Science of Self ™ Knowledge Centre

Does Homer Simpson have Emotional Intelligence

Nov 23, 2011


In The Simpsons "Bart the Lover" episode, Ned Flanders asks Homer to cut down on his swearing, so Homer starts using a swear jar to motivate himself to contain his outbursts.
His attempt to suppress his anger when stepping on the nail is truly impressive... for about 3 seconds until he completely loses it.

The clip actually illustrates an important point that is worth understanding about how quickly humans can become emotionally compromised when we pile on negative experiences. But instead of a swear jar to help repress emotions, we're going to use a water jug as an analogy to help better express them.

When negative experiences happen, they induce in us, a chemical change. Now, remember, the human body is over 70% water. When we are at our best, we are in this sort of clear state (calm, rational, innovative, creative, high performing). 


When a negative experience happens, our bodies become concentrated with negative endorphins (represented in red). In this state we can still function, but our thinking is less clear. We can become distracted, annoyed, agitated and, depending on the severity of the experience, lose some or all of our ability to concentrate and perform well. 


Chemically, one single bad experience lasts in our bloodstream for up to four hours. However, if you have another negative experience, this does not serve as an additive, it serves as a multiplier. So if we were to say that Homer hitting himself with the hammer caused him to be 30% compromised, then stepping on the nail would not simply add another 30% — it would take him closer to 90%.

Unfortunately, human beings are more fragile than what we would like to believe and for most people it only takes 2 or 3 bad things in succession to completely compromise our state. It's at this point that we start looking at everything and everyone like they are the dog house. 


Emotional intelligence has to do with knowing how you are feeling during the day (Self-Awareness) and understanding the effect this is having on your judgement. We call this the ability to take your emotional temperature.

The ability to suspend judgement and allow yourself to return to a clear thinking state is called Self-Regulation. Some people have a much better ability to regulate (manage) their emotional state, while others can let a single negative experience spiral out of control and totally ruin the rest of their day (e.g. Homer).

As mature adults, we need to be able to recognise when people are in these different types of states (Empathy) and to help them get back into a clear, high performing state by influencing how they feel (Social Skills).

There is a lot more to emotional intelligence than this, but we find this a useful illustration to demonstrate a basic principle: emotions affect our performance. (The example uses negative endorphins, and the reverse is also true: positive emotions tend to make us more engaged and productive.)

In our own office, if someone says "I'm emotionally compromised right now," everyone knows exactly what they mean and can give them the space they need so that they don't end up in the dog house.

Topics: Emotional Intelligence

Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."


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