Pinning down emotional intelligence

Picture 057If you do any research on testing for Emotional Intelligence, you are likely to run into a couple of names repeatedly. One is Howard Gardner who came up with the idea that there are several types or modalities of intelligence. Two of these, interpersonal and intrapersonal, have to do with comprehending feelings, moods and motivations.  Interpersonal is the detection of these in others, and intrapersonal is ability to perceive and understand these inside of oneself. Gardner does not illuminate how people gain these two types of intelligences. His idea is to test yourself to uncover the areas of your intelligence, as an alternate to being tested for IQ. This will help you choose a direction to develop yourself through education, and also to select a career that suits you. As these tests are mainly for individual use, and not used by schools to place students or companies to determine who gets the promotion, there has been no real attempt to validate them.[1]

Another pair of names you will hear is John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey.  They define emotionally intelligent people as those “who regulate their emotions according to a logically consistent model.”[2]  This is an interesting twist. Many of us look at emotions and logic as being diametrically opposed. However, an emotional view of emotional intelligence makes it impossible to pin down.

When people say things such as “it is not how much you know but how passionate you are,” they are often pitting logical thinking against the ability to appeal to emotions. The preference for an enthusiastic person as opposed to a thoroughly competent person is based on the idea that a person can always be taught the necessary content. But pleasingly enthusiastic person in one culture may be overly dramatic in another. And lacking the competence to perform the task makes the over the top personality even more irritating.

Mayer, Salovey and Caruso have worked on creating tests for Emotional Intelligence based on their definition. However, the ability to regulate emotions in logical manner is not the only ability tested.  In fact, the actual constructs of the test have been changing. The first version of the Emotional Intelligence test measured emotional creativity, social intelligence and ability to perceive non-verbal cues. However, the more recent Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) has shifted to a more intellectual measurement of emotions. It measures perception of emotion; emotional facilitation of thinking; Understanding/analyzing emotions; and reflective regulations of emotions.[3]

These “emotional” skills are assessed through answering multiple choice scenario questions that are validated by the choice that academics in the field of emotional intelligence would choose. But the answer selection is still extremely subjective. The best answer for people living in the United States that are upper middle class with college education would likely match the choice of the experts. But it may not be the best answer for other classes of people in the United States, or even wealthy and educated people living in Mexico. The best answers need to be validated for the each group being tested.

Emotional intelligence is hard to pin down, even when you look at it logically.

[1] Gardner, Howard (1999), Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-02611-1
[2] Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R. (2004). Emotional intelligence and the construction and regulation of feelings . Applied & Preventive Psychology 4:197-208 (1995)
[3] Pérez , J.C. , Petrides, K.V. & Furnham, A. Measuring Trait Emotional Intelligence. Chapter 9
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