Emotional Intelligence: What Makes Us Tick?

Last Updated Mar 13, 2011 10:58 PM EDT

I have just finished reading Hugh Mackay's most recent book, What Makes Us Tick? after hearing him speak at the Sydney Institute. I must confess disappointment. According to MacKay there are ten basic desires within all of us that drive our non-rational behaviour. Those familiar with my work is will know that I favour seven as the maximum number in any list thanks to what is perhaps the most widely quoted paper in psychology Miller's, The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information (1956). However, the major weakness of the book is that there is no scientific model at the basis of the work. This leads Mackay to draw very long bows when discussing his desires.

For example Mackay accords primacy to the desire to be taken seriously. We all want our voices to heard as authentic, legitimate and worthy of attention. However he then goes on to say that this desire is the basis of sporting success. Sorry but athletes do not succeed from a desire to be taken seriously; they succeed because of an overwhelming desire to win; which, interestingly, is not included in his list of ten desires.

Take also his discussion for the desire to connect. I totally agree that the desire to communicate is a basic desire of humanity; indeed it is our ability to form complex languages that really differentiates humans from other animals. However, Mackay takes this desire and says it is the basis of needing to connect first with our "inner" self and then secondly with nature. Some have argued that until Rousseau, Thoreau, and the Romantics came onto the scene that the desire of mankind to connect with nature was muted to say the least. Again these are two very long bows.

It would be otiose to continue with other examples; the problem to me is that there is no underlying scientific model such as the Humm-Wadsworth.

Indeed the references to science in the book are limited, Mayo and Milgrim being the two that spring to mind. I find it difficult to believe that any book about human behaviour would make no reference to the work of Mischel and his marshmallow study. Goleman makes Mischel's work the core experiment of Emotional Intelligence. Also there is no discussion of whether the basis of the ten desires is genetic or cultural. I would argue the desire to connect with nature is cultural while the desire to connect with others is genetic.

On the other hand the book contains one metaphor that I will use from now on. Mackay recommends that we consider the ten desires as strands of a web. We have all the strands within us, some are stronger than others but they all intertwine. This is an excellent way of thinking about human behaviour and much better than so many popular models that put you into boxes.