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Emotional Intelligence: What is it?

Updated on October 21, 2017
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Howard Gardner and John Mayer: Psychological Pioneers

In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed the theory of multiple intelligences, arguing that merely one measure of intelligence (such as the IQ test) was inadequate in fully explaining cognitive intelligence (Smith). What resulted was Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, a model that paved the way for John Mayer’s seminal work on emotional intelligence in Emotional Intelligence: Theory, Findings, and Implications. Together, Mayer and Gardner pioneered research in the field of emotional intelligence and since, interest in emotional intelligence has taken off. So, what is emotional intelligence? Is it a product of one’s genetics or environment?


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What is Emotional Intelligence?

The definition of emotional intelligence, or EI, varies depending upon the on the source, but John Mayer defined it as “The capacity to reason about emotions, and of emotions to enhance thinking.” (Mayer, Salovey, Caruso). In other words, emotional intelligence is how you monitor yours and others’ emotions and how you react to and handle those emotions.

According to John Mayer and Peter Salovey’s Four Branch Model, emotional intelligence can be broken down into four areas: accurately perceiving emotions in oneself and others, using emotions to facilitate thought, understanding emotional meanings and context, and managing emotions (UNH).

The Branch Theory of Emotional Intelligence

The first two parts of the Branch Theory deal with the perception and facilitation of emotions. Perceiving emotion involves both the reception and expression of emotion, and is the most basic area of EI. It appears in both humans and other animals and is a crucial form of social communication and interaction. Using emotions to facilitate thought, the second aspect of EL, is the capacity of one’s emotions to enter and guide one’s cognition. An example of this is mood swings or the tendency to be more creative with certain temperaments. Anger, fear, embarrassment, pleasure can all affect thought. Emotional intelligence helps an individual handle and process these emotions in a constructive way.

The last two parts of the Four Branch theory deal with handling and processing one’s feelings. The third part of emotional intelligence is the understanding of one’s emotions. Emotions may often convey information; happiness may indicate a desire to join a group or fear might designate a need to flee. Interpreting this accurately is a vital component of EL. The fourth and final part of emotional intelligence is effective management of emotion. Voluntary control, or as much as possible, of one’s emotions is important in staying open to emotional signals while blocking those that could be too strong or painful (UNH).

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The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

A high degree of emotional intelligence brings a wide array of benefits to an individual’s personal and professional life. Larger amounts of EI are associated with a decrease in self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, drug abuse, excessive drinking, bullying, and violence. This is especially evident if an individual scores highly in emotional management (UNH).

EI isn’t just associated with a decline in negative behaviors, however. Those with high emotional intelligence tend to have a great deal more effective and satisfactory social relationships. Because they can better perceive their emotions, use them in thought and words and manage them, high EI individuals are often more open and agreeable with others. Solving emotional problems tends to take less effort, and they’re more apt to score higher on verbal, social, and other intelligences (UNH). Studies indicate a positive correlation between EL and stress management, and emotional management is associated with an increased attraction from the opposite sex. Emotional intelligence is also associated with successful customer and employee management. (Mayer, Salovey, Caruso).

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Your Decisions are a Product of Both Logic and Emotion

Nature or Nurture?

As numerous studies strongly indicate, emotional intelligence seems to play a huge role in personal success. Can EI be learned, then, or is it solely a product of heredity? In other words, is this a question of nature or nurture? Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, PhD and psychologist from State University of New York, says yes. He gives the example of emotional intelligence in children.

As we’ve seen, emotional intelligence is the ability to effectively reason about one’s emotions and how they affect oneself. It’s divided into four different categories, and is associated with a wide variety of benefits in one’s personal, social and professional life, and, according to at least some psychologists, can be taught.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Jeffrey. Liking the Child You Love: Build a Better Relationship with Your Kids-- Even When They're Driving You Crazy. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Lifelong, 2009. Print.

"What Is Emotional Intelligence (EI)?" Emotional Intelligence Information. University of New Hampshire (UNH). Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Mayer, John D., Peter Salovey, and David R. Caruso. "Emotional Intelligence: Theory, Findings, And Implications." Psychological Inquiry 15 (2004): 197-215. Print.

Smith, Mark. "Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences and Education." Infed.org. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

© 2015 JB

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    • Hazel Abee profile image

      Hazel Abee 

      3 years ago from Malaysia

      great insight .. my interpretation using my mothers teaching ... 'putting oneself in another persons shoe' .. its actually a good moral mindset. How good is this in current world ?? from experience i would say, this emotional intelligence should reach more deeply, because we should also be equally capable to apply 'intelligence' in noticing all those wolves in sheep's clothing otherwise there we can end up hurting ourselves

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