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Emerging Research in Emotional Intelligence | Mayer JD

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

In this review, we describe research on EI covering a roughly 18-year span from 1990 to early 2007. During that time, work on the topic expanded from a few articles and book chapters to an active research area. Over the same period, research continued in emotion, intelligence, and their interaction, as reflected in Annual Review of Psychology coverage (a partial list includes Cacioppo & Gardner 1999, Eisenberg 2000, Lubinski 2000, Oatley & Jenkins 1992, Phelps 2006, Rosenbaum et al. 2001, Sternberg & Kaufman 1998, Voss & Wiley 1995). EI is related to both emotion and intelligence, but it also is distinct from them.

In Ancient Greece, the development of logical thought — syllogisms, arguments, inquiry — was the burgeoning information technology of the day. The Stoics of Ancient Greece believed that logic was superior to feelings because people could agree as to rational arguments but often disagreed as to feelings. Although Stoic philosophy was influential, the idea that rationality was superior to emotionality was not accepted by all. For example, the sentimentalists of eighteenth-century Europe espoused a “follow your heart” credo, arguing that truth might be a property of one’s feelings and intuition, and that such feelings were truer than reason (Reddy 2001). The recently introduced concept of emotional intelligence (EI) offers a new way of looking at the debate— that people can reason about emotions and use emotions to assist reasoning.

If EI were to exist, some argued, it could strengthen our current understanding of both emotions and intelligence (e.g., Sternberg 2001). It might enrich our sense of the functionality of human emotion and the breadth of human intelligence. EI also directs attention to the role of emotion at home, in schools, and at the workplace and how the effects of emotion may ripple through groups and society (Barsade 2002, Barsade et al. 2003, Ciarrochi et al. 2006, Elias et al. 1997, Izard 2002, Matthews et al. 2007).

Our aim has been to collect what represents, to us, some of the best and most promising research in the EI field. A review of such research can help define EI, indicate its relation to other concepts, and illustrate its influence on practical outcomes. In the opening of our review, we provide a context for the present-day field, examine uses of the term “emotional intelligence,” and describe the scope of research in the area. Our challenge in covering the field is considerable because the term “emotional intelligence” is used in many different ways. One of our goals is to identify the core elements of EI and its study.


What Is Emotional Intelligence?

The term “emotional intelligence” has been employed on an occasional basis at least since the mid-twentieth century. Literary accounts of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice refer to various characters possessing this quality (Van Ghent 1953, p. 106–107). Scientific references date to the 1960s. For example, emotional intelligence had been mentioned in relation to psychotherapy treatments (Leuner 1966) and to promoting personal and social improvement more generally (Beasley 1987, Payne 1986).

During the 1980s, psychologists expressed a renewed openness to the idea of multiple intelligences (Gardner 1983, Sternberg 1985). Simultaneously, research on emotion and on how emotions and cognition interacted were on the ascendancy (for historical background, see Matthews et al. 2002, Mayer 2000, Mayer et al. 2000a, Oatley 2004). It was amid such lively inquiry that scientific articles on EI first began to appear (Mayer et al. 1990, Salovey & Mayer 1990).

Interest in studying EI grew dramatically throughout the late 1990s, propelled by a popularization of the topic (Goleman 1995). With the term’s newly found cachet, and with the excitement surrounding the identification of a potential new intelligence, many used the term — but often in markedly different ways (Bar-On 1997, Elias et al. 1997, Goleman 1995, Mayer & Salovey 1993, Picard 1997). So, what does the term “emotional intelligence” really mean?

Can Emotional Intelligence Be Conceptualized Validly?

By 2007, the wide diversity of those interested in EI was matched by the wide diversity in the conceptions of EI they employed. Some researchers defined EI as an ability to reason about emotion; others equated the concept with a list of traits such as achievement motivation, flexibility, happiness, and self-regard. Still others found the addition of such traits, which seemed to be ad hoc, to be troubling, and wondered whether a theoretically sound conceptualization of EI could be identified (Locke 2005).

The conceptual network of psychological concepts. A scientific concept such as EI arises in the context of associated scientific terms and their meanings. Cronbach & Meehl (1955) referred to this context as a nomological network — a system of meanings with which most scientists are familiar and that have been established because of their utility. For the term “emotional intelligence” to be valid, it must fit with such a network of concepts (or provide a rationale for why it does not). We begin by examining some concepts that are closely related to EI and then consider how EI might fit within this nomological network.

Our view and definition of human mental abilities and intelligence. Intelligence is a type of mental ability that concerns the handling of—and reasoning about—information of various sorts (Carroll 1993, Spearman 1927, Sternberg & Detterman 1986). The information involved can be very specific (relations among auditory frequencies) or very general (strategic planning). Often, these abilities are described as falling along a hierarchy from simple perceptual processes and information processing to higher and more general forms of problem solving (Carroll 1993).

