I talk a lot about Emosocial intelligence on this blog. EmoSocial intelligence is a combination of emotional and social intelligence. It is first, a person’s ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself and then be able to effectively interact, maintain and build relationships with others.
In this post I wanted to talk about some of the science behind emosocial intelligence, and why teens act the way they do. I find it fascinating to know that how we process emotions, respond to them and recognize them all correlate to different parts of the brain. Below I list a few different skills and then explain where they come from in the brain.
Reading and Sensing Emotions: The orbitofrontal lobes, right above the orbit of the eye, are what is responsible for accurately reading, responding and sensing others emotions. Interestingly, this area acts very differently during the teen years as it is still developing.
Regulation of Primary Emotions: Pathways from the orbitofrontal area to the lower brain also enable a child or teen to calm primitive emotions like fear and anger and regulate the body. Brain scans of Romanian orphans who have had very little, if any physical touch have shown deficits in this part of the brain because their lack of emotionally responsive parenting. The Romanian orphanage system does this because they do not want kids to form attachments to their caregivers so it is easier for them when they leave. However, the long-term effects of this kind of parenting are far worse for the child’s emotional connections and sensitivities in the long run.
Self-Awareness: The ventromedial area of the brain contains pathways that are key to self-awareness. This area is also responsible for the capacity to negotiate, make decisions, resolve conflict and be a strong team player. The strong connections from the ventromedial area to the lower brain also allow teens to calm their strong feelings and focus them into smart decisions.
Emotional Responses: The cerebellum is located behind the brain stem, which is the lowest part of the brain. This allows us to learn how to accurately respond to what others are saying and then shift attention from one aspect of a conversation to another. Literally, the this part of the brain helps us converse with our crush, our parents or our friends. This research is relatively new as we did not always realize that that the cerebellum is part of our social behavior. Children with autism have malfunctions in this part of the brain, which is one reason why my cousin, who is autistic cannot easily carry on a conversation with me.
Impulsivity and Diplomacy: Serotonin, which is produced in the brain can stabilize mood, reduce aggression and is key in promoting healthy relationships. Low levels of serotonin are associated with high impulsivity. In fact, children and teens with low levels of serotonin, find it hard to express negative feelings in a calm diplomatic way.
Knowing that our behavior and feelings are dictated by specific parts of the brain can be very reassuring for parents—there is a reason that your son is suddenly acting so impulsively. However, it can also be a bit frustrating. After all, if our brain dictates what we do, do we have any control over our moods, how we respond to relationships or converse with others? Yes! There are ways to develop these areas. For example, positive interactions with loved ones can increase serotonin levels and negative relationships can decrease it. Face to face interactions help increase serotonin levels—this means getting off the phone and really speaking with those in your life. Practicing mindsight is another way that researchers suggest improving these skills.
This is part of EmoSocial Intelligence series. If you would like to read more articles on how to read and build nonverbal communication skills in your family or with your child, please visit our EmoSocial Intelligence page for tips and updated research.
Sunderland, Margot. Science of Parenting: Practical Guidance on Sleep, Crying, Play, and Building Emotional Well-being for Life. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2006.