The Development of Emotional Intelligence: A Case Study
Author: Nadja Reissland
Publisher: Routledge/Taylor & Francis
Price: £50.00 and £19.99
ISBN: 9780415359511 and 9528
Many times as I read this book I wondered if the author was secretly testing my own emotional intelligence. On a plane to Glasgow I was struck with "itchy eye" syndrome - the condition that befalls men when emotionally powerful words on a page create small particles of dust that float into their eyes and make them water. I was only halfway through the preface. The last time I had this affliction was reading The Time Traveler's Wife; I don't expect this sort of thing from an academic book.
And therein lies its beauty, because although it is an academic text, it is also so much more. The first half is an overview of theories and research on emotional intelligence. It's a controversial topic but the author wisely presents an even-handed review of the concept. She covers emotional regulation, empathy and negative emotionality. It is not in any sense an exhaustive review but it does not claim to be. However, in six brief chapters it covers a lot of ground in a concise and engaging way.
The second half of the book tells the story of the emotional development of a little girl, Toto, through the words of her father who tape-recorded his interactions with her over the course of two years. Through Toto's eyes (and those of her father) we learn about how infants start to understand their emotional world through verbal and non-verbal communication. We also discover how children express emotions through drawings, and ultimately how they experience and cope with one of the most powerful emotions of all: grief.
As a perceived "dyed in the wool" quantitative scientist, I might be expected to voice scepticism about what can be learned from a single case study. The reliance on this single case study certainly narrows the focus of the book somewhat (I could list numerous studies in my research area that have relevance to these issues but are not discussed here). However, this criticism misses the point; case studies were at the heart of Jean Piaget's hugely influential theories of child development and the pedagogic value of Toto's journey is immense.
The case study is used as a tool to highlight and illustrate theoretical points from the first half of the book and this is done to great effect.
Too many academic books stick rigidly to theory and pay lip service to real-world application; this book is a breath of fresh air in bringing human meaning to the theory. It's an innovative approach and makes for an enthralling read.
To sum up, this book is a great starting point for anyone wishing to dip their toes into emotional intelligence - but remember to pack some tissues.
Who is it for? Undergraduate psychology students or anyone with an interest in emotional development in children.
Presentation: Engaging, clear, concise, with plenty of visual stimulation.
Would you recommend it? Yes, highly recommended to anyone interested in emotional intelligence.
Andy Field is professor of child psychopathology, University of Sussex.