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Is emotional intelligence innate or learned?

SDRSpark

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I was thinking about this today, as someone who really didn't have much emotional awareness/intelligence, but I've found that with effort, I can learn to discern my emotional responses fairly easily. I am a quick learner in general and surely that's part of it. Is it like that for everyone?

Is, for instance, alexithymia a condition of not being capable of discerning emotion, or never having learned how?

Can most people develop emotional intelligence with effort?
 

Bro'Freak

Well-Known Member
I'd say yes, it's probably akin to finding another dimension & if the reasons to go in there are to survive, to flourish then it should be possible if one really wants to. How long it takes is another issue.
 
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Nervous Rex

High-functioning autistic
V.I.P Member
Such an interesting question! I hope there are a lot of replies. I'm looking forward to reading what people have to say.

I think of it like a skill - we can have innate tendencies, but we can also develop through study and practice.

When I first read about "emotional intelligence", I recognized that I am definitely behind the curve on that. When I met with the counselor who diagnosed me as autistic, one of the things I told him, "Intellectually, I'm way ahead of everyone else, but emotionally, I'm decades behind." That's the innate part - I have no innate talent when it comes to emotional intelligence.

I've done a lot of fake-it-to-make-it emotional development. I decide how I want to react externally and do it, and eventually* my internal reaction follows. *"eventually" has sometimes taken years. Once example I've cited several times on this forum - I made a decision over a decade ago to work to be known as the nicest person at my company. I have heard from others that I now have a reputation of being one of the nicest people. Sometimes I still have to push down my desire to react badly at work and tell myself, "You wanted this. Work for it." But I am slowly inwardly becoming the person I outwardly am trying to be. It's getting easier to think of other people's perspectives before reacting, easier to say, "I'll take the high road."

The alexithymia question is interesting. I didn't know the word until I joined this forum and never thought of myself as having it. But I often don't recognize how my emotions drive my actions until I step back and observe myself (mindfulness). I will recognize that I am acting nervous, anxious, or angry and then have to review my recent experiences to figure out what caused me to feel that way. I don't just immediately feel angry and know that I'm angry.

When you say, "never having learned how" ... that baffles me. I can analyse my own behavior to derive the emotion driving it, but I have no idea how I would learn how to feel emotions like most people do. I don't even know where to start.
 

Fino

Alex
V.I.P Member
My first thought is that it's the same as any skill. One is born with a certain amount of ability and one is capable of developing that ability, while the speed at which one develops it is individualistic and the extent to which one can develop it is individualistic, all of which is an overly complex way of describing what we know to be true for all skills.

Example: playing the piano. I seem to have been born with some measure of talent, in comparison to many, simply because when I decided to learn, I was able to do so without tremendous difficulty. I then spent much time practicing, full well knowing that no matter how much I practiced I would never be as good as certain pianists who have achieved fame with their virtuosity.

I believe the same applies to my alexithymia, with the difference being that I was born with less ability in this area than most, not more. I've practiced naming my emotions, with the help of a friend, and I'd like to think I've improved to some degree.
 
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Tom

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
It's My Birthday!
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Well, one thing I learned early on was you can make great display of emotions, ie. grovel, plead, weep or suppress them stoically.
 

Thinx

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I'm going to argue with the terms of the question, and suggest revising it to, how far is emotional intelligence innate or learned? Then, I would say, for NTs there's a kind of template already there at birth, which builds quickly through interactions and developmental progress.

For NDs, not so much. The template didn't get made because our brains did something else instead. Maybe they branched along and down, turned half right, ignoring a red light, then turned left and left again. Or any of many significant diversions. Now we can really think outside the box, but as for templates, what template? And who or what is that looming towards me through the mist? I'm gonna ignore it...
 

Kayla

New Member
I believe that while an aptitude for emotional intelligence is innate, it does not exclude those of us with lower natural EQ's from growing and learning. I believe that I have boosted my own emotional inteligence over the years through working hard to study those around me, while also attempting to understand my own emotions. Doing that has allowed me to understand myself and the NT's around me much better.
 

