Emotional Intelligence: What is it, interpretation models and controversies.

Emotional Intelligence. Mark and John had a fight with their boss. When each of them got to their homes, Mark started yelling at his kids because they were not ready for bed. Meanwhile, even though John’s kids were noisy and playing and not ready for bed, he didn’t yell. He sat down and told them politely to pick up their toys and get ready for bed and said there was no reason to yell because he wasn’t angry at them but at his boss. Both of these men expressed their emotions differently however, John was capable of recognizing his emotion and expressing it differently than Mark. If you want to understand why this happens, what is emotional intelligence and how it relates to real life? Continue reading this useful guide.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence- Definition

The ability to recognize, express and control our emotions is essential. The same goes for understanding, interpreting and responding to other people’s emotions. This ability we are referring to is emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. Daniel Goleman made the term popular in 1995, however, the first to reference the term was Michael Beldoch in 1964. It is the capacity to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, discriminate between emotions and label them and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. Even though this is a broad definition there is still considerable differences regarding a proper definition of emotional intelligence between the scientific community. The only aspect that researchers agree on is that Emotional Intelligence involves perceiving, understanding and regulating emotions.

Researchers studied 152 Vietnam veterans with combat-related brain injuries to create the first detailed map of the brain regions that contribute to what’s called emotional intelligence. The study found that there’s significant overlap between general intelligence and emotional intelligence, both in terms of behavior and where it happens in the brain. Higher scores on general intelligence tests corresponded significantly with higher performance on measures of emotional intelligence, and many of the same brain regions were found to be important to both.

“Your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them.” – Howard Gardner

Emotional Intelligence Models

There are three main models of emotional intelligence.

1-Ability model of Emotional Intelligence

The creators of this model, Salovey, and Mayer, defined emotional intelligence as the capacity to reason about emotions, and of emotions, to enhance thinking. It includes the abilities to accurately perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.

They established that a person had to be evaluated in four separate but interrelated abilities in order to determine their overall EQ.

These abilities are:

  1. Perceive emotions: this involves understanding nonverbal signals as well as verbal.
  2. Reasoning with emotions: using the previous step to promote thinking and cognitive activity. This means using emotions to solve a problem or review a situation. This helps prioritize our attention process and react accordingly. This also helps our creative process and it’s linked well with different types of therapy, including art therapy.
  3. Understanding emotions: Our emotions are very complex, they carry a wide variety of meanings that help us to understand the emotional state of the other person and why it has happened. Emotions have different shades and interact with each other all the time. Each emotion has its own pattern of possible messages and actions.  For example, if someone is angry the other person can deduct what might be happening and why the person acted how they acted. Therefore, consider the example below and how important this analysis is to understanding emotions.

    Emotional Intelligence

    Ability Model- Example of emotion

  4. Managing Emotions: This ability is very important since it involves regulating emotions, responding appropriately as well as responding correctly to others emotions.
Emotional Intelligence

Ability Model- Manage emotions

These authors established that a person may want to remain open to emotional signals as long as they are not too painful, however, they block out those that are overwhelming. This construct is measured through the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). It is based on emotion-based problem-solving items and measures the four abilities previously mentioned.

2-Mixed Model of Emotional Intelligence

This model is based on Daniel Goleman 25 emotional intelligence characteristics, which include everything from emotional self-awareness to such diverse qualities as teamwork and collaboration, service orientation, initiative, and achievement motivation. It is called a mixed model because it mixes together emotional intelligence qualities with other personality traits unrelated to either emotion or intelligence.

“All learning has an emotional base”- Plato

This model is based on five categories each with emotional competencies. Emotional competencies are learned capabilities that must be worked on and can be developed to achieve an outstanding performance.

1. Self-awareness: the ability to recognize an emotion as it’s happening to us is key. We have tune ourselves to evaluate what we feel and how to manage it. There are two elements to self-awareness:

  • Self-confidence on your capabilities and self-worth
  • Emotional awareness in knowing what we are feeling and the emotional effects.

2. Self-regulation: We might think we have little control over what we feel, however, negative emotions can be appeased by different self-regulating techniques, such as walking, meditation, prayer, etc. To self-regulate properly you need:

  • Self-control of impulsive behaviors
  • Trustworthiness: Being honest and having integrity
  • Innovation: Creative thinking or open to new ideas
  • Adaptability: being able to handle change easily
  • Conscientiousness: taking responsibility for your performance and actions.

3. Motivation: this ability has to start off with a set of clear goals. Positive thinking is key in this category, so it’s important to put into practice being more positive, by reframing negative thoughts. This ability is made of:

  • Optimism: Sticking to your goals even after setbacks or obstacles
  • Initiative: Taking the lead and jumping  into new opportunities
  • Commitment: Sticking to your values and integrity
  • Achievement drive: Continuously looking to improve yourself to reach your self-actualization.

4. Empathy: Emotional contagion and mirror neurons play a big part in empathy. To be capable of discerning other people’s emotions and needs you will need:

  • Understanding others.
  • Political awareness. Being capable of reading a room for power relationships and emotional course
  • Service orientation. Being capable of anticipating others needs
  • Developing others. After knowing their needs, helping them boost their qualities.
  • Leveraging diversity. Building relationships with others different from yourself.

5. Social Skills: Being able to relate yourself to others is important and for that you need:

  • Team capabilities
  • Collaboration and cooperation
  • Influence
  • Communication
  • Conflict management
  • Building bonds
Emotional Intelligence

Mixed Model

This model measures EQ with the Emotional Competency Inventory developed by Goleman as well as the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal which can be taken as a self-report. Watch the following video where Goleman introduces his model of emotional intelligence.

