Emotional Intelligence

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Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quotient (EQ) is a concept that challenges the assumption that the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is the best predictor of professional success. Unlike IQ, which proposes to be a measurement of innate potential that is relatively stable, the proponents of EI maintain that it is a continuously developing ability, competency, or skill in which "the sky is the limit" (Segal 1997, p. 19). The same proponents claim that developing one's EQ is the key to succeeding in activities from academics, sales, customer service, and management to improving marriages, mental and physical health, lowering crime, and even an individual's spiritual relationship with God. Research on EI and attempts to apply it constitute extensions of science and technology into the ethical realm. In contrast the critics of EI argue that the concept is too all-encompassing, with EI measurements contributing little beyond existent constructs and its predictive claims largely unverified (Matthews et al. 2003).

The Scientific and Ethical Concept of EI

EI is conceptually related to Howard Gardner's (1985) theory of multiple intelligence, which criticizes the overemphasis on IQ and argues for the possibility of affective and social modes of intelligences. Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) first proposed the term emotional intelligence to describe a kind of ability to monitor, discriminate, and use the information of one's own and other's emotions to guide thinking and action. However it was Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence that popularized EI as a general capacity to motivate and persist at goals, to delay gratification, to regulate one's own emotions and those of others, to empathize, and to hope. In general the concept of EI is vague and there is no precision in attempts to clarify, define, or measure it. Some literature refers to EI as a type of sensitivity to emotions in self or others (Lam and Kirby 2002). Other literature understands it as an overarching term for any non-rational skill or ability, such as optimism, manners, empathy, or self-efficacy, that contributes to social and professional success beyond rational skills (Brown 2003).

The underlying scientific theory of EI relies on research, such as that by Antonio Damasio (1994), on the neuropsychology of emotions. This research has challenged the idea that emotions are irrelevant or an impediment to rational decision-making. Instead it suggests that the emotional circuitry of the brain (i.e., the amygdala, cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, and ventromedial prefrontal region) is interconnected with the higher cognitive areas (i.e., the neocortex) and indispensable for rational and social decision-making. Damasio's book Descartes' Error examined patients with damage to areas associated with emotional processing and found that they could successfully engage in rational abstract tests, such as those that measure IQ, but were unable to make even trivial social decisions. This research has also shown that, although innate emotional responses can function independently, the neocortical area of the brain works with emotions and can modulate emotional responses to environmental circumstances. This degree of plasticity of emotions supports the claim of EI as a life-long developing capacity.

Conceptually EI also has implications for ethical theory and related educational policies. EI can trace its ethical roots to Aristotle's analysis of emotions in the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle's ethical theory relies on the development of ethical dispositions or character traits in which both reason and emotion are habituated to deliberately choose the ethical action. Certain ethical theorists, for example Martha Nussbaum (2001), also reject ethical theories that understand ethics as purely a rational activity; instead, similar to Aristotle, Nussbaum stresses the importance of emotions as an integral aspect of ethical judgment and normative appraisals. In this view, ethical development does not depend on rational evaluation, but relies on learning how to check impulses and using USE emotional information to guide behavior. The practical implication of this ethical theory has been to implement educational curriculum and staff training that emphasizes the development of EI skills (Goleman 1995, Brown 2003).

Review of Research

EI literature spans many disciplines from the popular psychology self-help genre that has virtually no scientific evidence for its claims, to more scientific analysis in neuropsychology, clinical psychology, education, management, business, and behavioral economics. In addition many collaborators in the field of psychometrics have devoted attention to developing reliable and consistent standards in the attempt to measure and explain individual differences in EI.

Similar to ethical theory, certain avenues of research in the social sciences, such as behavioral economics, reject standard models of human decision-making, such as utility theory, that minimize or ignore the role of emotions in decision-making (Sanfey et al. 2003). This research focuses on the analysis of EI as a relationship between rational and emotional processes in decision-making. Adopting methods, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) from neuroscience into game theory, behavioral economics seeks to explain how and why individuals will often reject a purely rational decision when this decision is seen as unfair. In management research, Brown (2003) has also examined the role of emotions in enhanced service provision and profitability. In other disciplines, such as political science, George Marcus and colleagues (2000) have attempted to understand the role of emotion in political learning and decision-making.

