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.
The ability-based model includes four areas of skill: perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) is a psychometric test associated with the ability-based model, although concerns have been raised about its validity.
Daniel Goleman’s mixed model includes five constructs: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy, and motivation. A couple of different psychometric tests are based on this model.
The trait-based approach considers emotional intelligence to be essentially emotional self-efficacy, i.e. their perception of their abilities. This is viewed as part of one’s personality rather than a learned ability. The Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue) is a psychometric test associated with this model.
Is it a valid construct?
Other researchers have raised concerns about the emotional intelligence constructs and the associated psychometric tests. That’s actually one of the interesting parts of psychology – researchers develop constructs to try to capture a phenomenon so that it can be explored further. However, those constructs don’t always fit what’s actually going on, even if on the surface they appear to be correct.
The idea of 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 happen to intersect.
However, it’s a concept that’s 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 that’s universally agreed upon. 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 are indicative of the actual emotion displayed. It’s 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.