop, calm down, think before you act.” Yellow light, think of a range of things you could do. Green light, try out the best one.

And any time you as a parent can help your kid do some analogue of that, you’re strengthening the inhibitory circuitry left PFC, which –and the other thing you can do for the social brain is to help kids understand why they feel the way they do and how, what they do makes other people feel.

And you need to teach those lessons repeatedly at the right cognitive level as kids change and develop mentally. So, just wait. You know, by their 20’s, it would be fine.

Audience: Professor, thanks for coming. I’m a big fan of all your work.

Daniel Goleman: Thanks.

Audience: Have you ever studied people that are in love, whether or not the EQ or IQ, you know, function of the brain work a little bit better? I’m trying to understand my girlfriend better.

Daniel Goleman: Well, is your girlfriend here?

Audience: No, she isn’t.

Daniel Goleman: I can’t help you understand your girlfriend. In the book Social Intelligence, I talk about the three different brain systems that are involved in love. One of them is an attachment system, which is who you care about and miss when they’re not present.

The other is a caring system, care taking, the people you want, the person or people in your life you want to take care of or nurture. And the third is sex. When all three of those things are activated and aimed at the same person, you’ve got a really strong relationship.

But the one of those three that most strongly determines whether the relationship will last is caring. So that’s just a general advice. I don’t think it has anything to do with your girlfriend particularly, but just in general.

Resources for Further Reading:

Focus – The Secret to High Performance and Fulfilment: Daniel Goleman (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: Why Aren’t We All Good Samaritans? (Transcript)

How to Open Up The Next Level of Human Performance: Steven Kotler (Full Transcript)

How Mindfulness Changes the Emotional Life of Our Brains: Richard Davidson (Transcript)

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