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Definition: emotional intelligence from Greenwood Dictionary of Education

A theory of intelligence related to social intelligence. Emotional intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to cultivate positive interpersonal relationships and monitor personal emotions. Individuals possessing a high degree of emotional intelligence are capable of using emotions to inform their thoughts and actions. In schooling, emotions are perceived as a basis for learning, thinking, and socialization. (crl)

Summary Article: Emotional Intelligence from Encyclopedia of Human Relationships

The term emotional intelligence (EI) was introduced to the scholarly literature in 1990 in two journal articles written by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer. These researchers proposed a model to explain individual differences in people's ability to use emotion-related information to enhance thinking and problem solving. In 1997, Mayer and Salovey revised their model and published a formal theory that defined EI as a set of four mental abilities pertaining to the perception, use, understanding, and regulation of emotion.

EI was popularized in 1995 by Daniel Goleman in his bestselling book on the topic. Since then, a variety of “mixed” conceptualizations of the construct have emerged. Whereas Mayer and Salovey's ability model includes only mental skills that directly involve the interaction of affect and cognition to facilitate complex problem solving, mixed models incorporate personality traits such as motivation and optimism in addition to the types of emotion-related skills found in the ability model. Research shows that self-report inventories based on mixed model conceptions of EI lack discriminant validity from established measures of personality.

This entry focuses solely on the ability model of EI, the performance measures that have emerged from this perspective, and a review of research on the interpersonal correlates of EI. Emotions are at the heart of human interaction and relationships; thus, it is no surprise that relationship researchers are taking the construct of EI seriously.

The Mayer and Salovey Model of Emotional Intelligence

Mayer and Salovey's model of EI consists of four branches or abilities (i.e., the perception, use, understanding, and regulation of emotion), each of which corresponds to a distinct set of skills. Before emotions can be understood or regulated, they must be interpreted accurately. Thus, the first and most fundamental branch of EI, perceiving emotion, includes the abilities to identify, distinguish, and express emotions. Emotions are revealed in artwork, vocal intonations, facial expressions, gestures, and one's own physiological sensations, as well as in numerous other channels. Each of these modes of expression demands keen perception to process and understand them well.

Researchers have long known that emotions alter cognitive processes. The second branch of EI, using emotion, involves the practical application of this knowledge: the ability to generate emotions in oneself and in others, resulting in different cognitive states. People tend to be more creative, optimistic, and big-picture-oriented when they are happy, for example, and more pessimistic and detail-oriented when they are sad or angry.

The third branch of EI, understanding emotion, refers to both crystallized knowledge of emotions as well as to the ability to predict how one's emotional state will evolve as a situation changes. The former subset of understanding emotion includes one's emotion vocabulary, that is, knowledge of emotion-related words, as well as awareness of the adaptive value of emotions. Emotion researchers have posited, for example, that anger helps individuals focus on an obstacle impeding their progress to a goal and energizes them so that they can overcome that obstacle, whereas fear encourages them to flee when met with a situation that seems too dangerous to confront. Another part of understanding emotion, predicting future emotional states based on individuals' current emotions and the surrounding events, demands knowledge of how emotions progress and give way to other emotions. If a situation that elicits irritation continues to stymie an individual, for example, eventually that irritation will turn into anger.

The fourth branch, managing emotion, involves the ability to regulate one's own and others' emotions. A distinction must be made between mere emotion suppression and effective emotion regulation. Effective emotion management does not include stifling potentially uncomfortable emotions such as anger. Emotions focus attention on the event that caused the emotion, and suppressing emotions precludes access to the information that can be gained by paying attention to them. Managing emotion instead involves remaining open to these cues and using them to guide attention, for example, to problems that need to be addressed. Effective emotion management occurs by recognizing and, when possible, addressing the problem causing the emotion, rather than by ignoring the emotion itself. Managing emotion is the most advanced of the four branches of EI in that one must draw on the first three branches to manage emotion properly. For example, a person would be unlikely to help a friend manage his sadness if he failed to perceive the sadness or did not understand what it would take for the sadness to progress to a different emotion. Effective emotion management requires observation of the initial emotion, understanding of what actions might result in the desired change in emotion, implementation of the action, and judgment of the effectiveness of the action.

Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Mayer and Salovey's model of EI is measured with the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), a performance test. The MSCEIT assesses the four-branch model of EI with 141 items that are divided among eight tasks (two for each branch). Unlike self-report measures, each task on the MSCEIT requires the test-taker to answer questions in which some responses to each question are objectively more accurate than others.

Perceiving Emotion is measured by asking test-takers to identify the emotions expressed in photographs of people's faces (Faces) as well as the feelings suggested by artistic drawings and landscapes (Pictures). Using Emotion is measured by two tasks that assess the ability to describe emotional sensations and their parallels to other sensory modalities (Sensations), and identify feelings that might enhance or hinder the successful performance of various cognitive and behavioral tasks (Facilitation). Understanding Emotion is measured by two tasks that pertain to a person's ability to analyze blended or multifaceted emotions (Blends) and to understand how emotional reactions transform over time (Changes). Finally, Managing Emotion has two subtests that assess participants' knowledge of the best strategies for managing both their own emotional experiences (Emotion Management) and the emotions of others (Social Management).