Alexej

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Is, for instance, alexithymia a condition of not being capable of discerning emotion, or never having learned how?
For me it is the former- I just don't pick up on the signs and therefore there is noting to be processed.
 

SusanLR

Curiosity's Cat
V.I.P Member
I found it can be developed and improved with practice.
To what extent is up to how much you want to develope it.
NTs do seem to have a hard wired ability built in that NDs don't so much.
But, then we do have different brain pathways.
 

NothingToSeeHere

Asexuowl
V.I.P Member
A bit of both. Part of it is innate, part of it is learned, and importantly part of how easily it is learned is innate. Children are constantly learning to understand their own and other peoples emotions, from infancy. The first sign of this in babies is often when they learn to smile in response to being smiled at, at a month of so old. For most children it is entirely unconscious and instinctive. I think part of autism for some people can be that it is not so unconscious, instead we have to consciously choose to learn, through observation and self examination.

Personally, much of my emotional intelligence was consciously learned. As a child I remember spending time observing how other children expressed and responded to each each other socially, but also emotionally. I also have alexythemia, but to a certain extend I have been able to learn to identify my emotions through being extremely mindful of how they physically manifest in my body, both directly (such as anxiety feeling like a wibbly wobbly tummy or sadness as pressure in my throat) or indirectly (Such as stimming, I skip when I'm very happy, I wiggle my toes when I am embarrased etc. Often the stim is the first indication to me than I am experiencing emotions)
 

SDRSpark

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I'm going to argue with the terms of the question, and suggest revising it to, how far is emotional intelligence innate or learned? Then, I would say, for NTs there's a kind of template already there at birth, which builds quickly through interactions and developmental progress.

For NDs, not so much. The template didn't get made because our brains did something else instead. Maybe they branched along and down, turned half right, ignoring a red light, then turned left and left again. Or any of many significant diversions. Now we can really think outside the box, but as for templates, what template? And who or what is that looming towards me through the mist? I'm gonna ignore it...

I really like the template analogy. That makes perfect sense actually!

A bit of both. Part of it is innate, part of it is learned, and importantly part of how easily it is learned is innate. Children are constantly learning to understand their own and other peoples emotions, from infancy. The first sign of this in babies is often when they learn to smile in response to being smiled at, at a month of so old. For most children it is entirely unconscious and instinctive. I think part of autism for some people can be that it is not so unconscious, instead we have to consciously choose to learn, through observation and self examination.

Personally, much of my emotional intelligence was consciously learned. As a child I remember spending time observing how other children expressed and responded to each each other socially, but also emotionally. I also have alexythemia, but to a certain extend I have been able to learn to identify my emotions through being extremely mindful of how they physically manifest in my body, both directly (such as anxiety feeling like a wibbly wobbly tummy or sadness as pressure in my throat) or indirectly (Such as stimming, I skip when I'm very happy, I wiggle my toes when I am embarrased etc. Often the stim is the first indication to me than I am experiencing emotions)

I used to practice facial expressions in the bathroom mirror. I would practice smiling when I tried out for cheerleading in high school, and when bullies were picking on me I practiced looking menacing (I still use the practiced "menacing" look to this day.)

It's interesting that you mention identifying emotions by physical sensation. Usually, I can identify my emotions, and their trigger (I've been practicing this lately and I caught on quick enough to surprise myself...actually, that's what prompted this question! But then, I've always been an extremely fast learner when it comes to many things.) But yesterday, I had an experience where I felt really distinct physical sensations but I didn't have any emotion to go with them. It felt like anxiety/excitement (I just wanted to jump and run and bounce and....) but there was nothing on the mental/emotional side to go with it - I couldn't figure it out. It triggered emotional responses, but it didn't seem to start with emotions. I still can't figure out what it was about.
 

