Emotional intelligence (EI) is an extension of social intelligence that describes a person’s innate cognitive ability to perceive, identify, assess, understand, manage, and explain emotions in order to reason, guide thinking and action, solve problems, and regulate behavior. Empathy, or the understanding of other’s feelings, is a critical characteristic of EI. Proponents of EI theory argue that it is the best predictor of success in life and creates the best social relations. EI influences behavior in a wide range of domains including school, community, and the workplace .
Intelligence quotient (IQ) tests are administered to measure cognitive abilities, including verbal/numerical memory and reasoning and other problem solving skills. For a long time, the results of these tests were considered the primary predictor of future success. However, some researchers proposed that IQ results alone were not always the best indicator of high levels of success. One of those was Psychologist Reuven Bar-On, who coined the term “Emotional quotient” as an analogue to IQ. How well an individual was able to cope with the social and emotional factors should also be considered. This thinking led to the development of EI.
While the concept of EI can be traced to literature of the early 1900s and to scientific references dating to the 1960s, the term first appeared in scholarly research in the form of Wayne Payne’s 1985 doctoral thesis, A study of emotion: Developing emotional intelligence.
Perceiving emotion: an individual’s ability to accurately recognize and identify emotion in self and others.
Using emotion in thinking: an individual’s ability to use emotion to influence or facilitate thought, which involves knowing when to include and exclude emotions.
Understanding emotion: an individual’s ability to label, categorize, and describe emotions, then associate them with socially appropriate actions.
Managing emotion: an individual’s ability to regulate emotions to achieve goals .
Self-awareness: Recognition of an emotion, comprehension of how functioning is affected, which leads to decision-making.
Managing emotions: The ability to use strategies to manage emotions and to change to a more desirable emotion as necessary.
Motivating oneself: The driving force to act in order to manage emotions. Persons high in this area tend to be more productive and less impulsive.
Recognition of emotions in others: A skill necessary to read another’s emotions in order to express appropriate responses such as empathy.
Handling relationships: Responding in appropriate ways to affirm another’s feelings. Involves the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.
How EI is Measured
The first assessment tool used to measure verbal emotional expressiveness was the Beth Israel Hospital Psychosomatic Questionnaire, which asked patients to react to emotional scenarios by answering open-ended questions. The test was used to diagnose patients with alexithymia, a condition characterized by the failure to recognize and verbally express emotions. Other scales that have been developed based on this model include: Schalling-Sifneros Personality Scale, Gottscalk-Gleser system, and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, State and Trait Meta-Mood Scales, and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale. One of the criticisms of all the scales is that they focus exclusively on measurement of negative emotion rather than being inclusive of both negative and positive emotions .
Assessment of nonverbal emotional expression has taken the form of the Affective Communication Test, the Affect Sensitivity test, the Communication of Affect Receiving Ability Test (CARAT), the Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity (PONS), the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy Scales (DANVA and DANVA-2), and the Japanese and Caucasian Brief Affect Recognition test (JACBART). Criticism of these tests includes the fact that they yield results that cannot be correlated consistently. As such, critics suggest that they may not be testing the same underlying skills.
Bar-On believed that the level of one’s emotional intelligence correlates with his/her level of success in areas such as academics, environmental demands, and problem solving abilities and with proper training it could be improved upon. Additionally, he developed one of the first reliable self-reports, the Emotion Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) to measure emotional intelligence.
The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence tests (MSCEITs) appear to be the most recent standard for assessment. They measure EI by directly relating assessment to four branches: a person’s capacity to identify emotions in others, to use emotions to facilitate thought, to understand emotional meanings, and to know how to manage emotions .
Challenges to EI Theory
Initially there was support for EI as being an addition to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, which classify human potential in children. Specifically, Gardner proposed that interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences reflected an individual’s ability to understand the feelings and emotions of oneself and others. However, ongoing research suggests that emotion may be more accurately labeled as a skill.
While emotions naturally seem to be a primary driver of human evolution, some educational researchers dispute that it is the best predictor of success in life due to lack of concrete, correlated scientific evidence .
Relevance to Childhood Development
Overall, emotional intelligence represents an ability to validly reason with emotions and to use emotions to enhance thought, which can significantly impact a child’s development. Proponents of emotional intelligence feel that unlike IQ, EI can be taught and, therefore, can have a greater impact on levels of success. Studies show that implementing emotional intelligence curriculums in school not only enhance a child’s emotional intelligence, but also increases academic abilities. They also suggest that students who demonstrate healthy EI adjust, integrate, and regulate their emotions as they strive for goals throughout their development. They realize that emotions - negative or positive - are temporary states that lead to better understanding and growth. Emotionally intelligent students better prioritize their thinking and are more equipped to solve problems with creativity and flexibility. On an individual level, EI has also been linked to work performance as well as the ability to communicate effectively, build meaningful relationships, and make moral decisions. Interest levels are heightened when there is a social or emotional connection to something. They are drawn to careers that involve social interactions, like teaching and counseling.
EI is a consistent predictor of social and academic success in children.
There is a positive correlation between identification of nonverbal emotion and cognitive ability assessed by students’ standardized tests .
Individuals with high EI tend to exhibit lower engagement in problem behaviors and avoid self-destructive, negative behaviors, such as smoking, excessive drinking, drug abuse, and violent episodes involving others.
For Teacher Utilization
EI proponents dispute the historical belief that rational logic is more important than feelings or emotions. While early philosophers posited that emotions make people weak or vulnerable, proponents of EI argue that instead, it allows people to better cope with change and conflict. They propose that healthy emotional intelligence begins with teachers, who should recognize, understand, and validate the importance of emotions and feelings. In doing so, they can create a positive learning environment that may better equip students to deal with decision-making regarding such real problems as substance abuse and violence.
Advocates have found success in implementing a social and emotional learning curriculum (SEL). SEL aids students in understanding emotions and becoming problem solvers. SEL also looks at social and self-awareness, which are related to Gardner’s inter- and intra- intelligences. One way teachers implement a SEL curriculum is through the use of literature. Students can easily relate their lives to that of the characters in different stories.