On the MSCEIT, the quality of the test-takers' responses is judged by comparing their responses with those given by experts in the field of emotion research (21 members of the International Society for Research on Emotions) or to responses given by a consensus sample of approximately 5,000 individuals. Research shows that these two scoring methods correlate highly and that correlations with various outcomes replicate across the two scoring methods. The MSCEIT also demonstrates predictive and cross-cultural validity (in its translated versions, which include German, French, Italian, and Spanish). EI scores as measured with the MSCEIT are positively associated with a range of outcomes including academic achievement, life satisfaction, and relationship quality. The scores also negatively predict such outcomes as deviant behaviors (e.g., engaging in physical fights, gambling, and vandalizing) and alcohol and illegal substance use. Finally, the tasks in the MSCEIT yield results that are distinct among the people who take the test, suggesting that the four branches represent separate, though related, abilities.

Emotional Intelligence and Human Relationships

Emotions affect all aspects of human relationships. Emotional states influence whether individuals reach out to their loved ones or push them away, what messages they express when they communicate, and how they go about nurturing their relationships (or not). Each branch of EI as well as the construct as a whole is linked to strong social bonds.

Numerous studies have found associations between people's ability to perceive emotion and the quality of their interpersonal relationships. Students who are better able to recognize emotions in photographs of faces and recordings of voices have been found to report greater relationship well-being. Similarly, husbands in satisfied marriages have been found to be better able to identify the meaning of their wives' vocal tone than have their counterparts in unhappy marriages. No association was found between wives' ability to recognize the meaning of their husbands' vocal tone. Some scientists argue that this gender difference occurred because women tend to have higher EI than men, and that the majority of the wives participating in the study passed some minimum threshold of emotion-related ability that many of their husbands did not The second branch of EI, using emotion to facilitate thought, is particularly relevant to human relationships in the form of empathy. The term empathy can be applied to a host of distinct definitions ranging from feelings of sympathy and pity to cognitively taking on the perspective of another person. In this context, however, EI researchers consider empathy to mean the ability to generate in oneself the emotions that another person feels. This “emotional synchrony” and the mimicry that often accompanies it, such as similar posture, vocal tone, and facial expression, are associated with greater fondness between empathic perceivers and the people with whom they empathize. The link between empathy and affinity does not seem to be unidirectional; people are more likely to mimic those whom they like than those whom they do not, and controlled experiments have found that people quickly become more fond of others who mimic their emotional expressions.

A large lexicon of emotion words is necessary to communicate one's feelings accurately to others. People who are able to express their emotions effectively tend to be more satisfied with their relationships. Even in relationships where both parties are skilled at identifying emotions, frank conversations about emotions are necessary to ensure that each partner in the relationship understands how the other feels and what caused those emotions. This is especially important in situations where one person is distraught or angry over some element of the relationship (as is inevitable in close relationships); talking about the emotions and the causes behind them can inform the other person so that the partners can together address the issue.

After discussing an emotional event or a problem in the relationship, acting to address the issue requires effective emotion management. Constructive responses such as speaking calmly and listening tend to result in greater relationship satisfaction, whereas destructive responses that dismiss and belittle the other person generally lead to dissatisfaction. As discussed earlier, effective emotion management includes remaining open to emotions, even those that may be uncomfortable. The alternative, suppressing emotion, is often linked to greater dissatisfaction in relationships. Forgiveness is also related to emotion management. Not surprisingly, the desire to avoid or seek revenge on someone who has wronged an individual is associated with decreased future relationship quality, whereas expressions of benevolence toward the wrongdoer are associated with greater closeness in the future. Overcoming the urge for revenge or creating distance from the person who committed the wrong requires good emotion management, which often involves discussing the issue with the offender and coming to an understanding about what is acceptable and desirable to both individuals.

EI researchers at the Health, Emotion, and Behavior Laboratory at Yale University assert that EI allows for easier navigation through the emotionally intense situations that characterize interpersonal relationships. Indeed, several studies suggest that EI, as measured by the MSCEIT, is positively associated with relationship quality and satisfaction among friends, classmates, and romantic partners.

The mechanisms that link EI and relationship quality are still uncertain. The most probable explanation, though, is that each branch of EI contributes to relationship quality in different ways. Perceiving emotion, for example, allows individuals to recognize friends' and loved ones' distress, whereas using emotion to facilitate empathy may help them understand the others' point of view. Understanding emotion may then encourage an open discussion about the emotions, and managing emotions may help them confront the source of the distress. Relationship quality is best achieved with the full range of emotion-related abilities in EI.

See also

Communication, Nonverbal, Conflict Resolution, Emotional Communication, Emotion in Relationships, Emotion Regulation in Relationships

Further Readings
  • Brackett, M. A.; Rivers, S.; Shiffman, S.; Lerner, N.; Salovey, P. Relating emotional abilities to social functioning: A comparison of performance and self-report measures of emotional intelligence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 91 : 780-795., 2006.
  • Brackett, M. A., & Salovey, P. (2004). Measuring emotional intelligence as a mental ability with the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. In Geher, G.(Ed.), Measurement of emotional intelligence (pp. 179-194). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
  • Brackett, M. A.; Warner, R. M.; Bosco, J. Emotional intelligence and relationship quality among couples. Personal Relationships 12 : 197-212., 2005.
  • Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam.
  • Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In Salovey, P. & Sluyter, D.(Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Implications for educators (pp. 3-31). New York: Basic Books.
  • Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2000). Models of emotional intelligence. In Sternberg, R. J.(Ed.), Handbook of intelligence (pp. 396-420). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Salovey, P.; Mayer, J. D. Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, & Personality 9 : 185-211., 1990.
  • Brackett, Marc A.
    Casey, James J.
    Copyright © 2009 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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