Emotional intelligence and the human brain

Brett Alegre-Wood
December 7, 2017

A bit of a different article today.

I have always been fascinated by our brain, because it is that part of us that we need to control and understand, in order to increase our emotional intelligence, and so to achieve our aims. This is a short summary of how the brain works and how it affects your emotional intelligence.

Scared of emotional intelligence, scared of change, growth or doing new things? It’s a perfectly normal part of being human. Your emotions can be useful in property investment and can help you make smarter decisions.

To fully understand emotional intelligence it’s important to understand the human brain, where emotional intelligence manifests itself. Rather than being a medical or psychological justification, is to introduce you to the fact that emotional intelligence exists and emotional intelligence can be explained perfectly by looking at the simplest of electro-chemical processes of your mind and body.

It would be remiss to study the emotional impact without understanding the physical basis for the emotions. It’s also a great comfort if you can understand that emotions are going to be a big part of your investment property experience, so why not understand them in every aspect. Each of these emotions can be perfectly explained from a physical or electrochemical perspective. In many cases understanding the processes can make it easier for you to deal with them.

‘I think, therefore I am.’ said Rene Descartes. The ability to think is what sets us apart from the animal kingdom, and the ability to think takes place in that wonderful piece of wizardry between your ears – the brain, the three-pound mass of 100 billion nerve cells, that serves at all levels of our existence.

Before we can fully understand why the brain is so important in the study of emotional intelligence you must understand the stages that the brain evolved, and the functions of a number of important parts of the brain.

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How the human brain evolved

It was Charles Darwin who first wrote in his book “The Origin of the Species” back in 1859 about ‘survival of the fittest’ or the process of natural selection. The basic premise was that those traits, which were most successful in a species, would be passed on to the next generation, and those least successful would be phased out of the species.

It’s the theory of evolution, and, make no mistake, the brain is no different. It has evolved over millions of years, and, as far as we know, the human brain evolved in three main stages.

The Reptilian Brain

Its oldest and most primitive part is the innermost core, known as ‘The Reptilian Brain’. This reptilian part of the brain is responsible for all basic survival and instinctual functions. Things like breathing and making sure your heart beats. The reason it’s called the Reptilian brain is because it actually reflects a present day reptilian’s brain.

* Now I am not going to get into the argument that we evolved from reptiles, it simply reflects the brain of a reptile.

The Mammalian Brain

Next evolved ‘The Mammalian Brain’, which added new functionality and ways of controlling the body. In particular it gave the mammal some control over their instinctual responses to their surroundings and circumstances. This part added things like experience-based learning.

The Neo-Cortex

The final evolution of the brain was ‘The Neo-cortex’. This is the top six layers of grey matter, the bulk of the brain, that forms two symmetrical hemispheres, separate but closely linked and in constant communication.

To a large extent, it is the neo-cortex, which enables us to behave like human beings, thinking, self-aware, emotional and social animals. It is this evolution, which has allowed us to be a creator of circumstance rather than a creature of circumstance. The neo-cortex is the part that most people associate with being a brain, and accounts for about 85% of the brain mass.

The left and the right of it

Our brain is divided into its two hemispheres by a prominent groove. At the base of this groove there lies the thick bundle of 200-250 million nerve fibres, called the ‘Corpus Callosum’. This enables these two halves of the brain to communicate with each other. It’s sort of a super information highway between the two sides of your brain.

The left hemisphere usually controls movement and sensation in the right side of the body. It’s also the side that is associated with communication by words, as well as logical, systematic things. It is most associated with facts rather than emotions and feelings.

The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body and is most often associated with the emotions and feelings, creative endeavours, intuition and imagination.

I have always been taught the way to remember the two sides is Left is Logical (both start with ‘L’) and, therefore, the Right must be Emotional.

The right brain links to the primitive older (Reptilian) part of the brain, and communicates using images with its primitive ‘unconscious’ functions. Thinking in pictures is fast. Think of how long it takes to describe a picture, a scene, in words, and compare this with the speed of taking it in by looking at it, clearly taking it in by looking, is faster than having to describe it words.

One of my favourite shows on television is Star Trek. I have been a fan for years. Fellow ‘Trekkies’ will be familiar with Spock, or more recently the character called ‘Data’. Spock, being a Vulcan, had trained himself not to feel or use emotions in his decision-making process. Data was an Android, and therefore was not programmed to feel emotions. Both characters could only use logic in their decision-making processes. Effectively, they had no right-hand side (emotional side) of the brain.

