Hundreds crowded into the Yale School of Management Saturday to listen to Lady Gaga — but they were not there to hear her sing. Instead, Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, discussed the importance of emotional intelligence, the ability to identify and respond to one’s feelings.
Gaga and Germanotta’s organization, the Born This Way Foundation, partnered with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to host the Emotion Revolution. Around 200 high-school and college students attended the conference, which was the culmination of an almost two-year joint project between BTWF and the Center. Together, the two organizations surveyed 22,000 high school students about their emotional well-being.
At the conference, Marc Brackett, the center’s director and a BTWF board member, announced the survey results, which revealed, among other findings, that high-school students surveyed felt bored 70 percent of the time and stressed 80 percent of the time. Conference attendees gathered the rest of the day to discuss how educators, academics and policy makers can improve students’ mental well-being.
“When I was 15 years old, I told my mom I was sad and needed therapy, but she told me I was just a teenager,” Gaga said. “Today is the antithesis of that. Today we are asking you guys to be mindful of your emotions and to reveal them.”
Gaga said BTWF chose to partner with Yale because of Brackett’s expertise in emotional intelligence. Through the partnership, BTWF leaders hoped to jointly conduct research on the mental well-being of today’s youth, Gaga said. The partnership’s research gives greater value to input from adolescents than previous studies have done, Gaga said.
By partnering with Brackett, BTWF also sought to make emotional intelligence accessible to an audience beyond academics, Gaga said. Citing the often-spoken phrase “suck it up,” Gaga said cultural norms today are not in line with emotional intelligence theories because they undervalue compassionate responses to emotions. To change public attitudes, the Center and BTWF raise awareness of the need for emotional intelligence through social media and by hosting conferences such as the Emotion Revolution, Gaga said. BTWF has also connected around 150,000 youth with mental health services in their communities, according to an Emotion Revolution press release .
“Being at Yale is very eye-opening for us as an organization that is constantly trying to tell people why it is important to pay attention to emotional intelligence,” Gaga said. “We are in a place where it is a reality. Today we want to explode that conversation to all over the world so it becomes not a fringe, niche issue anymore.”
Brackett has been conducting research on emotional intelligence at Yale since he arrived in 2003 to work under psychology professor and current University President Peter Salovey. Thirteen years prior to Brackett’s arrival, Salovey and his colleague John Mayer defined the term emotional intelligence in a 1990 paper. The idea, however, did not rise in popularity until 1995 when journalist and psychologist Daniel Goleman published a book about the subject, Salovey said. He added that his 1990 paper “Emotional Intelligence” has become one of his most cited.
Research, Brackett said, has shown that emotional intelligence has a profound impact on an individual’s quality of life, as the ability to successfully identify and react positively to one’s emotions improves attention, memory, learning and decision-making. Brackett added that people educated on emotional intelligence are also able to constructively deal with rejection.
“I can’t promise that bringing emotional intelligence into the school is going to change everything,” Brackett said. “But I do hope that the conversation today is about how we can make a difference and close that gap [between the prevalence of positive and negative feelings].”
The Center applies the results of its research to classrooms through the RULER program, which trains teachers and uses classroom tools to teach emotional intelligence, said Miriam Schroers, the Center’s director of communications. Schroers added that data show RULER improves such education quality benchmarks as academic performance and teacher attrition. RULER is now in several hundreds of schools, including the entire public school district in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Several students interviewed said they attended the event because they saw the connection between emotional intelligence and mental health. Nora Smith, a student from Pennsylvania, said the dominance of negative feelings in the classroom could only exacerbate a student’s mental health challenges. Zachary Bozich of Cleveland and Gabrielle Frost, two other conference attendees, echoed Smith’s thoughts.
“Stress, unacceptance and loneliness all can lead to suicide and depression,” Bozich said.
As a part of BTWF’s mission to change cultural norms, the foundation also launched the hashtag “#IAmNotJust,” which encourages people to identify and begin talking about their emotions, Gaga said. She announced in the late afternoon that the hashtag, which was launched in the morning, had been viewed online five million times.
In the future, the foundation will continue working with the center by conducting and publishing academic work shedding light on adolescents’ well-being, Gaga said. Brackett said that the difference between positive stress and negative stress could be a topic for additional inquiry.
Salovey and Mayer’s 1990 article has been cited over 8,300 times.