Trait Model of Emotional Intelligence

“EQ is a constellation of emotional self-perceptions located at the lower levels of personality.”- Petrides

This is one of the most recent models published in 2009 by Petrides and his colleagues. It breaks away from the previously mentioned emotional intelligence as an ability-based construct and establishes that people have as part of their personality, emotional traits or emotional self-perceptions.

Emotional Intelligence

Trait Model

Basically, from this model, emotional intelligence is seen as an individual’s self-perceptions of their emotional abilities, including behavioral and self-perceived abilities. An alternative label for the same construct is trait emotional self-efficacy.

These traits aren’t measured in the scientific sense but are instead measured by the respondent’s self-report. Of course, this assumes that the respondent is able to accurately describe his or her own traits. This is measured through the TEIQue (Trait Emotional Questionnaire). It’s important to note that this model can only be viewed in conjunction with a comprehensive exploration of a person’s personality.

Emotional Intelligence in daily life

Since our emotions are part of our daily life, so is discerning what we or others feel and make decisions based on this. Let’s take a look how EQ can have an impact on our lives:

EQ at  School

Researchers have found a strong correlation between students EQ and their behavior in the classroom. Students with low EQ, struggle to concentrate and even relate to their peers. They struggle to communicate their emotions, which may lead to aggressive behavior towards other students and even bullying. These behavior problems start from a very young age (preschool and elementary school) and increase as the years go by.

People tend to think that emotional intelligence is something innate or that it is developed naturally. However, most of the components of EQ are learned in social contexts, including schools, church, etc. In school, children learn to express themselves, communicate emotions, conflict resolution and empathy. This is why it’s important to include emotional intelligence in curriculums or school programs since it not only improves classroom environment but also helps children identify their own emotions. It’s been established that EQ can even help a child’s academic scores. Check our tips on how to develop your child’s emotional intelligence.

EQ at Work

Success is highly related to personal qualities such as perseverance, self-control, communicative and social skills. All of these qualities are part of a good emotional intelligence.

Researchers found that workers with high emotional intelligence work better in teams and adjust to change easier than others. They also established that the higher the EQ, the higher the coping skills of the person, therefore more chances to overcome challenges or job stress.

On the contrary, Farh and his team found that EQ is not a universally positive trait. They found that high levels might not be fit for managerial work demands or effective for teamwork. This might be due to gender differences, however, what is sure is that the job context plays an essential role between all these variables mentioned.

Even though there are colliding studies, EQ is still one of the most evaluated traits or aspects when applying for a job position. Most of the hiring methods are questionnaires, cover letters, and reference letters.

EQ in Health

Mushtaq et al. in 2012 studied the relationship between EQ, self-esteem and marijuana dependence. They reached the conclusion that the marijuana dependent group scored very low EQ and low self-esteem compared to the non-dependant group.

EQ is also a positive predictor of health as established in Martin’s meta-analysis. This means that the higher EQ the better mental and physical health of the person.

Controversies with Emotional Intelligence

Goleman’s work has been widely criticized since he assumed EQ was a type of intelligence or cognitive ability. His main critics were Eysenck and Locke who argued that the concept itself leads to a misinterpretation of the intelligence construct. Locke even offered an alternative explanation, establishing that it wasn’t a type of intelligence but intelligence applied to emotions. He suggests the concept should be renamed to be a cognitive skill or ability.

Due to the word “intelligence,” many have come to believe that EQ is a moral quality more than skill, and this has led authors such as Grant to manifest “the dark side of EQ” where it can be used to manipulate other people.

Other researchers have established that this construct has no predictive value. Landy’s study established that there was no explanation for EQ and outcomes at work or academic. He insists the validity is a methodological fallacy due to lack of other comparisons.

Others have criticized the measurement tools, where the MSCEIT would be measuring more conformity more than ability and self-reports are susceptible to faking and have no way of proving otherwise.

Due to all these conflicts with the definition and measurement of EQ, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD), established that the mental health community needs to agree on some guidelines to describe good mental health.

“Currently there are six competing models of positive health, which are based on concepts such as being above normal, character strengths and core virtues, developmental maturity, social-emotional intelligence, subjective well-being, and resilience. But these concepts define health in philosophical rather than empirical terms…” NICHHD

Our toolbox is big when it comes to facing the world. Emotions are the main part of those tools. Therefore after reading about emotional intelligence, it is needless to say it’s important to know how to recognize, understand and manage our emotions. Even though there is quite a bit controversy on the definition and construct measurement, we can all agree that this skill is essential to achieve any of our goals.

Feel free to take our emotional intelligence test here. If you enjoyed this article comment below :).



Landy, F.J. (2005). “Some historical and scientific issues related to research on emotional intelligence”. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 26: 411–424.

Beasley, K. The Emotional Quotient. Mensa Magazine – United Kingdom Edition; 1987.

Gardner, H. The Shattered Mind. New York: Knopf; 1975.

Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam; 2006.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. Models of emotional intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.). Handbook of Intelligence (pp. 396-420). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press; 2000.

Payne, W.L. A study of emotion: developing emotional intelligence; self-integration; relating to fear, pain and desire. A Doctoral Dissertation. Cincinnati, OH: The Union For Experimenting Colleges And Universities; 1985.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. Emotional intelligence. Imagination, cognition, and personality, 1990;9(3), 185-211.

Hunt, James; Fitzgerald, Martin (2013). “The relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership: An investigation and review of competing claims in the literature”. American International Journal of Social Science2 (8): 30–38.

Farh, C. C.; Seo, Tesluk (March 5, 2012). “Emotional Intelligence, Teamwork Effectiveness, and Job Performance: The Moderating Role of Job Context”. Journal of Applied Psychology97: 890–900. PMID 22390388. doi:10.1037/a0027377

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