Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Neural Correlates of Emotional Intelligence in Adolescent Children

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Neural Correlates of Emotional Intelligence in Adolescent Children

Article excerpt

The somatic marker hypothesis posits a key role for the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and insula in the ability to utilize emotions to guide decision making and behavior. However, the relationship between activity in these brain regions and emotional intelligence (EQ) during adolescence, a time of particular importance for emotional and social development, has not been studied. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we correlated scores from me Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory, Youth Version (EQ-i:YV) with brain activity during perception of fearful faces in 16 healthy children and adolescents. Consistent with the neural efficiency hypodiesis, higher EQ correlated negatively with activity in the somatic marker circuitry and other paralimbic regions. Positive correlations were observed between EQ and activity in the cerebellum and visual association cortex. The findings suggest that the construct of self-reported EQ in adolescents is inversely related to the efficiency of neural processing within the somatic marker circuitry during emotional provocation.

The transition from childhood to adulthood involves dramatic changes in physical, cognitive, social, and emotional functioning (Spear, 2000). During this adolescent period, developing children begin to focus more heavily on their social relationships, strengthening bonds with peers while slowly weaning themselves from tiie emotional support of their parents (Kloep, 1999; Nelson, Leibenluft, McClure, & Pine, 2005). With the emergence of adolescence, the developing child is confronted with many new challenges that require a different set of skills and abilities, particularly in the emotional and social realms. In order to manage their interpersonal relationships effectively, each adolescent must develop a well-tuned set of emotional and social capacities: (1) self-awareness and the ability to communicate emotional needs effectively, (2) accurate perception ofthe emotions of others and the ability to respond appropriately to those emotions, (3) the ability to regulate emotions in a healthy and productive way, (4) flexible coping skills and effective interpersonal problem solving, and (5) a positive affective outlook when faced with adversity (Bar-On, Tranel, Denburg, & Bechara, 2003). Persons who possess and effectively utilize these emotional and social capacities have been described as showing emotional intelligence (EQ; Bar-On & Parker, 2000; Mayer, DiPaolo, & Salovey, 1990). In recent years, the concept of EQ has gained considerable interest in the popular media, as well as in academic circles (GoIeman, 1995; Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1999). Although a number of definitions of EQ have emerged, one definition suggests that it is "an array of noncognitive capabilities, competencies, and skills that influence one's ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures" (Bar-On, 1997, p. 14). Several authors have made a strong case for considering EQ to be a standard form of intelligence (Mayer et al., 1999; Mayer, Salovey, Caruso, & Sitarenios, 2001), although qualitatively different from traditional "cognitive" types of intelligence (Bar-On et al., 2003).

An understanding of the neurobiological substrate of EQ in adults is beginning to emerge (Bar-On et al., 2003). One influential theory that is particularly relevant to the neurobiology of emotional intelligence is the somatic marker hypothesis (Damasio, 1994). According to this hypothesis, decision making is influenced by previously learned associations between emotionally evocative events and the affective response that occurred as a result. These affective responses are essentially somatic states (or mental simulations thereof) that are reactivated when one encounters a biologically relevant situation that is similar to one encountered previously. The activation of these somatic markers produces an emotional bias that aids in decision making when circumstances are uncertain or when there are too many alternatives to compare. …

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