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Motivation, Conformity, EI

Written in 2006 by S. Hein

Last night, around 10:30, someone invited me to go to their house here in Argentina. I've been to the house before enough times to understand the environment. I like the person who invited me. I will call her Kathy. Kathy is in her mid twenties but she can't leave the house without asking her parents for permission. She has to tell them where she is going, who she is gong with, when she will be back etc.

To give you a little more background, a few nights earlier Kathy and I went out together to talk and get something to eat. About an hour after we left her house her mother started calling her and sending her text messages. Her mother said Kathy needed to get back home because Kathy's father was upset that she was gone so long.

So last night when Kathy invited me I planned to go. I was planning to go there around 11:00. But I was on the computer and my work was taking longer than I thought. It was getting cold outside and I was already feeling the chill inside where I was working. I was also starting to get sleepy, so I started to lose my motivation to go over to Kathy's house.

So what would motivate me or anyone to go outside on a cold night in a situation like this instead of staying inside and having some warm soup, reading and going to bed?

Where does motivation come from? Is there such a thing as "good" or "bad" motivation? Are some people motivated by something called "evil"?

In their 1990 paper Salovey and Mayer talked about motivation as a part of emotional intelligence. But then in 1997 when they presented their four branch model of EI they did not mention the word "motivation". Dan Goleman on the other hand continues to connect EI and motivation.

My own belief is that there probably is a connection between EI and motivation, but I disagree with Goleman on what that connection is. Goleman seems to imply that a person with higher EI also is more highly motivated and pretty much leaves it at that. But I believe the relationship is a bit more complicated.

I suspect, for example, that a more emotionally intelligent person is motivated by different things than a less emotionally intelligent person, everything else being equal. It is important to add “everything else being equal” because our motivation depends so much on what we are taught, rewarded by, punished for etc. If we are raised to believe that making what are commonly called “good grades” is important, even vital, and we are rewarded when we achieve that goal and punished if we don’t, then it is likely most of us will be motivated to try to get those “good” grades.

Children are approval-seeking by nature, so we might say they are motivated by approval and acceptance. They need the approval and acceptance of the adults around them, especially the people who are feeding them since their lives depend up on these adults. So they quickly learn to behave in ways that get them some minimal level of approval and acceptance. What the adults around them approve of though, and reward and punish them for, depends more on the adults and their needs, values, beliefs, etc. than it does on the child’s needs and what I will call instincts.

Let’s say a child is born who feels bad about the idea of killing people, yet they are born into a country at constant war, or in constant preparation for war, such as Israel, and we might say the United States, England and many other countries since so many students are prepared to be soldiers in the future. And if they aren’t prepared specifically to be soldiers they are indoctrinated with the belief that they must be “patriotic” and defend their country etc. So in a way this is preparing them for war or at least to “support the troops” when there is a war.

That child, then, whose natural feelings are opposed to war, will learn to listen to the voices of "authority" instead of to his or her own feelings. They may then be motivated by things which they would not have been motivated by as a child. This also applies to most young people even when they reach what has been called the "age of reason", because the pressure to believe what everyone else around you believes is so intense. Even though young people do often begin to question the prevailing cultural norms when they start to not only feel, but think for themselves, this pressure to conform is extremely difficult to surpass.

More specifically, a young person who might have been motivated instinctively by the goal of trying to prevent wars, could turn into a 16 or 18 year old who is motivated by passing university entrance exams so they can later get what is allegedly a secure job in an office. They may then earn wages and then be taxed on those wages. A large portion of these taxes may then be use to fund the war effort which they were originally opposed to as children and adolescents.

I would speculate, then, that a more emotionally intelligent person is likely to continue to follow their instinctive feelings, regardless of what is happening around them. I would speculate that a very highly emotionally intelligent person is more driven by their own inner feelings than by external "voices of authority".

As yet I have not seen any of the university professors or business consultants saying something quite like this about emotional intelligence and motivation If you know of anyone who is thinking along this line, please let me know because I often feel discouraged that I am the only one who thinks like this.

So back to my motivation last night.

