Emotional Intelligence (EI)

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the mental processes involved in recognizing, using, understanding, and managing one’s own and others’ emotional states to solve emotion-laden problems and to regulate behavior.

Emotional intelligence is an indicator of how mature we are in handling our emotions. It includes sensitivity to others, self awareness, empathy, management of the self under different circumstances, interpersonal social skills, self motivation and the like, all of which help people to be successful in their work environments by being able to meet the demands of different situations.

Emotional intelligence (EI), in this tradition, consists in three primary domains:

  1. The accurate appraisal and expression of emotion
  2. The adaptive regulation of emotions; and
  3. The use of emotions to plan, create, and motivate action.

EI is a member of an emerging group of mental abilities alongside social intelligenceOpens in new window, practical intelligenceOpens in new window, and personal intelligenceOpens in new window

The Origin of Emotional Intelligence

The term emotional intelligence began to gain recognition in 1990 when it was mentioned in a small scientific journal published by two psychologists, John D. MayerOpens in new window, who practices at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter SaloveyOpens in new window of Yale University. Therefore, Mayer and Salovey offered the first formulation of a concept they called emotional intelligence (Daniel GolemanOpens in new window).

The journal was divided into two parts; in the first part, Peter Salovey and John Mayer formally defined EI as

The second part offered an empirical demonstration of how EI could be tested as a mental ability. This study demonstrated that emotion and cognition could be combined to perform sophisticated information processing.

Daniel GolemanOpens in new window made the concept popular through his best-selling 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman defined EI as

According to Goleman, EI is as powerful and at times more powerful than general intelligence in predicting success in life. It encompasses a broad array of personal attributes, including political awareness, self-confidence, and conscientiousness, among other desirable personality attributes.

Following the popularity of Daniel Goleman’s book, the phrase “emotional intelligence”, has become ubiquitous, arousing curiosity in researchers from diverse fields including educators, psychologists, and human resource experts, who began to consult and write about EI.

Many of these specialists have used the term “emotional intelligence” to represent the traits and skills related to character and achieving success in life. However, other researchers have focused the definition of EI on a set of mental skills. They define EI as a set of four abilities pertaining to

  1. accurately perceiving and expressing emotion,
  2. using emotion to facilitate cognitive activities,
  3. understanding emotions, and
  4. managing emotions for both emotional and personal growth.
See Details of these processes below

Perceiving emotion refers to one’s ability to perceive and recognize emotions in oneself and others, as well as in other stimuli, including people’s voices, stories, music, and works of art.

Using emotion refers to the ability to harness feelings that assist in certain cognitive enterprises, such as problem solving, decision making, and interpersonal communication, and also leads to focused attention and, possibly, creative thinking.

Understanding emotions involves knowledge of both emotion-related terms and of the manner in which emotions combine, progress, and transition from one to the other.

Managing emotions includes the ability to employ strategies that alter feelings and the assessment of the effectiveness of such strategies.

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Presently, a number of performance-based tests have been published to measure EI. The Mayer Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT)Opens in new window for adults and the Mayer-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test-Youth Version (MSCEIT-YV) for adolescents (ages 12-17), were solely developed to measure EI.

With these tests individuals participating in it are required to solve tasks pertaining to each of the abilities that are part of the theory. For example, to measure the ability to perceive emotion, participants examine a picture of a person expressing a basic emotion and indicate the extent to which the person is expressing each of five emotions (e.g., happy, sad, fear, anger, and surprise) using a 5-point scale.

To determine the measure, each participant’s score is then compared to scores from the normative sample (5,000 individuals) or from a group of emotions experts who have dedicated their careers to studying human emotions.

Evidence is quickly accumulating that EI, measured by the MSCEIT, is related to a wide range of important social behaviors in multiple life domains. For example, individuals with higher MSCEIT scores report better-quality friendships. Likewise, dating and married couples with higher MSCEIT scores report more satisfaction and happiness in their relationship.

In addition, EI is associated (negatively) with maladaptive lifestyle choices. For example, college students with lower MSCEIT scores report higher levels of drug and alcohol consumption and more deviant acts, including stealing and fighting. Moreover, among college students and adolescents, lower MSCEIT scores are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Finally, EI is associated with a number of important workplace outcomes. For example, business professionals with high EI both see themselves and are viewed by their supervisors as effectively handling stress and creating a more enjoyable work environment (Roy F. Baumeister & Kathleen D. Vohs, Encyclopedia of Social Psychology, Vol 1).

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The author of Personal Growth composed an interesting article on EI in which he outlines 10 qualities of an emotionally intelligent personOpens in new window.