Science of Emotional Intelligence

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By Psychometrica

What is the science behind emotional intelligence? And why is it an important factor in determining interpersonal compatibility? Keep reading to find out.

IQ & success: the gap

Knowing the historical context will help you understand emotional intelligence – so let’s start by learning why scientists felt the need to invent such a concept.

In the 20th century, researchers focused on IQ (intelligence quotient), not EQ (emotional quotient). IQ was conceived at the end of the 19th century and was initially used as a predictor of academic success. As the concept of IQ gained more popularity, it began being used as a predictor not only of academic success but also of professional success.

While it is true that people with a high IQ are more likely to be “successful” at work than people with a low IQ, there is a large gap in the correlation between IQ and success.

Many people with a low IQ are successful, and many people with a high IQ are unsuccessful. If you look at both professional and private achievements, it is even more obvious that IQ alone does not determine success.

Scientists quickly realized this and felt the need to come up with another concept to fill the gap. As you can guess, they would soon figure out it was all about emotional intelligence. Before we explain it in more depth, let’s have a look at some examples of high-IQ people who are unable to achieve professional success despite their superior academic abilities:

  • A highly intelligent manager in a manufacturing company is unable to control her anger when faced with mistakes made by her team. She yells at people, her team fears her, and both she and her team end up being unproductive.
  • A highly intelligent teenager is not able to motivate himself to study for school. Even though he has superior learning abilities, he sits all day in front of his computer playing video games. Ultimately, he achieves no academic success and drops out.
  • A highly intelligent computer programmer is required to work with other programmers on a large project. Even though she has exceptional programming skills, she is unable to communicate effectively with other team members. The results of her work are inferior despite her superior IQ and programming skills.
  • A highly intelligent researcher is promoted to a management position within his research facility. Even though his research skills are excellent, he is very shy and afraid to speak in front of people. With his lack of confidence, he is unable to lead the group, and the overall results of the research facility are disappointing.

In all of these cases, we see examples of individuals with superior IQ who fail to succeed because of problems related to their emotions: lack of self-control, lack of motivation, lack of communication skills, and lack of leadership skills.

Intelligence is not the be all and end all – there are many skills unrelated to IQ that are critical to our success. And all of these skills are associated with emotions. This realization led scientists to develop the concept of emotional intelligence and EQ.

History of EQ

The concept of EQ was developed in the 1990s. Before, the sole focus was on IQ, which was first invented around the year 1900.

It was in 1900 that Alfred Binet, one of the founding fathers of the IQ concept, began administering IQ tests to school children. In 1918, the US army started testing all their recruits for IQ. In the following decades, IQ became more and more popular, so much so that it has become a household word.

Around 1990, people came to realize that IQ was not the only predictor of success. There were other important components that influence success in private life and business life that were not captured by IQ. However, there was no unified concept for other factors that influenced success.

The first attempt to include emotional components into IQ was “Success Intelligence”, a concept developed by Howard Gardner. According to Gardner, IQ could predict success only if it included other factors in addition to the traditional “verbal”, “mathematical” and “visual” intelligence. “Success Intelligence”, according to Gardner, has seven components:

  1. Verbal / Linguistic
  2. Logical / Mathematical
  3. Visual / Spatial
  4. Musical
  5. Bodily / Kinesthetic
  6. Interpersonal
  7. Intrapersonal

The first three components (verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial) are included in the traditional concept of IQ. The musical and bodily/kinesthetic components reflect a general skill level in music and sports. The last two components, interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence, relate to emotions and are the predecessors of the current definition of EQ.

By 1990, Salovey and Mayer coined the term “Emotional Intelligence”. They also formulated the concept of Emotional Intelligence Quotient, EQ, which was independent of IQ. However, EQ was not popular until Daniel Goleman published his bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, in 1995.

The book sparked public interest in the concept of EQ and led to an avalanche of articles and books. In the late 1990s, emotional intelligence became one of the hottest buzz-phrases in contemporary psychology. As of today, EQ has become recognized as the leading measurement of an important set of skills. Its importance in determining success is clear and widely accepted.