We view intelligence as a general descriptive term referring to a hierarchy of mental abilities. At the lowest level of this hierarchy are basic, discrete, mental abilities. These include, for example, the ability to recognize words and their meanings in the verbal realm, or, as another instance, to see how puzzle pieces fit together in the perceptual realm, or to understand how objects are rotated in space. At a middle level of the hierarchy are broader, cohesive groups of abilities. These abilities include verbal-comprehension intelligence—a group of abilities focused on understanding and reasoning about verbal information, and, as a second example, perceptual-organizational intelligence—a group of abilities focused on recognizing, comparing, and understanding perceptual patterns. At the highest level of the hierarchy, general intelligence, or g, involves abstract reasoning across all such domains. Our working definition of intelligence appears in the margin.

Our view and definition of emotion. As an emotion emerges, it entails coordinated changes in physiology, motor readiness, behavior, cognition, and subjective experience (Izard 1993; Parrott 2002, p. 342; Simon 1982). For example, as a person becomes happy, she may experience lower blood pressure and greater motor readiness to approach others; she also may smile, think happy thoughts, and feel good inside. These emotional reactions emerge in response to perceived or actual alterations in the person’s environment. Our working definition ofemo-tion appears in the margin.

Our definitions of both intelligence and emotion are consistent with longstanding — we would say, consensual — approaches in their respective disciplines, but there are alternative views of both concepts (Averill & Nunley 1993, Kleinginna & Kleinginna 1981, Sternberg 1985, Sternberg & Detterman 1986). For example, some views of intelligences divide the concept into a crystallized, learned portion, including especially verbal aspects, and into a fluid portion that involves on-the-spot reasoning and emphasizes perceptual-organizational and spatial skill (e.g., Carroll 1993, Vernon 1971). Alternative views of emotion exist as well (Averill 1992, Averill & Nunley 1993). Acknowledging such complexities,wecontinuetoexamine how intelligence and emotion might connect with EI in a conceptual network.

The General Scope and Boundaries of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a term parallel to such others as verbal-comprehension intelligence, perceptual-organizational intelligence, or broad-visualization intelligence (Carroll 1993). In each such term, the descriptor—verbal-comprehension, perceptual-organizational, broad-visualization— modifies the noun: intelligence. For example, verbal comprehension concerns an individual’s understanding and reasoning with verbal information.

Many forms of intelligence concern learning and reasoning about a particular type of material and then are enhanced further by the learning they have fostered. For example, verbal-comprehension intelligence describes the capacity to learn and reason about words and their meanings. The more words one understands, however, the more the verbal knowledge one already has gained promotes the intelligence. Thus, verbal intelligence is the ability to reason about words and the use of acquired verbal knowledge to promote such reasoning. Perceptual-organizational intelligence concerns the ability to reason about visual patterns and the use of acquired knowledge about patterns to enhance the intelligence. Following such precedents, an initial working description of EI is as follows:

Emotional intelligence concerns the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought.

To study EI means to focus on the ability itself. Some have made the case that characteristics such as assertiveness and self-regard should be considered part of EI because both involve emotion and intelligence to some degree. Virtually all mental activities, however, from color perception to self-insight, potentially involve emotion and intelligence, simply because emotion and intelligence are active throughout most of one’s mental processes; that is, mental functions are highly interconnected (Hilgard 1980, LeDoux 2000). EI is distinct from other mental processes in involving a primary focus on a specific area of problem solving.

As an analogy, consider again verbal-comprehension intelligence. The primary focus on the meaning conveyed by language is crucial. Someone could argue, for example, that assertiveness (or self-regard, etc.) is a part of verbal intelligence because asserting oneself often requires words. The argument fails, however, in regard to the criterion of the primary focus. Assertiveness is not part of the

ability to reason verbally, although it may be influenced by such reasoning; equating characteristics such as assertiveness with the ability diverts attention from the intelligence itself. Returning to EI, its primary focus has to do with reasoning about emotions and the use of emotions to enhance thought.

Intelligence: a mental ability (or set of mental abilities) that permit the recognition, learning, memory for, and capacity to reason about a particular form of information, such as verbal information

Nomological network: the interconnected terms and ideas that scientists use to understand their field of study. Scientists’ ideas are characterized as connected with one another in logical fashion, and as tied to real-world phenomena, in an integrated, meaningful way

Mental ability: a person’s capacity to perform a psychological task, such as solving a problem, so as to meet a specified criterion such as correctness, novelty, or speed

Emotion: an integrated feeling state involving physiological changes, motor-preparedness, cognitions about action, and inner experiences that emerges from an appraisal of the self or situation

EI: emotional intelligence

Mayer JD et al. Abilities: Emotional Intelligence. // John D. Mayer, Richard D. Roberts, and Sigal G. Barsade. The Annual Review of Psychology. 2008.59:507-36; p.508-11. http://psych.annualreviews.org (27.10. 2008).

Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence by John D. Mayer, Richard D. Roberts, and Sigal G. Barsade (PDF)