Is emotional intelligence a better indicator of brain health than IQ?

It can be hard for a smart person to get ahead without emotional intelligence. See more emotion pictures.
Greg Ceo/Stone/Getty Images

As workers try to advance through the corporate world, they often hear the old adage, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." As a result, these workers are encouraged to attend happy hour functions with the office, avoid eating lunch alone at their desks and chat up the boss if they're alone with him or her in the elevator. Even the most technically proficient employees will likely be passed over for that promotion if they can't work well in small groups or lead a meeting of fellow staff. Those who do manage to get ahead likely possess emotional intelligence, a measure of how well a person can regulate his or her own emotions, as well as the emotions of other people. Emotional intelligence includes attributes such as empathy and emotional control.

The term "emotional intelligence" became famous when it served as the title of Daniel Goleman's 1995 book; the book featured a scintillating subtitle that promised to explain "why [emotional intelligence] can matter more than IQ." An IQ score, a number comprised of verbal, mathematical, mechanical and memory ability, can seem like the holy grail for intelligence, and it can remain an excellent predictor of how well a person will do in school. Yet Goleman's book served up examples of how poorly an IQ score can predict a person's earning power or eventual success and happiness in life. For that, Goleman argued, you had to turn to emotional intelligence and a person's ability to use his or her emotions to navigate the world. While IQ scores rely on a person's ability to identify one correct answer, life sometimes involves more than one right answer, as well as the ability to get along with more than one type of person.


Emotional intelligence has remained a sticky subject in the years since Goleman's book was published. For one, researchers still differ somewhat on a precise definition for emotional intelligence and how it can be measured (if it can be measured at all, some researchers would be quick to add). But at the same time that researchers grapple with what emotional intelligence means, they try to determine what it means for our brain. Could emotional intelligence be more than an indicator of future success? Might it also tell us how healthy our brain is overall? In this article, we'll take a look at the role emotional intelligence might play in predicting the likelihood of falling victim to depression, dementia and other brain disorders. Go to the next page for learn about the links between emotional intelligence and the brain.