What is Emotional Intelligence?

What is Intelligence?

David Wechsler (1944),  – “It is the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally and to deal effectively with the environment.

We may find people who are academically talented, but are quite unsuccessful in their own life. They may experience problems in interpersonal relationships at home as well as workplace. Thus, having a good intelligence level and scholastic record is not enough to be successful in life. So what do they lack? Some psychologists believe that the lack of emotional intelligence may be the reason of their difficulty to adjust to the environment.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The concept of emotional intelligence was first introduced by Peter Salovey & John Mayer (1990).

Later, Daniel Goleman (1995) popularized and expanded on the concept. Mainly, with the publication of his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ”. Goleman proposed that emotional intelligence has a more powerful influence on success in life. In comparison, traditional views of intelligence are moderately important.

Definitions of Emotional Intelligence

Salovey and Mayer defined emotional intelligence as “The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions”

According to American Psychological Association (APA)‘A type of intelligence that involves the ability to process emotional information and use it in reasoning and other cognitive activities.’

Emotional Intelligence refers to the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information. Thereby, to enhance thought.

As IQ is used to express intelligence, Emotional Quotient (EQ) is used to express emotional intelligence. According to Salovey and Mayer, people with high EQ, could solve a variety of emotion-related problems accurately and quickly.

For example, people with high EQ can accurately perceive emotions in faces. In fact, they also understand the meanings that emotions convey. It is often described as the capacity to be aware of, control, express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships empathetically.

It is generally said to include skills like emotional awareness, the ability to make productive use of emotions by applying them in thinking and problem solving tasks, and the ability to manage and regulate emotions.

In simpler terms, emotional intelligence refers to the capability of individuals to –

  • recognize their own emotions and those of others
  • differentiate between different feelings
  • label them appropriately
  • use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior
  • manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)

All these skills are more important for success in life.

Theories / Models of Emotional Intelligence

1. Mayer and Salovey’s Model of Emotional Intelligence (Ability Model)

This ability-based model views emotions as useful sources of information that help one to make sense of and navigate the social environment. The model claims that emotional intelligence includes four types of abilities:

1. Perception of emotion:

It includes the ability to identify and differentiate emotions in the self and others. A basic aspect of this ability is identifying emotions accurately in physical states (including bodily expressions) and thoughts. Further, this ability also enables one to identify emotions in other people, to detect and decipher emotions in pictures, voices, and cultural artifacts as well.

2. Use of emotion to facilitate thinking:

This refers to using emotions to facilitate cognitive activities such as reasoning, problem solving, and interpersonal communication. It includes skills for generating emotions to aid judgment and memory processes. It also includes the ability for producing emotional states to foster different thinking styles.

3. Understanding and analyzing emotions:

This includes the ability to comprehend the language and meaning of emotion, as well as an understanding of the antecedents of emotions. Skills in this component include labeling emotions with accurate language as well as recognizing similarities and differences between emotions.

Moreover, interpreting origins of emotions, recognizing transitions between emotions, and understanding blending of different emotions are also component of this ability.

4. Reflective regulation of emotions:

It includes the ability to regulate and modify an emotional response in oneself and others. It also includes the ability to experience a range of emotions while making decisions about the appropriateness or usefulness of an emotion in a given situation. Monitoring and reflecting on one’s own emotions and those of others represents more complex problem solving ability

A comprehensive performance test of emotional intelligence is the Mayer–Salovey– Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT; Mayer et al., 2003) for adults and the Mayer–Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, Youth Version (MSCEIT-YV; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2004).

These are performance tests as they require individuals to solve tasks pertaining to each of the four abilities as defined by their theory; for example: identifying the facial emotions of people, imagining a person’s feeling when appropriate emotion is experienced. In fact, to know how emotions develop and change over time and the process of evaluating the courses of actions in different emotional situations.

2. Petrides’ Model of Emotional Intelligence (Trait Model) 

The trait EI model is general and includes the Goleman model. The conceptualization of EI as a personality trait leads to a construct that lies outside the categorization of human cognitive ability.

3. Goleman’s Model of Emotional Intelligence (Mixed Model)

Goleman broadened Mayer’s and Salovey’s model to incorporate five essential components of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-Awareness: It refers to the ability to recognize and understand one’s moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on other people. People with emotional self-awareness understand their own strengths and weaknesses, moreover, how their actions affect others.

2. Self-Regulation: It involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive impulses and emotions. It also includes the skill to think before acting. Thus, a person with self regulation has the ability to exercise control when expressing their emotions.