I decided I wasn’t going to go over to my friend’s house. I knew that if I went I would not be able to be myself, to show my true feelings. I would have to be fake with the parents and afraid of acting naturally with my friend. I wouldn’t be able to take my friend's hand in mine while we talked, I wouldn’t be able to cry, I wouldn’t be able to ask for a hug if I needed one. And I would feel stress from knowing that she also would not be able to show her true feelings. True feelings are not allowed in many homes and intelligent, sensitive young people learn this quickly. I believe the more emotionally intelligent they are, the faster they learn it. When mother and father smile or frown, it is an emotional lesson for the child. And as someone once said, children learn that “when mommy smiles, I am good, when she frowns I am bad.”

I believe that if a person is highly emotionally intelligent they won’t be motivated by the same things which motivate the common people around them. They won’t be motivated by the same things their parents are motivated by and they won’t be motivated by the same things their teachers and school directors are motivated by. Things like soccer, perhaps, or learning to shoot rifles.

In my case, what does it say about my emotional intelligence that I didn’t feel motivated to go out last night -- to go over to a place where I could not be emotionally honest or feel safe and free, or even very helpful since I couldn’t have given my friend the emotional support she needs?

I'm not sure what it says about my emotional intelligence. Maybe it is a sign I have relatively high EI, or maybe it is a sign I have low EI. Maybe the other "experts" on EI would say that I should have gone over to see my friend and just pretended to enjoy her parents' company. In other words, to be fake about my feelings.

My instinct, or my heart or whatever you want to call it tells me people who would suggest this are missing something. And it is something important. What I think they are missing is the difference between innate emotional intelligence and learned emotional management skills or coping mechanisms.

The BarOn test is more obviously a test of coping skills, given that it was refined for use in the Israeli military. It is a test which can predict who will be able to manage the stress and pain of obeying orders, killing people, etc. and be called “successful.” It turns out that these same kinds of people do well in sports and selling cosmetics and other products. Thus the test has become popular in armies and businesses. But I wouldn’t call it a test of one’s emotional intelligence just because it can predict who will make “good” soldiers and salespeople.

It may also be that it can predict who will be “good” students. I’d say that the “skills” you need to be called “good” or “successful” in most schools, most armies or most businesses are very similar. And thus we understand the popularity of the current models of EI and of the current tests which supposedly are measuring it.

Steve Hein
June 19, 2006


Motivated by "evil"

EI and conformity article

Soccer article

Rifles in school article

Sports, Soldiers and EI article

Emotionally Intelligent Soldier page

1990 Salovey Mayer paper on EI

Reuven BarOn and his test

The age of reason

Good Grades


Cosmetics - Women who wear make up make more money

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I edited this article in Dec of 2006. Here is one section I took out. I plan to put it in another article one day.

By the way, I now call Mayer and Salovey "university professors" here because I don't feel comfortable calling them scientists anymore. I don't believe what they are doing now deserves to be called science. It is closer to what I would call science than the Goleman model of EI, but it still isn't good enough to satisfy me for reasons I have listed in other articles, such as the fact that their definition of EI depends on words which themselves are not clearly defined -- words like "ability" and "effective." Also, their definition of EI is too subjective. It depends on conformity to one's group, so what they would call emotionally intelligent in one group might not be emotionally intelligent in another group.

For example, if the majority of the people in one group say that terrorism is an effective way to express your feelings, does this mean it is emotionally intelligent to agree with them? And what if in another group the majority think that invading countries, bombing and killing people through traditional, commonly accepted warfare is an “effective” way to stop terrorism? Can we say that someone is emotionally intelligent if they agree with the majority in one group, but not in another and then call this science? This seems like saying 2+2 =4 in some parts of the world, but not in others and then calling this math.

See file on EI and Terrorism

The Age of Reason

Here is one definition I found of the "age of reason"

"The name given to that period of human life at which persons are deemed to begin to be morally responsible. This, as a rule, happens at the age of seven, or thereabouts, though the use of reason requisite for moral discernment may come before, or may be delayed until notably after, that time." from newadvent.org/cathen/01209a.htm

Here is the original version