The typical research analyzing EI as a type of aptitude focuses mainly on developing psychometric tests to measure EI for both scientific understanding and potential commercial applications (Matthews et al. 2002). One of the most popular measurement is the performance test, such as the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS) or the modified Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) developed and tested by David Caruso, John Mayer, and Peter Salovey, which measures the management and regulation of emotions by predetermined consensual, expert, or target scoring. The main difficulty with predetermined criteria is that, unlike IQ tests that have definite right or wrong evaluations, EI criteria are open to criticism of personal and cultural norms. Another type of measurement is a simple self-reporting questionnaire of competency, such as the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) developed and tested by Bar-On and collaborators. Other tests used to measure EI include Goleman's Emotional Competency Inventory (ECI) and Nicola S. Schutte and collaborators' Schutte Self-Report Inventory (SSRI). Although self-reporting tests are less costly than performance tests, they are highly susceptible to response bias due to respondent's lack of awareness or even deliberate attempts to reflect expected social norms.


Despite the popular and commercial appeal of EI as holding an indefinite possibility to improve an individual's personal and private life, there is little scientific evidence for such claims. Many of the popular claims of EI proponents offer little more than commonsense advice, such as proposing that children who are taught manners are more liked by their teachers (Shapiro 1997) or standard yoga meditation techniques for calming emotions (Segal 1997). Beyond such problems of popular accounts, the main difficulty of a scientific understanding of EI is the lack of a clear, concise concept. EI is often a catch-all term of any list of qualities or character traits that could explain why individuals with high IQs do not necessarily succeed professionally or why those with lower IQs often are more successful. But a simple negative categorizing of EI as any trait that is not measured by IQ does not provide for any clear scientific evaluation of EI or its popular claims. In addition, as Gerald Matthews NAME] and collaborators (2003) point out, many of the valuable aspects of EI, such as those reliably measured by the psychometric tests, have much in common with already established personality tests. The concept of EI is vague, imprecise, and in many cases redundant.

The most valuable aspect of EI is when it is conceptually understood not as a character trait such as optimism or self-efficacy, but as a concept reflecting the importance of emotion as a type of cognition that functions together with reason in social and ethical decision-making. This understanding of EI connects it with research in the neuroscience of emotion, which has focused on understanding how the brain receives and processes information. Unlike the popular version of EI that conceives it as an ability to use, manage or, control emotions, this version of EI rejects the notion of any simple mastery over emotions. Instead EI represents emotions as making a cognitive contribution essential to practical, non-abstract decision-making.

This conceptualization of EI has implications for possible research in various disciplines, from decision-making in the social sciences to ethical theory. The concept of EI suggests that because emotions are involved in social decision-making, understanding emotions is an essential aspect to understanding political, economic, and other social behavior. In addition EI understood as a necessary aspect of cognitive decision-making has practical ramifications for developing education and training policy that include more than simply teaching abstract, rational knowledge. However, before any useful practical application of EI-based programs, more clarification of the concept and measurement tests need to be developed to avoid the problems of unevaluated claims or measurement redundancy.


SEE ALSO Aristotle and Aristotelianism;Emotion;IQ Debate;Risk and Emotion.


Aristotle. (1934). The Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Harris Rackham. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Brown, Randall B. (2003). "Emotions and Behavior: Exercises in Informational Intelligence." Journal of Management Education 27(1): 122–134.

Damasio, Antonio R. (1994). Descartes' Error. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. A highly readable challenge to the assumption that emotions necessarily hinder social and ethical decision-making. Drawing on the experiences of patients who have had damage to emotional processing areas of the brain, this neuroscientific work provides scientific evidence that without emotional responses human beings are unable to assess ethical and social dilemmas.

Gardner, Howard. (1985). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Goleman, Daniel. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books. The classic account of emotional intelligence as self-awareness and impulse control. A clear explanation of the brain and behavioral research underlying EI and limitations of IQ as a predictor of success. Less compelling is the commonsense guidance for encouraging the development of emotional awareness.

Lam, Laura Thi, and Susan L. Kirby. (2002). "Is Emotional Intelligence an Advantage? An Exploration of the Impact of Emotional and General Intelligence on Individual Performance." Journal of Social Psychology 142(1): 133–143.

Marcus, George, et al. (2000). Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Matthews, Gerald, et al. (2002). Emotional Intelligence: Science and Myth. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Nussbaum, Martha C. (2001). The Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. New York: Cambridge University Press. An exhaustive account of the role of emotions in ethical decision-making, touching on such wide-ranging subjects as classical and modern moral philosophy, anthropology, child development, music, and religion. The conclusion of the lengthy volume is that emotions facilitate rather than impede human morality.

Salovey, Peter, and John Mayer. (1990). "Emotional Intelligence." Imagination, Cognition, and Personality 9: 185–211.

Sanfey, Alan G., et al. (2003). "The Neural Basis of Economic Decision-Making in the Ultimatum Game." Science 300: 1755–1758.

Segal, Jeanne. (1997). Raising Your Emotional Intelligence. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Shapiro, Lawrence E. (1997). How to Raise a Child with High EQ. New York: Harper Collins.