18 Aug 2017

EQ and IQ: The Critical Link

When it comes to education, which is more important, EQ or IQ? The answer may surprise you.

The correlation between intelligence quotient (IQ) and learning ability has long been understood, but since the term emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient, EQ) was coined, educators have been trying to understand EQ’s effect on learning and what, if anything, can be done to boost it.

Unlike IQ, which measures intellectual capacity on tasks such as reasoning, processing and memory, EQ measures one’s ability to recognize emotions and adapt behavior based on that “emotional information.” But the distinction between IQ and EQ shouldn’t be thought of as “head vs. heart” or even “book smarts vs. street smarts.” It turns out, the two have a very symbiotic relationship and both have an important role to play in learning.

Researchers in one study found that students who participated in social and emotional learning programs demonstrated improved social skills and an 11-percentile increase in academic achievement scores. What’s more, emotionally educated students had significantly better attendance records and behaved more constructively (rather than destructively) in class. Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University, explains, “Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn. They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?”

For at-risk students, teaching emotional literacy can help fill some of the gaps left by broken homes and less emotionally equipped parents. “Over 70% of our students come from disadvantaged homes, where parents might not be able to model the emotional control needed to navigate school or the job market successfully,” explains Tamara Francis, a Learn4Life counselor.

To deal with these unique challenges, Learn4Life developed a complementary approach that encompasses both intellectual and emotional development. Once students are enrolled, they are assigned to a supervising teacher, a consistent champion within the school who acts as a mentor who teaches not only the basic educational curriculum but also the emotional tools those students need to succeed. For example, if students struggle with self-confidence, their teacher will incorporate esteem-building exercises into their lessons. If students are experiencing trouble at home or with peers, their teacher will help them evaluate the different options they have for resolving or removing themselves from the problematic situation.

“We’re not afraid to get personal,” Learn4Life teacher Matthew Lievre explains, “because personal problems can lead to academic problems, and we want to remove any barriers to learning.” Sometimes, removing those barriers involves more than emotional mentorship from a supervising teacher. It can also include referrals to counselors or rehabilitation facilities and financial assistance. But the basis of caring and support is what keeps students involved in the program. Dasmond, a Learn4Life alumnus, explains, “I thought that school wasn’t for me. But my supervising teacher really cared about me. She didn’t give up, and I felt like I couldn’t give up either. If it wasn’t for her, I would have ended up on the street or in jail.”

In addition to the effect on academic achievement, emotion-awareness training has another benefit for at-risk students: a marked reduction in the future incidence of crime and delinquency, according to a Duke University study. “There’s a growing understanding of what it takes to be successful as an adolescent and an adult. It used to be that we thought all it took was academic skills. Reading and math are very important for tasks that require reading and math. Self-control is important for life tasks that require self-control — that’s what avoiding arrest and violent crime is all about,” says Kenneth Dodge, a professor of public policy, psychology and neuroscience at Duke, who was a principal investigator in the study.

So for the next generation of successful students, the question isn’t “book smarts or street smarts?” It’s “how can we effectively teach both?”


Durlak J.A. et al. “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions,” Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, February 2011.

Shriver, Timothy P. and Weissbert, Roger P. “No Emotion Left Behind,” The New York Times, Aug. 16, 2005.

Kahn, Jennifer. “Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?” The New York Times, Sept. 11, 2013.

Shallcross, Lynne. “Why Social and Emotional Skills Are Vital to Keep At-Risk Students on Track,” KQED News, Dec. 17, 2015.

Dodge, Kenneth A., PhD, et al. “Impact of Early Intervention on Psychopathology, Crime, and Well-Being at Age 25,” Duke University Study. The American Journal of Psychiatry, Jan. 1, 2015.