Discovery Fit & Health
In the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel performed an experiment known as the "marshmallow test" with 4-year-old children. He placed one marshmallow in front of a child and told the child it could be eaten now, but if the child waited, he or she could have an extra marshmallow. Dr. Mischel would then leave the room for 15 to 20 minutes, while cameras captured the child's struggle. Some children were unable to hold out and would eat the marshmallow before Dr. Mischel returned, whereas other children were able to control themselves in order to receive that second marshmallow. Dr. Mischel then studied his subjects as teenagers, and found that the children who were able to resist the instant gratification of the marshmallow were more successful as teenagers. The kids who had eaten the marshmallow were lonely, easily frustrated and susceptible to stress, but the children who waited performed better on standardized tests, enjoyed greater popularity among peers and demonstrated more confidence.
The marshmallow test became a critical part of the argument that emotional intelligence is important because it links the control of emotions with success. And, indeed, if we take a look under the hood at emotional intelligence, we find a lot more going on there than the contemplation of a marshmallow. Three parts of the brain are very important in emotional intelligence. First is the amygdala, which is where emotions like delight, fear and anger have their neurological start. The amygdala is connected to the neocortex, which facilitates reasoning and remembering. These two sections of the brain are linked, and the number of connections between the two is a predictor of the quality of emotional response that is possible for the owner of the brain. Researchers have studied people with severed connections between the two parts and have found that while these people were still able to reason the pros and cons of a particular decision, they weren't able to make a decision because they couldn't figure out how they felt about it. The amygdala is also connected to the right frontal insula, which provides integration between the mind and the body. The right frontal insula lights up when the amygdala expresses an emotion and communicates that message to the rest of the body.
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