Nervous Rex

High-functioning autistic
V.I.P Member
Yesterday, I had an experience where I felt really distinct physical sensations but I didn't have any emotion to go with them. It felt like anxiety/excitement (I just wanted to jump and run and bounce and....) but there was nothing on the mental/emotional side to go with it - I couldn't figure it out. It triggered emotional responses, but it didn't seem to start with emotions. I still can't figure out what it was about.

That may have just been an urge to stim.
 

Nervous Rex

High-functioning autistic
V.I.P Member
I'm going to argue with the terms of the question, and suggest revising it to, how far is emotional intelligence innate or learned? Then, I would say, for NTs there's a kind of template already there at birth, which builds quickly through interactions and developmental progress.

For NDs, not so much. The template didn't get made because our brains did something else instead. Maybe they branched along and down, turned half right, ignoring a red light, then turned left and left again. Or any of many significant diversions. Now we can really think outside the box, but as for templates, what template? And who or what is that looming towards me through the mist? I'm gonna ignore it...

That's kind of how I think of it. Here's my crackpot* theory:

Our brains have hard-wired neural pathways for performing dedicated tasks like processing sensory input, reflexive reactions, emotional processing, basic social interactions, etc. It's all the routine things we do automatically, without thinking - the things we do subconsciously. When something can be reduced to routine rules and actions and done subconsciously, the neural pathways to do it can become very efficient and optimized.

For things that can't be reduced to routine, we have conscious thought. Conscious thought is not as fast as subconscious thought, because our conscious thought neural pathways don't specialize in any one thing. It's the catch-all, jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none part of the brain. But it's capable of thinking through and analyzing anything that is new and not routine.

For NT's, there are subconscious, hard-wired neural pathways for feeling and managing emotions. They do it naturally and subconsciously. For ND's, those pathways either don't exist or are repurposed for some other use**, so we have to process them consciously. That means we have to work out the rules manually and consciously process and manage emotions that NT's do without thinking.

*I call it a "crackpot" theory because it's just my own opinion without any scientific rigor behind it. It may be right, but it hasn't been studied, proven, or disproven.

**I suspect that some of my innate math talents and other intellectual talents come from re-purposing neural pathways that were supposed to do something else. I have to consciously work to do things that NT's do naturally, like social interactions and managing emotions, but I can do other things effortlessly that most people have to work hard at. I also think that once neural pathways go down the ND route, it's a crapshoot - you might wind up with neural pathways doing something useful, and you might not.
 
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Creep

Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.
I was thinking about this today, as someone who really didn't have much emotional awareness/intelligence, but I've found that with effort, I can learn to discern my emotional responses fairly easily. I am a quick learner in general and surely that's part of it. Is it like that for everyone?

Is, for instance, alexithymia a condition of not being capable of discerning emotion, or never having learned how?

Can most people develop emotional intelligence with effort?
Yes, I think so. Motivation is key. If you’re already getting what you want & able to avoid pain, there’s no incentive to change.
 

onlything

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
That's a fascinating question.

I would say it is possible. It was in my case.

I used to know and understand nothing about my emotions. I still have problems with the more subtle ones, but I learnt a lot on the topic and seem to be able to interpret them with relative ease these days. For me, it was a difficulty in labeling and discerning between different emotions that was most pronounced, possibly because I was never taught about emotions when I was younger.

A young child learns about their emotions, feeling and accepting them, as well as labeling them in specific ways based on the relationship the child has with parents. According to some studies I read, much of the information about feelings is transferred through body language, or at least much more so than verbally, so it may be an additional difficulty for an autistic child.

I find that asking questions of yourself, being open, introspective and non-judgmental, as well as regular meditation help in gaining better emotional intelligence.

Some say that brain is like a muscle and just like a muscle it can expand (create more connections) in certain circumstances. If one accepts this theory, then it would seem quite logical that the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional intelligence can expand as well. However, I've never heard of a specific study in this direction, so it may turn out to be little more than a guessing game for now.

