In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychology-related terms. This week’s term is emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence involves the ability to recognize emotions in both the self and others, and then make decisions that take into account those emotions.
The first noted use of the term dates back to 1964. It was used by a number of authors in the 1980’s, and then became popular in 1995 with the publication of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence – Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
Models of emotional intelligence
Different models of emotional intelligence characterize it as an innate trait, a learned ability, or a blend of both. There are various psychometric tests that measure different things based on the model they’re associated with.
The ability-based model involves four skill areas: perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions.
The trait-based approach considers emotional intelligence to be essentially emotional self-efficacy, i.e. one’s perception of their own emotional abilities. This approach treats emotional intelligence as part of one’s personality rather than a learned ability.
Daniel Goleman’s mixed model blends abilities and traits, and includes five constructs: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation.
Is EQ a valid construct?
In psychological research, constructs are ways of describing human experience and behaviour. Research then evaluates constructs to see if they match up with what’s actually going on. A validated construct is clearly defined, specific, and measurable, and it can be clearly differentiated from other related constructs.
Some researchers have raised concerns about the validity of emotional intelligence as a construct and the psychometric tests that have been associated with it. The idea that there is a type of intelligence related to emotions sounds reasonable, but there are a number of reasons why it might not fit. A question that jumps out at me right away is whether emotional intelligence is one thing. It may actually involve a number of different phenomena that are related but distinct. At this point, there doesn’t appear to be a widely accepted model of emotionally intelligence.
However, the concepthas certainly picked up steam in popular culture, particularly when it comes to the business world. Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, writes in a blog post that emotional intelligence is skill-based, and “developing emotional intelligence comes down to not being a fucknut.”
There are various EQ tests floating around on the internet that haven’t been validated by research. They might talk about an EQ score but, unlike IQ, there isn’t a single authoritative test, and an EQ number isn’t going to give you a score that’s standardized in the way an IQ score is. There’s probably one on Facebook that Russian hackers use to steal people’s information, so keep an eye out for that. Here’s one from the Institute of Health and Human Potential that you can try, although don’t take it too seriously: https://www.ihhp.com/free-eq-quiz/
There’s also an interesting quiz on the website of Greater Good Magazine out of UC Berkeley. It takes a very different approach than other tests; it presents photos of people’s facial expressions, and then you pick the correct expression description out of the multiple-choice answers. After each question, it points out specific areas on the face that represent the actual emotion displayed. You can find it here: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/ei_quiz
Overall, it sounds like an interesting example of a concept from the field of psychology that has exploded into pop psychology without waiting to see if there is actually a strong grounding for it. The take-home message, though, is that emotional intelligence, as measured by any number of different kinds of tests, isn’t as clearly an actual thing as cognitive intellectual capacity, as measured by IQ.
The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.