Emotional Intelligence

What with one thing and another, I’ve recently been wondering if I’m prone to misreading people. I was worried that I might have low emotional intelligence, so I took two online tests.

One test hosted by Berkeley shows you a picture of a model’s face and gives you a choice of four related emotions indicated by their expression. I scored 15/20, which is average. This makes sense to me in a roundabout way.

One image shows a woman blushing and looking down with a coy grin. She’s using her index finger to point at her cheek, and the only way she could be broadcasting “kiss me, you handsome devil” more strongly is if she were wearing the words on a t-shirt.

The emotion I’d assign to her pose and expression would be “flirtatious,” but apparently the answer is “embarrassment,” as people who are embarrassed often touch their faces. All right then.

In another image, there’s a man making a classic “oh no they didn’t” face by smiling with his lips closed and pulling his head back while looking sharply to the side with his eyebrows raised. The emotion his expression conveys is a very specific combination of secondhand cringe and prurient interest, which I might describe more generally as “amusement.” The correct answer is “guilt,” because guilty people won’t meet your eyes. Okay, sure thing detective.

So I guess this test proves that I have enough emotional intelligence to read people’s expressions but not enough emotional intelligence to understand what the people writing the test consider to be the correct answer, which was probably decided by committee vote.

An average level of emotional intelligence, in other words.

A longer test hosted by the website for Psychology Today magazine presents you with scenarios to imagine and a range of possible responses to choose from. I got a score of 86/100 on this one, which is average. This also makes sense.

One question asks what you would do if you went to your mother’s house for dinner and she made a snide remark about your table manners in front of her friends. I know the test wants you to say that you’ll talk about your feelings with your mom after the other guests have gone home, but that’s silly. If your mother is still talking shit about how you don’t use a napkin when you’re a grown-ass adult, that’s a manifestation of a long-term dysfunction in the relationship that is well beyond your ability to repair. Your job in this situation is to smile, make an equally snide but still loving joke at her expense, and then let the matter slide. Are you going to hang around the house and wait until you’re alone to say something? Fuck no, go home after dinner like an adult and let your mom have her wine time with her friends.

Another question asks what you would do if a friend just broke up with their partner and called to ask for your advice. The answer to this question is obviously “they’re not calling to ask you for advice, that’s just a hook to get you to hear their story, and you both know that, so just listen to what they say and ask considerate questions until they start winding down, by which point you should know what they want to hear, and that’s what you’re going to tell them, except that’s also what their mom would tell them, and you know they have a difficult relationship with their mother, who never approved of their partner to begin with, so you basically have to repeat what they told you back to them in a way that doesn’t sound like their mom.” This is clearly the correct answer, and I would gladly have chosen it, but it wasn’t an option for some reason.

Another question asks what you would do if you caught your boss embezzling pocket change. I think the answer is supposed to be “be a good citizen,” but let’s be real. You didn’t catch your boss embezzling pocket change. You didn’t see anything at all, in fact, and that’s why you’re not going to say anything. One day, when you do not embezzle pocket change, your boss will similarly not see or say anything. We do not hold moral responsibility toward corporations, Karen.

(I suppose this begs the question of whether I’ve ever stolen from a low-wage job. The answer is yes. Of course I have! Mostly toilet paper and food that was going in the trash anyway. I’ve also witnessed people shoplifting and done nothing to stop them. Do you want to be the monster restocking the shelves at Walmart who feels compelled to say something to the woman who comes in after midnight and gently nudges a pack of diapers into the back of a baby carriage containing an actual tiny living human being? Of course you don’t, and neither did I.)

(I also still have a box cutter that I stole from the warehouse stockroom of a big chain bookstore. I used it just last week when I was unpacking from my recent move. It’s a good box cutter, and I regret nothing.)

Anyway, my score on this test proves that I’m emotionally intelligent enough to know what the right answers to these questions are supposed to be, but I’m too lazy to bother lying on an online quiz administered by a pop psychology magazine. So, in other words – average.

I imagine that almost everyone thinks this of themselves, but I really do believe that I’m totally average, or at least within a normal range of standard deviation.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. I would actually argue that one of the most enjoyable elements of being a writer is having an intuitive perception of the emotional baseline of any given character and then pushing it as far as it will go just to see what happens, at least according to the specific parameters of your understanding of human behavior. If every character you write starts off and ends up as perfect and unique, that’s not much fun for anyone involved.