With the evolution of the mammalian brain feelings, such as attachment, anger, fear and associated behavioural response patterns emerged. These emotional responses depend on the presence of neural pathways, which link the right (emotional) hemisphere to the mammalian brain, which is then linked to the even older reptilian brain.

This is why all three stages of development have been so essential in creating the human beings that we are now. Each stage has built on the previous stage, but each stage is integral to the other stages.

Now these linkages, and in particular, the neural pathways, will have become important as you developed your understanding of emotional intelligence, especially in this book with regards to property investing.

Developing emotional intelligence

Developing your emotional intelligence is about building particular neural pathways in your brain to cope with the various situations you will encounter. The good news is that these neural pathways are relatively simple to create.

The knee-jerk reaction

Your brain isn’t needed in every situation. Remember your last trip to the doctor, when they pulled out the rubber hammer and tapped your knee and it jerked. This was the simplest form of response where your brain did not get involved; these are very important because they are very quick responses.

The neural pathway is a monosynaptic (or single connection). The stimulus (hammer hitting your knee) is passed to a sensory neuron, which then sends a message to your motor neuron. This, in turn, causes the appropriate muscles to contract producing a knee-jerk reaction.

This is the same thing that happens when you touch something hot and immediately pull away; it’s a great survival mechanism. As humans we have lots of these hard-wired reflexes, but, as the tasks become more complex, the pathways get more complicated and the brain must get involved.

The complexity of the human brain is almost beyond imagining. Imagine that each one of the 100 billion neurons is a computer and each of these computers is connected to the Internet. They each have the potential to be connected to all the other computers.

The possible connections are 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 , that’s 100 billion to the power of 100 billion or thereabouts. It’s an impossibly huge number to fathom and even more impossible to consider, given that the commonly held belief is that we only use around 10% of our brains capacity.

Now some of these computers regularly log onto the same computer, and these connections or pathways begin to form a permanent connection. In some of these connections so much data flows between them that other neurons and pathways are recruited to provide the extra ‘bandwidth,’ and the pathway grows bigger.

So of what significance are all these pathways?

Your strongest beliefs in life, like who you love or hate, are physically just a mass of connections between the neurons in your brain. The reason a new task, such as driving a car, is very hard at first is because your brain has no neural connections established. Once you learn through experience you will begin to develop these pathways and the task will become easier and easier.

I remember, when I first learnt to fly a helicopter, that hovering was impossible (or so I thought), but given enough practice my brain created the required neural pathways. After about 5 hours of flying I was able to hover five feet from the ground. Nowadays I can do it without even thinking about it, even in a gusty wind. My brain has created the required connections to facilitate this activity.

Is the brain like a big network of computers because it has a lot of connections? Yes it is, but this doesn’t account for the various areas of the brain that have grown to specialise in certain things.

To better understand, it’s worthwhile considering the brain as more like a football team. All of the computers are humans in this case, but within the team you have different positions. Each position has its own role to play, and must work closely with the other positions.

When attacking, each position tries to get the ball to the forwards, who then try and put it into the goal. When defending, each position tries to get the ball from the other team, or prohibits the opposition from moving the ball forward.

This is a far better model of how the brain works. For many years we thought of the brain as a big computer, but really it’s like millions of little computers all working together, each with a different but vital role to play in orchestrating our lives.

The role that the frontal lobes play in emotional intelligence

The biggest and most advanced part of the brain is the frontal lobe.

It’s called that because it’s in the front part of the brain just behind the eye sockets. They play a very important role in controlling your emotions. Deep in the middle of the brain are sections that control emotions. They’re very primitive emotions that deal with hunger, aggression, and sexual drive.

The frontal lobe area acts as a sort of DO or STOP function. They send messages to other parts of the brain to DO something. So if you are mad, then hit something, if you’re hungry then find something to eat.

They also serve to STOP you from doing something. So if you hate your boss, you don’t walk into their office and punch them. The frontal lobes say, “STOP or you’ll lose your job and get a criminal record.”

The brain is the most wonderful machine we have. We still understand little of how it works, and most of us still only use less than 10% of its capacity. But that is enough to give us the power to think, reason and make a decision.

More importantly, 10% is more than enough to build a thriving investment property portfolio and live the life you’ve always dreamed.

Live with passion and fun,
Brett Alegre-Wood


Property Investment Strategy, UK Property Investment

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