I suppose we could always organise a study ourselves based on the (willing) people on the forum if we were so inclined.
 

Giraffes

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Very interesting, i'm often hyper sensitive and emotional and 'soak' others emotions to myself, if anyone has any advise on developing emotional intelligence i'd find that helpful as i'm keen to develop this part of myself.
 

SDRSpark

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
That's kind of how I think of it. Here's my crackpot* theory:

Our brains have hard-wired neural pathways for performing dedicated tasks like processing sensory input, reflexive reactions, emotional processing, basic social interactions, etc. It's all the routine things we do automatically, without thinking - the things we do subconsciously. When something can be reduced to routine rules and actions and done subconsciously, the neural pathways to do it can become very efficient and optimized.

For things that can't be reduced to routine, we have conscious thought. Conscious thought is not as fast as subconscious thought, because our conscious thought neural pathways don't specialize in any one thing. It's the catch-all, jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none part of the brain. But it's capable of thinking through and analyzing anything that is new and not routine.

For NT's, there are subconscious, hard-wired neural pathways for feeling and managing emotions. They do it naturally and subconsciously. For ND's, those pathways either don't exist or are repurposed for some other use**, so we have to process them consciously. That means we have to work out the rules manually and consciously process and manage emotions that NT's do without thinking.

*I call it a "crackpot" theory because it's just my own opinion without any scientific rigor behind it. It may be right, but it hasn't been studied, proven, or disproven.

**I suspect that some of my innate math talents and other intellectual talents come from re-purposing neural pathways that were supposed to do something else. I have to consciously work to do things that NT's do naturally, like social interactions and managing emotions, but I can do other things effortlessly that most people have to work hard at. I also think that once neural pathways go down the ND route, it's a crapshoot - you might wind up with neural pathways doing something useful, and you might not.

I actually think you might be on to something here!
 

onlything

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Very interesting, i'm often hyper sensitive and emotional and 'soak' others emotions to myself, if anyone has any advise on developing emotional intelligence i'd find that helpful as i'm keen to develop this part of myself.

I can only advise you what helped me to develop it a bit better.

Try setting up a daily routine of a specific amount of time, I started with 2 minutes and gradually upped it later since you always have 2 minutes in your day. During this time, sit in a quiet, distraction-free space. Make sure that your phone, books, laptop or any tools that have to do with your special interest are not in sight. You can close your eyes or keep them open, but the trick is to have the consistent time where you focus on nothing but your mind and body.

The method itself is based quite a bit on mindfulness. Be fully focused on your body and nothing else. I tend to perform a basic body scan and focus on any response. What is the state of my hands? Do I feel tense? Am I trembling? Do I feel cold? Do I feel warm? Is it really only physical? Why could it be that I feel it? What could have caused it?

I would ask myself a set of questions, remember answers and if I can't say what these reactions mean, I would compare them to a list of 'symptoms' for each big, basic emotion in a specifically prepared table.

I would also make sure to catalogue whenever I seem to feel something off my normal equilibrium, be it positive or negative, without trying to label it in any way, especially during conversations with other people. Emotions are useful. They give you much insight into your own psyche and it's state and can help you find better solutions to problems based on your needs. Knowing them is, in my opinion, necessary because without knowing your emotions you can't really say that you know yourself.

The main basic in any of my methods was a set consisting of observations, analysis and reaction. Do I feel something? What does it feel like physically? What does it feel like emotionally? What does it seem to be after comparing it to the emotions table? What do I think it is? Is there someone that could confirm my theory?

That is what worked for me, although you may need your own system.
 

Alexej

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I find that asking questions of yourself, being open, introspective and non-judgmental, as well as regular meditation help in gaining better emotional intelligence.

I understand the first part, being introspective and non judgemental.
however, I don't get the link between meditation and emotional intelligence.
 

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