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Definition of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions.

 

The Innate Potential Model of Emotional Intelligence

Potential vs. Actual Emotional Skills

Applying the Innate Potential Model of EI to a Baby

 

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The
Innate Potential Model of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions. - S.Hein, 2007

This definition is based on the academic and theoretical work of Professors Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey. Professors Mayer and Salovey are widely recognized as the leading thinkers in the still new field of emotional intelligence.

The specific definition presented here is called the "innate potential model" because it emphasizes that emotional intelligence is something we all are born with to varying degrees, and that this potential is later developed in either healthy or unhealthy ways over our lives.

In other words, each baby is born with a specific and unique potential for these components of emotional intelligence:

1. Emotional sensitivity

2. Emotional memory

3. Emotional processing ability

4. Emotional learning ability

Because this model of emotional intelligence is based on innate potential, it makes a very important distinction between this inborn potential as compared to what actually happens to that potential over a person's life. If this distinction is not made, it will be quite possible to incorrectly identify someone as lacking in emotional intelligence, when in fact, they are actually only lacking in healthy emotional skills and knowledge.


Potential vs. Actual EI Skills

As suggested above, each child enters the world with a unique potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions.

The way we are raised, the experiences we have, the learning we receive and acquire, and the models we see around all combine to dramatically affect what happens to our potential in each of these areas. For example a baby might be born with a very high potential for music -- he or she might be a potential Mozart -- but if that child's potential is never recognized, nurtured, and encouraged, and if the child is never given the chance to develop their musical potential, they will never become a talented musician later in life. The world will then miss out on this person's special gift to humanity.

Also, a child being raised in an emotionally abusive home can be expected to use their innate emotional potential in unhealthy ways later in life. For example, such a child might grow up to use their emotional skills to hurt or manipulate people.

Because of these distinctly different possibilities, it is important to make a distinction between a person's inborn emotional potential versus their actual emotional skills and use of their emotional intelligence later in life.

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(See the "Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence")

 
Applying The Innate Potential Model Of EI To A Baby

As a practical example of emotional intelligence, and to see how even one baby’s innate level of emotional intelligence can be different than another’s, let’s look at a baby’s feelings of fear.

Fear, of course, is a natural feeling. Its purpose, as designed by nature, is to help the baby survive. A baby has a natural fear of abandonment because the baby knows its life depends on others. When it is left alone, it feels afraid. A baby is also afraid of being separated from its parents, so if a stranger tries to take the baby away from them, it is natural for the baby to feel afraid. But not all babies respond to fear in exactly the same way.

Let’s consider a baby’s natural fear as we look at each of the components of emotional intelligence. First, here is a reminder of the definition of EI.

 

The innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, learn from, manage, understand avd explain emotions.

 

Now let us look at each component in detail.

Feel Emotions Feeling afraid is the first step in the baby trying to meet its survival needs. If it does not feel afraid, it won't take act in ways to ensure its own safety and survival.
Use Emotions A normal, healthy baby, when frightened will use its fear to take needed action as best it can.
Communicate Emotions A common action for a healty baby is to cry or screaming when very afraid. A relatively more emotionally intelligent baby will do a better job of communicating its fear. The result will be that hus baby will have a higher chance of getting the help and attention it needs and thus it will have a higher chance of survival.
Recognize Emotions A baby with high emotional intelligence will quickly learn to recognize when the mother or father is angry.
Remember Emotions The highly emotionally intelligent baby will remember the details of how the mother and father look when they are angry, how their voices sound and what movements they make.
Learn from Emotions The highly emotionally intelligent baby will quickly learn when it does something which angers the parent.
Manage Emotions A baby with high EI will more quickly learn to manage its own emotions so as not to anger the parents. For example, it will learn not to cry, even though crying is natural, if crying angers the parent.
Understand and Explain Emotions While all of the above components can be found in an emotionally intelligent baby, the development of these final components -- understanding and explaining emotions -- are reserved for later in life, when a child begins to develop its ability to reason and use spoken language.