National Post

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Thursday, July 15, 1999

Americans are more emotionally mature than Canadians: report

Brad Evenson
National Post

OTTAWA - Americans could teach Canadians a few lessons about emotional maturity, according to new research.

In a scientific test of 1,552 people, a Toronto institute has found Americans possess more of such qualities as self-control, optimism and assertiveness. The only area in which Canadians measured up was flexibility.

"We were surprised to see that Americans really outdid us in this," said psychologist Steven Stein, president of Multi-Health Systems Inc. "We expected that we would be a lot closer than we are."

Using 133 questions, Dr. Stein's organization measures what it calls "emotional intelligence," a concept developed in Israel in the 1980s.

Corporations such as American Express, the U.S. Olympic team and several professional sport franchises all use the technique to bolster their success.

Subjects are asked to respond to such statements as, "I have not told a lie in my life," or, "Even when upset, I'm aware of what's happening to me."

Using a median score of 100, the average American scored 103 and the average Canadian scored 95.

Few Canadians would be shocked to discover Americans are sunnier and more assertive.

However, some of Dr. Stein's results could alter some smug stereotypes of our dog-eat-dog neighbours. For example, Americans showed a greater degree of social responsibility. "We think of ourselves as a more socialized country, with our health-care system and so on," said Dr. Stein. "So we're very surprised that we didn't score higher in those areas."

The closest the nations came was in flexibility -- or ability to accept change.

The most striking differences were in assertiveness, reality testing, happiness and optimism.

While Canadians may consider assertiveness to be rude, psychologists have long considered it a more healthy form of expression than polite silence.

Likewise, happiness and optimism are associated with success.

"Optimism is much more than a Polyanna attitude towards the world," says Dr. Stein.

"It means having a definable set of skills that help you cope successfully with the ups and downs of life."

Developed by Israeli psychologist Dr. Reuven Bar-On, the field of emotional intelligence has been slow to achieve full acceptance in the scientific community. A few critics deride it as little more than a flaky personality test.

Dr. Stein strongly disagrees.

"Personality characteristics are stable throughout life," he said.

"They don't change. If you look at things like honesty, or introversion, extroversion, there have been studies following people around for 40 or 50 years, showing they don't change."

By contrast, emotional intelligence measures skills that can be improved, such as optimism and self-control.

After several TV reporters asked him to measure differences between nationalities, Dr. Stein culled a representative sample from the 33,000 tests he has conducted.

While we may be disappointed with the result, he said Canadians, always their own worst critics, should view it constructively.

"I think we've got to really look at ourselves and improve the way that we feel about ourselves and think about ourselves," he said.

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