Image: Michael Crawford
Speaking of boxes of chocolates, at a January press conference in New York City to launch the test, reporters each got a small box of Godivas. Steven Stein, a clinical psychologist behind Multi-Health Systems, the Toronto company marketing the BarOn test, told us we were free to eat the chocolate--but if we could make it through the press conference without opening the box, we would get a second box. Stein explained that this trial by chocolate evoked the classic "marshmallow test." In the early 1960s examiners would give three- and four-year-olds a marshmallow. The children were told that if they could hold off eating it until the examiner returned from some nonexistent errand, they would get a second marshmallow. Only about 15 percent of the kids withstood the marshmallow temptation, with the other 85 percent becoming the people who lean over the tracks to see if a train is coming. This test of "impulse control," one of Bar-On's components of emotional intelligence, turned out to be the single most important indicator for how well those kids adapted in terms of number of friends and performance in school, according to Stein. (This reporter, being a nonchocoholic, glommed the two boxes of chocolate and gave them to lady friends--which may yet provoke a more accurate test of impulse control.)
The BarOn test itself consists of neither chocolate nor marshmallows, and unlike some psychological exams, it's not designed to uncover nuts. Bar-On and Stein see the test as a tool to create emotional profiles, which can be used to match people to suitable careers or to identify and improve weak areas. The test lists 152 statements, including "I like everyone I meet" and "I do very weird things," which subjects judge themselves to agree or disagree with on a five-point scale. The statements cover five areas: intrapersonal, interpersonal, adaptability, stress management and general mood. Those areas can then be further broken down. For example, general mood consists of optimism and happiness. (Yours truly scored a full 20 points higher in happiness than in optimism. I'm still pretty happy, but I doubt it will last.)
In developing the test, Bar-On administered it to more than 9,000 subjects in nine countries. The large pool includes enough journalists for a comparison between purveyors of print versus broadcast news. "We found that people in the electronic media tend to be more optimistic than those in the print media," Stein said. That difference can be easily explained. A few years back, this writer covered an auction of vintage Rolls-Royces and Bentleys for another publication. A prominent television journalist, who is safer left unidentified, also showed up. My optimism took a permanent hit that day, for whereas I was scrambling for a story, he came to shop. Although he might have a strong faith in the future, my broadcast brother could afford to be more lenient with his impulse control: if he opted to eat his marshmallow, he could always afford another Bentley-load.