Emotional intelligence (EI) describes the ability, capacity, skill or, in the case of the trait EI model, a self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups. Different models have been proposed for the definition of EI and disagreement exists as to how the term should be used. Despite these disagreements, which are often highly technical, the ability EI and trait EI models (but not the mixed models) enjoy support in the literature and have successful applications in different domains.
The earliest roots of emotional intelligence can be traced to 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, 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 can 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 are lacking in ability to fully explain performance outcomes.
The first use of the term “emotional intelligence” is usually attributed to Wayne Payne’s doctoral thesis, A Study of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence from 1985. However, prior to this, the term “emotional intelligence” had appeared in Leuner (1966). Greenspan (1989) also put forward an EI model, followed by Salovey and Mayer (1990), and Goleman (1995). The distinction between trait emotional intelligence and ability emotional intelligence was introduced in 2000.
As a result of the growing acknowledgement by professionals of the importance and relevance of emotions to work outcomes, the research on the topic continued to gain momentum, but it wasn’t until the publication of Daniel Goleman‘s best seller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ that the term became widely popularized. Nancy Gibbs’ 1995 Time magazine article highlighted Goleman’s book and was the first in a string of mainstream media interest in EI.
Defining emotional intelligence
Substantial disagreement exists regarding the definition of EI, with respect to both terminology and operationalizations. There has been much confusion regarding the exact meaning of this construct. The definitions are so varied, and the field is growing so rapidly, that researchers are constantly re-evaluating even their own definitions of the construct. At the present time, there are three main models of EI:
- Ability EI model
- Mixed models of EI
- Trait EI model
The ability EI model
Salovey and Mayer’s conception of EI strives to define EI within the confines of the standard criteria for a new intelligence. Following their continuing research, their initial definition of EI was revised to “The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth.”
The ability-based model 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.
- 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 ability EI model has been criticized in the research for lacking face and predictive validity in the workplace.
Measurement of the ability EI model
Different models of EI have led to the development of various instruments for the assessment of the construct. While some of these measures may overlap, most researchers agree that they tap slightly different constructs. The current measure of Mayer and Salovey’s model of EI, the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) is based on a series of emotion-based problem-solving items. Consistent with the model’s claim of EI as a type of intelligence, the test is modeled on ability-based IQ tests. By testing a person’s abilities on each of the four branches of emotional intelligence, it generates scores for each of the branches as well as a total score.
Central to the four-branch model is the idea that EI requires attunement to social norms. Therefore, the MSCEIT is scored in a consensus fashion, with higher scores indicating higher overlap between an individual’s answers and those provided by a worldwide sample of respondents. The MSCEIT can also be expert-scored, so that the amount of overlap is calculated between an individual’s answers and those provided by a group of 21 emotion researchers.
Although promoted as an ability test, the MSCEIT is most unlike standard IQ tests in that its items do not have objectively correct responses. Among other problems, the consensus scoring criterion means that it is impossible to create items (questions) that only a minority of respondents can solve, because, by definition, responses are deemed emotionally “intelligent” only if the majority of the sample has endorsed them. This and other similar problems have led cognitive ability experts to question the definition of EI as a genuine intelligence.
In a study by Føllesdal, the MSCEIT test results of 111 business leaders were compared with how their employees described their leader. It was found that there were no correlations between a leader’s test results and how he or she was rated by the employees, with regard to empathy, ability to motivate, and leader effectiveness. Føllesdal also criticized the Canadian company Multi-Health Systems, which administers the MSCEIT test. The test contains 141 questions but it was found after publishing the test that 19 of these did not give the expected answers. This has led Multi-Health Systems to remove answers to these 19 questions before scoring, but without stating this officially.
Mixed models of EI
- 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.
- Relationship management – the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.
Goleman includes a set of emotional competencies within each construct of EI. Emotional competencies are not innate talents, but rather learned capabilities that must be worked on and can be developed to achieve outstanding performance. Goleman posits that individuals are born with a general emotional intelligence that determines their potential for learning emotional competencies. Goleman’s model of EI has been criticized in the research literature as mere “pop psychology” (Mayer, Roberts, & Barsade, 2008).
Measurement of the Emotional Competencies (Goleman) model
Two measurement tools are based on the Goleman model:
- The Emotional Competency Inventory (ECI), which was created in 1999, and the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI), which was created in 2007.
- The Emotional Intelligence Appraisal, which was created in 2001 and which can be taken as a self-report or 360-degree assessment.
The Bar-On model of Emotional-Social Intelligence (ESI)
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 emotional intelligence (trait EI) model discussed below.
Measurement of the ESI Model
The Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), is a self-report measure of EI developed as a measure of emotionally and socially competent behavior that provides an estimate of one’s emotional and social intelligence. The EQ-i is not meant to measure personality traits or cognitive capacity, but rather the mental ability to be successful in dealing with environmental demands and pressures. One hundred and thirty three items (questions or factors) are used to obtain a Total EQ (Total Emotional Quotient) and to produce five composite scale scores, corresponding to the five main components of the Bar-On model. A limitation of this model is that it claims to measure some kind of ability through self-report items (for a discussion, see Matthews, Zeidner, & Roberts, 2001). The EQ-i has been found to be highly susceptible to faking (Day & Carroll, 2008; Grubb & McDaniel, 2007).
The trait EI model
Petrides and colleagues (see also Petrides, 2009) proposed a conceptual distinction between the ability based model and a trait based model of EI. 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. Trait EI should be investigated within a personality framework. An alternative label for the same construct is trait emotional self-efficacy.
The trait EI model is general and subsumes the Goleman and Bar-On models discussed above. The conceptualization of EI as a personality trait leads to a construct that lies outside the taxonomy of human cognitive ability. This is an important distinction in as much as it bears directly on the operationalization of the construct and the theories and hypotheses that are formulated about it.