Emotional intelligence is a thought model that claims that to be successful, people must be able to know their own feelings. They must also be able to guess and influence the emotions of other people, and of groups of other people. There are several different models that disagree about the exact definition of the term. Criticisms have centered on whether the construct is a real intelligence and whether it has incremental validity over IQ and the Big Five personality dimensions.
The earliest roots of emotional intelligence can be traced to Charles Darwin’s work on the importance of emotional expression for survival and, second, adaptation. In the 1900s, even though traditional definitions of intelligence emphasized cognitive aspects such as memory and problem-solving, several influential researchers in the intelligence field of study had begun to recognize the importance of the non-cognitive aspects. For instance, as early as 1920, American psychologist E.L. Thorndike used the term ‘social intelligence’ to describe the skill of understanding and managing other people.
Similarly, in 1940 David Wechsler described the influence of non-intellective factors on intelligent behavior, and further argued that our models of intelligence would not be complete until we could adequately describe these factors. In 1983, Howard Gardner’s ‘Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences’ introduced the idea of multiple intelligences which included both interpersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people) and intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations). In Gardner’s view, traditional types of intelligence, such as IQ, fail to fully explain cognitive ability. Thus, even though the names given to the concept varied, there was a common belief that traditional definitions of intelligence were lacking in ability to fully explain performance outcomes.
The ability-based model of EI views emotions as useful sources of information that help one to make sense of and navigate the social environment. The model proposes that individuals vary in their ability to process information of an emotional nature and in their ability to relate emotional processing to a wider cognition. This ability is seen to manifest itself in certain adaptive behaviors.
The model claims that EI includes four types of abilities: Perceiving emotions (the ability to detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, and cultural artifacts—including the ability to identify one’s own emotions – perceiving emotions represents a basic aspect of emotional intelligence, as it makes all other processing of emotional information possible); Using emotions (the ability to harness emotions to facilitate various cognitive activities, such as thinking and problem solving – the emotionally intelligent person can capitalize fully upon his or her changing moods in order to best fit the task at hand); Understanding emotions (the ability to comprehend emotion language and to appreciate complicated relationships among emotions – for example, understanding emotions encompasses the ability to be sensitive to slight variations between emotions, and the ability to recognize and describe how emotions evolve over time); and Managing emotions (the ability to regulate emotions in both ourselves and in others – therefore, the emotionally intelligent person can harness emotions, even negative ones, and manage them to achieve intended goals).
The model introduced by Daniel Goleman focuses on EI as a wide array of competencies and skills that drive leadership performance: Self-awareness (the ability to read one’s emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions); Self-management (involves controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances); Social awareness (the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social networks); and Relationship management (the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict). However Goleman’s model of EI has been criticized in the research literature as mere ‘pop psychology.’
Bar-On defines emotional intelligence as being concerned with effectively understanding oneself and others, relating well to people, and adapting to and coping with the immediate surroundings to be more successful in dealing with environmental demands. Bar-On posits that EI develops over time and that it can be improved through training, programming, and therapy. Bar-On hypothesizes that those individuals with higher than average EQs are in general more successful in meeting environmental demands and pressures.
He also notes that a deficiency in EI can mean a lack of success and the existence of emotional problems. Problems in coping with one’s environment are thought, by Bar-On, to be especially common among those individuals lacking in the subscales of reality testing, problem solving, stress tolerance, and impulse control. In general, Bar-On considers emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence to contribute equally to a person’s general intelligence, which then offers an indication of one’s potential to succeed in life. However, doubts have been expressed about this model in the research literature (in particular about the validity of self-report as an index of emotional intelligence) and in scientific settings it is being replaced by the trait model of EI.
Soviet-born British psychologist K. V. Petrides proposed a conceptual distinction between the ability based model and a trait based model of EI and has been developing the latter over many years in numerous scientific publications. Trait EI is ‘a constellation of emotional self-perceptions located at the lower levels of personality.’ In lay terms, trait EI refers to an individual’s self-perceptions of their emotional abilities. This definition of EI encompasses behavioral dispositions and self perceived abilities and is measured by self report, as opposed to the ability based model which refers to actual abilities, which have proven highly resistant to scientific measurement. The trait EI model is general and subsumes the Goleman and Bar-On models. The conceptualization of EI as a personality trait leads to a construct that lies outside the taxonomy of human cognitive ability.
There are many self-report measures of EI, such as the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue), which was specifically designed to measure the construct comprehensively and is available in many languages. The test encompasses 15 subscales organized under four factors: Well-Being, Self-Control, Emotionality, and Sociability. The researchers also found TEIQue scores were unrelated to nonverbal reasoning (Raven’s matrices), which they interpreted as support for the personality trait view of EI (as opposed to a form of intelligence). As expected, TEIQue scores were positively related to some of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness) as well as inversely related to others (alexithymia, neuroticism). Alexithymia (Greek: ‘lack of words for emotions’) is a term coined by Peter Sifneos in 1973 to describe people who appeared to have deficiencies in understanding, processing, or describing their emotions.
Some critics of EI claim that the concept is in itself a misinterpretation of the intelligence construct: it is not another form or type of intelligence, but intelligence—the ability to grasp abstractions—applied to a particular life domain: emotions, and therefore EI should be re-labeled and referred to as a skill. The essence of this criticism is that scientific inquiry depends on valid and consistent construct utilization, and that before the introduction of the term EI, psychologists had established theoretical distinctions between factors such as abilities and achievements, skills and habits, attitudes and values, and personality traits and emotional states. Thus, some scholars believe that the term EI merges and conflates such accepted concepts and definitions.
Other researchers have raised concerns about the extent to which self-report EI measures correlate with established personality dimensions. Generally, self-report EI measures and personality measures have been said to converge because they both purport to measure personality traits. Specifically, there appear to be two dimensions of the Big Five that stand out as most related to self-report EI – neuroticism and extroversion. In particular, neuroticism has been said to relate to negative emotionality and anxiety. Intuitively, individuals scoring high on neuroticism are likely to score low on self-report EI measures.
More formally termed socially desirable responding (SDR), ‘faking good’ is defined as a response pattern in which test-takers systematically represent themselves with an excessive positive bias. This bias has long been known to contaminate responses on personality inventories, acting as a mediator of the relationships between self-report measures. It has been suggested that responding in a desirable way is a response set, which is a situational and temporary response pattern. This is contrasted with a response style, which is a more long-term trait-like quality. Considering the contexts some self-report EI inventories are used in (e.g., employment settings), the problems of response sets in high-stakes scenarios become clear. There are a few methods to prevent socially desirable responding on behavior inventories. Some researchers believe it is necessary to warn test-takers not to fake good before taking a personality test. Some inventories use validity scales in order to determine the likelihood or consistency of the responses across all items.
Landy distinguishes between the ‘commercial wing’ and ‘the academic wing’ of the EI movement, basing this distinction on the alleged predictive power of EI as seen by the two currents. According to Landy, the former makes expansive claims on the applied value of EI, while the latter is trying to warn users against these claims.