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  • paulinethepsychologist

Rethinking the EQ or IQ Question

This series is dedicated to emotional intelligence – what it is, why it’s important, and what we can do to increase our EQ so we can experience more ease and effectiveness in our relationships, careers, and lives. This blog will focus on how EQ and IQ interact in the learning process.

EQ refers to being feelings smart.

Research tells us that EQ is related to many “critical life success factors, such as better effectiveness, relationships, wellbeing and quality of life. EQ has been found to be twice as predictive of performance as IQ” (6seconds).

Many people ask me, what is more important? EQ or IQ?

My answer? The question itself needs to be challenged.

“We don’t ‘think’ with one part of the brain and ‘feel’ with another; The process of learning is built into the very same neural circuits as the process of social-emotional interaction (6seconds).

It is a myth that EQ and IQ are mutually exclusive. EQ and IQ need to work together. When feeling and thinking work in tandem, we make the best decisions.

It doesn’t matter as much how intelligent you are if you are not able to manage your emotions or work with others. Your career and your personal relationships suffer.

  • We all know people like this!

We also cannot learn when we feel afraid, anxious, or bored.

  • We have all experienced this!

While I sometimes talk about the functions of the forebrain being “offline” during heightened anxiety, in general, thinking and feeling work together neurologically. The brain operates in an integrated and complementary way.

Emotions are an essential component of the learning process. We cannot stop being emotional beings in order to learn. We cannot leave our emotions at the (even electronic) doorstep of our workplace in order to learn.

Learning and emotion go hand in hand! They can be best buds.

  • Do you know that you actually encode information better when you laugh?

  • Do you know that feeling self-confident actually helps you learn better?

  • Do you know that it is actually neurologically impossible to think deeply about something you don’t care about?

Emotions are tied to our capacity to learn in so many ways.

And yet, the last place many of us formally learned about emotions is in school early on. There were no courses on understanding and handling our own and others’ emotions.

At a variety of university settings, I have taught psychological “life skills” including accurate emotional information, debunking emotional myths, mindfulness skills, distress tolerance skills, and healthy coping mechanisms.

So many of my students have told me, "I wish I knew about all of this earlier!"

Me too. Me too.

Having a toddler, I am encouraged for the next generation. I see how much social-emotional development is stressed in the kind of programs in which he is involved and how much more attention this domain of development is getting overall (see The CA Dept of Education).

These are the most important years of life and many, many of us did not get the foundation we needed. But there is hope.. read on.

Let me share a couple examples from my college days to illustrate how much emotions and EQ either encourage or inhibit learning:


I remember doing very well in a notoriously difficult class at UCLA partly because the Professor was so funny, attentive, kind, and encouraging. I was engaged and curious and focused during his lectures and worked really, really hard despite the material being very dense, complex and theoretical.

During the exact same quarter, I had an internship at a big music corporation (which shall remain unnamed). Although I was a bright student and had been chosen from dozens of other applicants, the dynamic with my boss was a very negative one and I was often uncomfortable at work. After months of being there, I still didn't know some basic things like how to properly use the phone system or label things for the mail room (also, was it on the basement level or L1?). I remember telling a friend, “I FEEL dumb there. I keep making mistake after mistake and I can’t seem to actually learn anything.”

Years later, I know what was happening. I felt so unsafe and unseen there that no information was actually being learned. I was messing up on tasks because when I was being taught, there was so much tension and negativity in the air that I couldn’t actually input any information. I couldn’t learn even though I was desperate to and the more eager I was to please my supervisor, the less I seemed able to actually perform. Fear can motivate us in the short-term, but it doesn’t help us learn in the long-run.

I was dumber at that job - not because of my intelligence but due to EQ factors.

My IQ couldn’t save me. The emotions I was feeling and the lack of EQ from my supervisor blocked me from being able to actually learn anything useful or be useful to them.

Has this ever happened to you in the workplace?

Have you ever seemed to rise up during challenges, learning things you thought were way outside your scope of competence, because you felt safe and supported? Conversely, have you ever seemed unable to attend to seemingly easy duties because of workplace dynamics and how they made you feel?

Has this ever happened to you in your personal relationships?

Have you been able to learn about your partner’s reactions to your behaviors because you felt like they are expressing them kindly and wanted the relationship to thrive or did you forget what the fight was about the second it happened because you were so afraid, angry, or both, which leaves you waiting for the next time the same fight ensues?

Life involves learning (hopefully).

Learning involves emotions (undoubtedly).

The good news that I hope I have been stressing enough is that EQ is something you can build upon. It can be measured and cultivated through intentional practice.

Want to find out more about your EQ? Take a free test.

That way, you will have a better sense for where you can grow.

And remember, EQ enables IQ. You can have all the genetic talent in the world and it won’t matter if you are not emotionally intelligent and in an emotionally intelligent environment. And remember: you are part of any environment, so do your part!

In the next blog, I will talk a bit more about how ALL learning happens within a relational context.

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