Here is the full transcript of author Travis Bradberry’s TEDx Talk: The Power of Emotional Intelligence at TEDxUCIrvine conference.
I’m really excited to be here today to introduce you to a skill that can change the way you see yourself. It can change the way you see the world around you and everyone around you and it can absolutely change the way you go about reaching your goals in life and pursuing your goals.
And emotional intelligence is an absolutely critical skill because we have more than 400 emotional experiences every single day. Whether you’re aware of these experiences or not they can really drive the bus if you let them do that. And emotional intelligence is your ability to understand your emotions and to respond to them effectively to produce the behavior that you want.
Now to help you understand how emotional intelligence operates in the brain, I need to introduce you to a guy by the name of Phineas Gage. There’s going to be a little bit of a challenge with this microphone. See what I can do.
Phineas was a guy who was building the Burlington railroad in Vermont in the 1840s and he was not just any railroad foreman; he was considered to be the most capable foreman in the business. Phineas was very intelligent. He knew how to cut through the rocky terrain to lay the tracks on time but he also possessed that extra something that made people want to work for him. He was polite; he was calm and cool under pressure; and he was great with people.
Well on this one day in particular, Phineas being the hands-on manager that he was, he was working with an item called a tamping iron, about the length of this cane that I’m holding here, made out of really dense metal like a crowbar. And what Phineas would do is — the way they’d used the tamping iron is they would cut a hole in the rock they would pour blasting powder in there, and then they would pour sand on top. They would take the tamping iron and they would tamp down the sand. What this did is it gave them a very precise blast.
So on this day in particular, Phineas was waiting for his assistant to pour sand in the hole and his men overloaded a train car behind him, just you know overloaded it with boulders you can imagine the noise that it made and it distracted Phineas. It also distracted his assistant who didn’t pour sand in the hole.
So when Phineas went and he rammed the rod into the hole it ignited the gunpowder and launch the rod through his head like a rocket. It actually landed a hundred feet behind him in the bushes and it entered right below his left eye here. This is his skull which is on display at the medical library at the Harvard Medical School, let’s say goodbye to the cane. Now I can handle this microphone.
So the area of the brain that it removed is called your left orbital frontal cortex. And now this wouldn’t be much of a story to tell you except Phineas survived this accident without his left orbit — his left orbital frontal cortex was probably in the bushes back there with the rod.
And he was sitting up under his own power within five minutes of the rod traveling through his head. He logged his exit from the job site in the logbook and he told the town doctor what had happened to him. Took about six months for his physical wounds to heal and once they healed Phineas was ready to go back to work he was still every bit as intelligent as he had been before. He was still interested in building the railroad. His personality was the same.
But there was something very very key missing and it was how he responded to his emotions. What happened is every emotion that Phineas had exploded unfettered into action. So he was angry; he was impulsive; he was unreliable. Suddenly he was showing up late.
So here was this guy who so much of him was the same, yet something else was fundamentally different. Let me show you how that works in the brain.
Everything you experience in the world around you must enter at the base of your brain. So if you’re listening to me speak, the signal travels through your ear to the base of the brain. If someone bumps into you and the seat next to you, you feel that sensation, it goes to the base of your brain. Then it travels across your brain. And once it does so it travels through the limbic system. This is where emotions are generated.
In Phineas case, this part of the brain was still intact. His brain was producing emotions like normal but he lost his rational brain. He lost the area of the brain where he’s able to read and respond to these emotions.
Emotional intelligence combines the two. It’s your ability to understand these emotions that you’re happening — we’re a hardwired to be emotional creatures. So these emotions happen in a split second, you know before we’re able to think rationally about that.
What we do in response to our emotions dictates that’s really what emotional intelligence is about. Now if you’re like me, you’re probably saying well why do — if this is hardwired in our brain and we’ve known them, had the ideas about this since the 1850s of Phineas Gage, why is this a TED idea, why am I learning about this now?