Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the processes involved in the recognition, use, understanding, and management of one’s own and others’ emotional states to solve emotion-laden problems and to regulate behavior. EI, in this tradition, refers to an individual’s capacity to reason about emotions and to process emotional information to enhance reasoning. EI is a member of an emerging group of mental abilities alongside social, practical, and personal intelligences.

Emotional IntelligenceResearch on EI is as an outgrowth of two areas of psychological investigation that emerged toward the end of the 20th century. In the 1980s, psychologists and cognitive scientists began to examine how emotion interacts with thinking and vice versa. For instance, researchers studied how mood states can assist and influence autobiographical memory and personal judgment. At the same time, there was a gradual loosening of the concept of intelligence to include a broad array of mental abilities. Howard Gardner, for instance, advised educators and scientists to place a greater emphasis on the search for multiple intelligences (e.g., interpersonal intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence). Gardner was primarily interested in helping educators to appreciate students with diverse learning styles and potentials.

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The term emotional intelligence was introduced to the scientific literature in two articles published in 1990. The first article, by Peter Salovey at Yale University and John (Jack) D. Mayer at the University of New Hampshire, formally defined EI as the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use emotion-laden information to guide one’s thinking and actions. The second article presented an empirical demonstration of how EI could be tested as a mental ability. This study demonstrated that emotion and cognition could be combined to perform sophisticated information processing. Daniel Goleman popularized the construct in a best-selling 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. EI quickly captured the interest of the media, general public, and researchers. Goleman’s claims about the importance of EI went beyond the available data on the construct, however; for example, he claimed that EI was as powerful and at times more powerful than general intelligence in predicting success in life. Goleman’s definition of EI also encompassed a broad array of personal attributes, including political awareness, self-confidence, and conscientiousness, among other desirable personality attributes.

In the following years, educators, psychologists, and human resource professionals began to consult and write about EI. Many of these individuals used the term to represent the traits and skills related to character and achieving success in life. However, other researchers have focused the definition of EI on a set of mental skills. They define EI as a set of four abilities pertaining to (a) accurately perceiving and expressing emotion, (b) using emotion to facilitate cognitive activities, (c) understanding emotions, and (d) managing emotions for both emotional and personal growth.

Perceiving emotion refers to the ability to perceive and identify emotions in oneself and others, as well as in other stimuli, including people’s voices, stories, music, and works of art. Using emotion refers to the ability to harness feelings that assist in certain cognitive enterprises, such as problem solving, decision making, and interpersonal communication, and also leads to focused attention and, possibly, creative thinking. Understanding emotions involves knowledge of both emotion-related terms and of the manner in which emotions combine, progress, and transition from one to the other. Managing emotions includes the ability to employ strategies that alter feelings and the assessment of the effectiveness of such strategies.

There also are a number of published tests to measure EI. Performance-based tests, such as the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) for adults and the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test-Youth Version (MSCEIT-YV) for adolescents (ages 12-17), have been developed. These tests are performance-based measures of EI because they require individuals to solve tasks pertaining to each of the four abilities that are part of the theory (i.e., the perception, use, understanding, and management of emotion). For example, to measure the ability to perceive emotion, respondents examine a picture of a person expressing a basic emotion and indicate the extent to which the person is expressing each of five emotions (e.g., happy, sad, fear, anger, and surprise) using a 5-point scale. Each respondent’s score is then compared to scores from the normative sample (5,000 individuals) or from a group of emotions experts who have dedicated their careers to studying human emotions.

Evidence is quickly accumulating that EI, measured by the MSCEIT, is related to a wide range of important social behaviors in multiple life domains. For example, individuals with higher MSCEIT scores report better-quality friendships, and dating and married couples with higher MSCEIT scores report more satisfaction and happiness in their relationship. In addition, EI is associated (negatively) with maladaptive lifestyle choices. For example, college students with lower MSCEIT scores report higher levels of drug and alcohol consumption and more deviant acts, including stealing and fighting. Moreover, among college students and adolescents, lower MSCEIT scores are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Finally, EI is associated with a number of important workplace outcomes. For example, business professionals with high EI both see themselves and are viewed by their supervisors as effectively handling stress and creating a more enjoyable work environment.

EI was only introduced to the broader psychological audience about 15 years ago, and performance-based measures of the construct have been used in scientific investigations for about 5 years only. Future research will certainly expand on the theory of EI, and new tasks will be developed to measure the construct. There is much to be learned about EI, and the fate of EI is, in part, in the hands of investigators who will explore the topic in greater detail.


  1. Brackett, M. A., & Geher, G. (2006). Measuring emotional intelligence: Paradigmatic shifts and common ground. In J. Ciarrochi, J. P. Forgas, & J. D. Mayer (Eds.), Emotional intelligence and everyday life (2nd ed., pp. 27-50). New York: Psychology Press.
  2. Brackett, M. A., & Salovey, P. (2004). Measuring emotional intelligence as a mental ability with the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. In G. Geher (Ed.), Measurement of emotional intelligence (pp. 179-194). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
  3. Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In P. Salovey & D. J. Sluyter (Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications (pp. 4-30). New York: Basic Books.
  4. Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Theory, findings, and implications. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 197-215.