Complete view of human psychology

What exactly makes you the one-of-a-kind person that you are? This question is far from easy to answer, but we might theorize that it’s all about a unique combination of personality traits, talents, and preferences. Luckily, scientists have already tackled this issue and come up with some theories that have been refined and form the basis of our psychometric tests.

You = IQ + personality?

Psychologists have measured IQ for more than 100 years – but they’ve been trying to measure human personality for much longer than that.

In the recent past, researchers would generally use personality tests to measure inherent personality traits and IQ tests for intellectual skills. Those two dimensions were thought to be enough to reach a complete description of human psychology.

However, before the introduction of EQ, there was a “conceptual gap” – some skills were neither part of the set of IQ skills nor part of the personality. Also, scientists noticed that IQ did not correlate with success well enough. It had long been known that there were factors other than IQ that could explain success and that many of these factors had to do with emotions. However, these factors were often seen as forming part of personality.

For example, a low IQ person might be successful because of being a “people person” or because they were highly motivated. On the other hand, some highly intelligent people may be unsuccessful because they were sheepish or lacked initiative.

However, the above traits are not personality traits but rather “personality skills”. A person might have a personality trait of being introverted but still have a personality skill of being a “people person”. While IQ and EQ describe a skill level, personality does not. Instead, personality describes the stable traits of a person’s character. These traits do not relate to skills. Neither IQ nor personality measure the skillset that composes EQ.

You = IQ + personality + EQ

The addition of EQ to personality and intelligence has completed our holistic view of human psychology. Psychologists know that every person has a certain personality, a certain level of IQ, and a certain level of EQ.

Personality describes how a person inherently “is”; for example, introverted versus extroverted, or “thinking oriented” versus “feeling oriented”. If you want to understand your personality, take the free Swiss 16 PT Personality Test on Psychometrica. You may also read our article about personality science to learn more about this concept and how it can be of use in your life.

IQ measures your intellectual skill level: your ability to think logically, absorb information, transfer knowledge, and solve problems. It is a very good predictor of success at school, but not good at predicting success at work or in private life. If you want to learn what your IQ is, take the free IQ Test on Psychometrica. You may also read our article about the science of intelligence to learn what exactly gets measured by IQ and how a person’s IQ impacts their success in various areas.

Now, on to emotional intelligence, the main subject of this article. EQ measures your emotional skill level: your ability to understand your emotions, to control your emotional reactions, to motivate yourself, to understand social situations, and to communicate with other people. It is a good predictor of success in your private life but, on its own, it is not very efficient at predicting success at school or work. However, the combination of a high EQ and a high IQ is an excellent predictor of success at school, work and in private life.

You may have noticed that the three circles in the diagram above overlap. That is to show that while EQ, IQ and personality are independent, the three of them make up who you are.

Also, it indicates that there are some worthwhile correlations between the three. People who have a “thinking-oriented” personality tend to have a higher IQ but lower EQ than people who have a “feeling-oriented” personality. This is not to say that every person who is “feeling-oriented” will have a high EQ and a low IQ, but there is some correlation between the two. Also, people who are introverted tend to have a higher IQ but lower EQ than people who are extroverted.

People with a low IQ tend to have a low EQ; as the IQ increases, EQ generally increases too. However, as the IQ becomes very high, the EQ generally decreases. This is not to say that there are no low IQ people who have a high EQ or that there are no IQ geniuses who also have a high EQ, but worldwide research does indicate the exisence of these trends.

Emotional Competences

No single competence defines your EQ. In fact, our EQ Test measures five main skills:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Auto motivation
  4. Social awareness
  5. Relationship management

So what exactly is emotional intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence (EI), often measured as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), describes the ability to perceive and manage the emotion of oneself, of others, and of groups.

Defining emotional intelligence

The definition of EI is the object of frequent arguments. Up till now, three main models of EI have been developed:

  • Ability-Based EI Models
  • Mixed Models of EI
  • Trait EI Models

We’ve explained all of them below.

The ability-based model

This concept of EI, created by Salovey and Mayer, strives to define EI within the confines of the standard criteria for a new intelligence.

