Perhaps you have heard this term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (EI) being used frequently and wondered what it means exactly. You may also have come across ‘Emotional Quotient’ (EQ) and thought, “Is that just another name for the same thing?” These questions and more will be discussed below, as we explain the original science based EI concept according to the theories, studies and findings of Psychologists John D. Mayer, Peter Salovey, and David R. Caruso.


Emotional Intelligence can be described as the ability to receive emotional information, process it efficiently, and then use it to guide your thoughts and actions. Every one of us is constantly surrounded by emotionally charged experiences and relationships, and what we do with those emotions and emotional information can make a huge difference to our enjoyment or even success in certain spheres. EI can be defined as ability, rather than a trait or disposition, and as such it can be measured through research and relevant testing methods. Just as with any ability, some people would have more or less of it than others.


With the increasing interest shown in emotional topics in recent decades, inevitably some confusion and overlapping has crept in, when it comes to definition of terms. The concept of EQ (Emotional Quotient) became well known and is sometimes confused with EI. There are indeed similarities, but EQ takes a much broader approach which can become vague and unwieldy, inclusive of a variety of emotion-related traits such as self-awareness, assertiveness, empathy, trustworthiness, impulsivity and communication. Basically, EQ covers a wide selection of personality traits and combines them with socio-emotional abilities. This approach can become haphazard and disorganized and, in fact, difficult to define or measure accurately. Mayer, Salovey and Caruso regard these as mixed model researches, and their aim is to provide one coherent science based approach to understanding EI.


This four-branch model can be seen as a continuum of emotional intelligence, which has been roughly divided into four increasingly complex parts. In ascending order of complexity, the branches would be as follows: 1) to perceive emotions accurately, in oneself and others. 2) to use emotions to facilitate thinking. 3) to understand emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions. 4) to manage emotions so as to attain specific goals.
An example of the outworking of these four levels may be observed in a situation such as a high school student who arrives on the scene at her school where the final year exam results are being announced. All her peers are there and everyone is waiting for the results. The student perceives her own and her peer’s emotions of nervous anticipation, waiting to know whether or not they have passed, and whether or not their pass is sufficient to obtain university entrance. And then when their results have been released there is a range of relief and disappointment. The student uses these observations, either to congratulate or commiserate with her peers. She can manage her own emotions and then speak to her friends with the goal of helping them think through their options, depending on the results they have received.


As emotional intelligence is an ability, this ability can be measured to ascertain individual differences. Each of the four ability areas can be tested by using problem-solving and checking against set criteria. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) has been developed with two tests or tasks for each of the four branches (eight tasks in total). Tasks include being able to identify emotions in pictures, photos or drawings, as well as choosing the correct emotion, as described in specific scenarios. The correctness of the answers is evaluated according to the combined answers of twenty-one emotion experts and researchers, or according to the average answer of a normal population.


As already stated, the subject of emotional intelligence has garnered a huge harvest of theories with various methods of testing and measuring. The mixed model theories (EQ) tend to focus on self-assessment of emotions. This can be prone to inaccuracies, due to insufficient information or feedback, and can be influenced by the mood or self image of the individual. The traditional Big Five personality traits or personality dimensions are one way of measurement but these do not correlate to any great extent with the science based EI studies.


Emotional Intelligence is highly significant in the life of every one of us as human beings because it affects the way we relate to one another. Those who have a high EI are better able to understand their own emotions and the emotions of those around them. Once they understand they can better manage those emotions and use them to achieve beneficial goals both for themselves and others. Social relationships and work relationships can be enhanced by an accurate awareness, understanding and management of Emotional Intelligence.

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By Marina Musatova, Psy.D. and Katarina Mijatovic, MS.