3. Motivation: It drives the individual to achieve things. It gives a passion to achieve goals with energy and persistence. People with high emotional intelligence are self-motivated and internally driven rather than being influenced by outside forces, such as money or status.

4. Empathy: It is the ability to understand the emotions of other people as well as to feel what others are feeling. We need to treat other people according to their emotional reactions. For example, a person with empathetic understanding has the ability to connect with people and genuinely respond to their concerns.

5. Social skills: It helps in managing relationships and building social networks. It is the ability to inspire others and induce desired responses from them in a given situation. In addition,  It helps the person to build rapport and trust with others.

Factors affecting Emotional Intelligence

Are people born with all of the emotional intelligence they will ever have, or does experience affect their development? Researchers have provided empirical support for the concept of emotional intelligence and its relatedness with general intelligence (Mayer et al., 2003).

While we acknowledge that genetics is likely to play an important role in the development of emotional intelligence, we need to also note that nurture does influence the nature (as in case of general intelligence). The genetic expression itself appears to be shaped by the social and emotional experiences of the individual.

  • Bar-On (2000) has found out that successively older cohorts tend to score higher on scale of emotional intelligence. Therefore, suggesting that, to some extent, emotional intelligence may be learned through life experience.

However, the development of social and emotional competencies takes commitment and sustained effort of the individuals, and not just improvement in emotional intelligence with maturation.

  • Dan Goleman (1995) includes a set of emotional competencies within each construct of emotional intelligence. Emotional competencies are not innate talents, but rather learned capabilities. Hence, they must be worked on and can be developed to achieve outstanding performance. Goleman views that individuals are born with a general emotional intelligence that determines their potential for learning the emotional competencies.

Researches and Studies on Emotional Intelligence


A wide range of findings from the fields of psychotherapy, training programs and executive education (Barlow, 1985; Marrow, Jarrett, & Rupinski, 1997; Boyatzis, Cowan, & Kolb, 1995) provide evidence for people’s ability to improve their social and emotional competence with sustained effort and a systematic program.

In fact, the findings in the emerging field of affective neuroscience are focusing on researches. Such that demonstrate that the brain circuitry of emotion exhibits a fair degree of plasticity, even in adulthood (Davidson, Jackson, & Kalin 2000).

Recent research on “mindfulness” training (emotional self regulation strategy) has also reported that training can actually alter the brain centers that regulate negative and positive emotions (Davidson et. al., 2003). The mindfulness training basically focuses on helping people to stay focused on the present, thus keeping distressful and distracting thoughts (e.g. worries) away, and to pause before acting on emotional impulse.

Thus. these results support our notion that emotional intelligence competencies can be developed; in other words the environment plays an important role in the development of emotional intelligence.


In one study, researchers asked 321 participants to read passages written by nonparticipants. They had to try to guess what the nonparticipants were feeling while they were writing (Mayer & Geher, 1996).

The assumption was that people who were good at connecting thoughts to feelings would also have a high degree of empathy and emotional intelligence. Consequently, the participants who more correctly judged the writers’ emotional experiences (assessed by both how well each participant’s emotional judgments agreed with a group consensus and the nonparticipant’s actual report of feelings) also scored higher on the empathy measure and lower on the defensiveness measure.

Furthermore, these same participants also had higher SAT scores (self – reported), leading Mayer and colleagues to conclude not only that emotional intelligence is a valid and measurable concept but also that general intelligence and emotional intelligence may be related.

Those who are high in emotional intelligence are also smarter in the traditional sense (Mayer et al., 2000).

Another review found individuals with higher emotional intelligence tended to have better social relationships for both children and adults. Also had better family and intimate relationships, were perceived more positively by others, had better academic achievement, were more successful at work, and experienced greater psychological well-being (Mayer, Roberts, et al., 2008)


While the progress of the emotional intelligence paradigm has been impressive, however, much remains to be discovered. One problem with emotional intelligence tests is that they often do not show a great deal of reliability or construct validity.

Researchers have questioned the construct validity of the measures. They argued that EQ measures knowledge about what emotions are, but not necessarily how to use those emotions.

Moreover, it is actually a personality trait or a skill that can be applied in some specific work situations. For instance, academic and work situations.

Hopefully, upcoming research will facilitate continued refinement of the theory. Thus, it will help us to understand the concept of emotional intelligence and factors contributing to its development.


  • egyankosh.ac.in
  • Ciccarelli, S. K.; White J. N. Adapted by Girishwar Misra (2018). Psychology (5th Edition). Pearson.

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