By Sharon Keeler
Illustrations by Randy Lyhus
In this issue:Emotional IQ
Running for Cover
Most people today agree that IQ is too narrowly defined to gauge one's potential for success. But is it possible that IQ itself fails to include important mental abilities and areas of abstract reasoning?
UNH psychology professor John Mayer thinks so. He says that reasoning with emotion is a critical component of what makes us smart. While Daniel Goleman's 1995 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, may have gotten everyone talking about "EQ," it was Mayer and Yale University psychologist Peter Salovey who were the first, in two articles published in 1990, to formally define the theory.
"Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand one's own feelings and have empathy for the feelings of others, and it includes the ability to regulate one's feelings to guide thinking and action," says Mayer.
Their theory contradicts the traditional psychological model that pairs emotion and logic as adversaries. Emotion has been seen as generally interfering with attempts to function rationally in the world, hence statements such as, "I'm so angry, I can't think straight." Mayer, however, believes that emotions contribute to logical thought. He says, for example, that emotionally intelligent people can use feelings like fear or anxiety as motivation to work harder, while others may be paralyzed to inaction.
But how do you measure EQ? Mayer says science has not yet proven what EQ predicts, contrary to Goleman's message that it's the key of everything from well-behaved children to good bosses. Mayer, Salovey and management psychologist David Caruso have developed the first true EQ ability test, called the MEIS (multiple factor emotional skills) test.
The test directly measures one's performance on emotional intelligence tasks, which is different from self-report tests more concerned with motivation and emotional control. A CD-ROM version allows people to see what an actual ability-based test of emotional intelligence looks like http://www.smarterkids.com .
The test-taker is asked to do such things as identify emotions in people's faces and music; analyze one's own emotions in regard to specific scenarios; as well as judge others' emotions in response to complex social interactions.
Mayer and his colleagues have used the MEIS to conduct a large-scale study of 500 adults and 250 adolescents. Results indicated that emotional intelligence is related to, but distinct from, general intelligence and empathy. Its predictions, says Mayer, are more modest than have been claimed in popular writing. For example, it is not more important than IQ.
On the other hand, ongoing studies suggest scoring well may predict lower levels of "bad" behavior: drug usage, vandalism, fighting, etc. It may also help predict academic achievement, as well as the presence of "good" behavior, he says.
While some advocate teaching emotional skills in the classroom, Mayer says, the focus is too often on good behavior.
"Reasoning about feelings—emotional intelligence—is different than engaging in good behavior," Mayer says. "While we can teach the basic elements of social competence, emotional intelligence stems from expert understanding of emotions and how they play out in situations, rather than a simplistic application of rules."
Running for Cover
New England's transitional, brush-filled woodlands are slowly being lost to development, and with them one of the region's most charming inhabitants, the New England cottontail rabbit. Numbers have fallen so sharply in recent decades that the animal is now a candidate for the federal endangered species list. John Litvaitis, UNH professor of wildlife ecology, is studying this reclusive creature, hoping to uncover the causes of its decline.
The New England cottontail is one of 44 species of rabbit or hare worldwide that share common ancestors. Often confused with its larger cousin, the Eastern cottontail, it was the rabbit European settlers encountered when they arrived four centuries ago. The species flourished in the late 19th century when abandoned farmland reverted to thick cover—an ideal habitat for rabbits, providing abundant food and protection.
During the early 1960s, wildlife biologists noticed a dramatic decline in the cottontail population. The reproductive capabilities of rabbits are well-known, so what could have contributed to such a loss? Litvaitis points to two reasons.
"There were approximately 500,000 acres of young New Hampshire forests from 1905 to 1940," he says. "But, by the early 1960s, these forests had matured into closed canopies, unsuitable habitat for rabbits.
"You might describe the growth of the New England cottontail population as an opportunistic response to the short-term availability of extensive stands of young forests," Litvaitis continues. "Current numbers may actually be more representative of the species prior to the arrival of European settlers. The problem is, the populations are still declining."
Over the past 10 years, Litvaitis and his students have been tracking New England cottontails. They have radio-tagged rabbits and monitored their movements, used box traps to conduct inventories and counted fecal pellets. They have discovered that humans are destroying what remains of the rabbits' habitat.
"New England cottontails are restricted to habitat that provides them with food and cover," says Litvaitis. "This includes wetlands, forest edges and portions of forests where trees have been cleared or killed by natural disturbances such as fire. Modern landscape modifications reduce such habitats."
Litvaitis also found that roads and developments have fragmented and isolated much of the existing habitat. While conducting a survey of suitable environments in southern New Hampshire, he and his students observed that most patches were small, usually less than five acres. After monitoring more than 50 animals, they found that the rabbits that occupy these sites are in poor condition, indicated by lower body weights, and have a mortality rate twice that of rabbits occupying large patches. Because their food source is limited, they have to forage intensely, often feeding in areas that have no escape cover.
"We need to look at different ways of managing the land, cluster development with large common areas, for example," he says. "Unlike many other rare or endangered species, the habitat of New England cottontails is relatively easy to maintain, but you have to convince people it's important."
Physicians and scientists agree that in addition to a healthy diet, exercise is one of the most important contributors to good health.
Even insurance companies are preaching the benefits, subsidizing health club memberships and at-home exercise equipment. Then why is it that many of us continue our sedentary lifestyles, where walking to the local coffee shop is the extent of our physical fitness plan?
Robert Kenefick, UNH assistant professor of kinesiology, says we might change our minds if we better understood just how important exercise is for maintaining long-term health. We've all heard about the cardiovascular benefits, but exercise also impacts other physiological systems. Kenefick is particularly interested in how the endocrine system and hormones are affected. Hormones are substances that influence many things, from the immune system, to reproduction, to social behavior.
Kenefick, who works in the University's exercise physiology lab, researches how exercise triggers hormonal responses in individuals of all ages and fitness levels. He and his students then analyze the variability in these hormonal levels over time, which can indicate whether a person is fit or stressed.
This past year, Kenefick published a study in the "International Journal of Sports Medicine" that observed highly trained athletes' responses to exercise in the heat. "We looked specifically at hormone levels of testosterone and cortisol, and found that the threshold at which these hormones are released was not altered significantly, due to the athletes' high fitness levels," Kenefick says. Conversely, individuals who are not fit would show increased levels of the hormones, indicating that the body is stressed.
Cortisol, for example, triggers the evolutionary "fight or flight" mode, readying the body for battle or escape by elevating the heart rate and increasing metabolism and respiration. While cortisol is necessary for energy, chronically elevated levels can be a problem, leading to a catabolic state where the body literally starts breaking itself down.
Kenefick concluded that for highly trained athletes, exercising in extreme heat was not as stressful as previously believed. Being fit, in other words, can help us all feel less stressed in the summer heat.
Some of Kenefick's other work includes hormonal research on adults 55 years and older who weight train. Lifting weights elicits human growth hormone response, which stimulates muscles and bones to strengthen and grow. This is particularly beneficial for older adults, but researchers are not certain if human growth hormone actually decreases with age, or if the body tissue is simply less sensitive to it.
A professor at UNH since 1996, Kenefick practices what he preaches and is an avid runner and rock climber. His advice to those of us who struggle every day to fit a little exercise into our busy lives—just get moving. Along with eating well, there's no better prescription for long and healthy life.
blog comments powered by Disqus