Following their continued research, their initial definition of EI was revised to: “The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions, and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth”.

The ability based model views emotions as useful sources of information that help you navigate the social environment and make sense of it. The model explains that individuals vary in their ability to process information of emotional nature and in their ability to relate emotional processing to a wider cognition. This ability is seen to manifest itself in certain adaptive behaviors.

The model proposes that EI includes 4 types of abilities:

  • Perceiving Emotions: the ability to detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, and cultural artefacts, including the ability to identify one’s own emotions. Perceiving emotions represents a basic aspect of emotional intelligence, as it makes all other processing of emotional information possible.
  • Using Emotions: the ability to harness emotions to facilitate various cognitive activities, such as thinking and problem solving. An emotionally intelligent person can capitalize upon their changing moods to adapt to the task at hand.
  • Understanding Emotions: the ability to comprehend the language of emotions and to appreciate complicated relationships among emotions. For example, understanding emotions encompasses the ability to be sensitive to slight variations between emotions and the ability to recognize and describe how emotions evolve over time.
  • Managing Emotions: the ability to regulate emotions in both ourselves and in others. Therefore, an emotionally intelligent person can harness emotions, even negative ones, and manage them to achieve their intended goals.

Emotional competencies model

This EI model introduced by Daniel Goleman views EI as a wide array of competencies and skills that drive managerial performance, measured by multi-rater assessment and self-assessment (Bradberry and Greaves, 2005).

In “Working with Emotional Intelligence” (1998), Goleman explored the impact of EI on on-the-job performance, and claimed EI to be the strongest predictor of success in the workplace. A more recent confirmation of these findings on a worldwide sample can be seen in “The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book” by Bradberry and Greaves (2005).

Goleman’s model outlines four main EI components:

  • Self-awareness: the ability to read one’s emotions and recognise their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
  • Self-management: the ability to control one’s emotions and impulses and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Social awareness: the ability to sense and understand other people’s emotions and react to them while comprehending social networks.
  • Relationship management: the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflicts.

Goleman includes a set of emotional competencies within each construct of EI. Emotional competencies are not innate talents, but rather learned capabilities that must be worked on and developed to achieve outstanding performance. Goleman suggests that individuals are born with a general emotional intelligence that determines their potential for learning emotional competencies.

Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence

Psychologist Reuven Bar-On (2006) developed one of the first measures of EI that used the term “Emotional Quotient”. He defines emotional intelligence as concerned with effectively understanding oneself and others, relating well to people, and adapting to and coping with the immediate surroundings to be more successful in dealing with environmental demands. Bar-On suggests that EI develops over time and that it can be improved through training, programming, and therapy.

Bar-On’s hypothesis states that individuals with higher-than-average EQ are in general more successful in meeting environmental demands and pressures. He also notes that a deficiency in EI can mean emotional problems and a lack of success.

According to Bar-On, problems in coping with one’s environment are thought to be especially common among those individuals who lack in reality testing, problem solving, stress tolerance, and impulse control. In general, Bar-On considers emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence to contribute equally to a person’s general intelligence, which then offers an indication of one’s potential to succeed in life.

Trait EI model

Petrides proposed a conceptual distinction between the ability-based model and a trait-based model of EI. Trait EI refers to “a constellation of behavioral dispositions and self-perceptions concerning one’s ability to recognise, process, and utilize emotion-laden information”. This definition of EI encompasses behavioral dispositions and self-perceived abilities and is measured by self-report, as opposed to the ability-based model, which refers to actual abilities as they express themselves in performance-based measures. Trait EI should be investigated within a personality framework.

The trait EI model is general and subsumes Goleman’s and Bar-On’s models discussed above. Petrides is a major critic of the ability-based model and the MSCEIT arguing that they are based on “psychometrically meaningless” scoring procedures.

The conceptualization of EI as a personality trait leads to a construct that lies outside of the taxonomy of human cognitive ability. This is an important distinction in as much as it bears directly on the operationalization of the construct and the theories and hypotheses that are formulated about it.

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