Reading Minds with Fitter Brains

Part of Brain Fitness is being able to read the emotions of other people. The better you are at this, the better you will be at interacting with people, either socially or in business. Like any skill, you can improve this social aspect of your emotional intelligence.

Most of the time we don’t even think about interpreting the intentions of others. We just do it naturally by reading their facial expressions and gestures to know when they are happy, angry or troubled. There’s actually a test you can take called, Reading the Mind in the Eye, to see how skillful you are at reading other’s emotions. You can access the entire test on several websites by searching for ‘Reading the Mind in the Eye’.

A new paper revisits the role of a specific hormone in improving your ability to ‘read minds’ of other people – to understand their feelings and intentions without them needing to speak. The hormone, called oxytocin, has a well-established role in love and bonding. For example, oxytocin increases in both the baby and the mother during breastfeeding and contributes to the emotional bond between mother and child.

The new research study gave volunteers a squirt of oxytocin or a placebo, through a nasal spray and then asked them to take a test the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eye’ test, that measures social intelligence. The test uses images of eyes to determine how well participants gage the emotions by only looking at eyes.

It turned out that oxytocin significantly improved people’s performance on the test. This is fascinating because it means that a hormone is partially responsible for our social skills and our ability to naturally produce this hormone influences our skill at any moment.

So the big question is, are there things that you can do to boost your levels of oxytocin and improve your ability to read other peoples emotions? I tried to find scientific articles that addressed this but could not find studies that asked this question directly. Still, it is known that oxytocin is associated with love and caring behavior so it’s feasible that deliberately trying to feel that emotion might boost your oxytocin levels and improve your skills.

If you’re a fan of the movie ‘the Secret’, which I partially am (although I think it’s a bit over-the top) – you know that many proponents of the self-development world tout the need to feel grateful for what you have. I speculate that purposefully reflecting on what you are grateful for may actually increase oxytocin in your brain. This in turn would improve your social skills and improve your odds of creating beneficial relationships that could help you reach your goals in life.

This actually goes back to the concept of EPIQ performance that I introduced earlier (standing for Emotional, Physical and Intellectual Quotient). The more you can control your own emotions and place yourself into specific emotional states on demand, the more you actually control the manufacturing of specific hormones in your brain and the more you can influence skills that those hormones control. It all comes back to working on your Brain Fitness in the end.

Copyright (c) 2007 The Brain Code LLC