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Introduction to and History of Emotional Intelligence

Personal note from Steve Hein

I have been following the field of emotional intelligence (EI) since 1995. Over that time my ideas about the concept of emotional intelligence have been changing. First, I thought Dan Goleman's book from that year made a lot of sense. Then I got to know more about the work and ideas of Jack Mayer, Peter Salovey and David Caruso. This led me to do more research on Goleman and I started feeling very critical of him, so I wrote this critical review of him. Now, I am feeling critical of some of the work being done by Mayer, Salovey and Caruso.

I believe the world needs a different interpretation of the term emotional intelligence and a different vision of what it can mean for humanity. So, little by little, I am developing my own ideas and putting them on this site. I encourage everyone interested in this term EI to think very carefully and critically and accept nothing as the final truth. I also welcome people's comments and criticisms.

S. Hein
January, 200


Steve's Short Definition of Emotional Intelligence

Academic Definition and History of the Term "Emotional Intelligence"

Potential EI vs. Actual EI Skills (EI vs EQ)

Inate Emotional Intelligence vs "EQ"

Comparison between the "corporate" definition of EI and my "socially responsible" definition

Some of my criticism of the "field" of Emotional Intelligence

The "Dark Side" of Emotional Intelligence

Other EQI Topics

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Free EQ for Everybody Book

Short Definition of Emotional Intelligence:

An innate ability which gives us our emotional sensitivity and our potential for learning healty emotional management skills.

To explain this more, I believe each baby is born with a certain, unique potential for emotional sensitivity, emotional memory, emotional processing and emotional learning ability. It is these four inborn components which I believe form the core of one's emotional intelligence. I also believe it is helpful to make a distinction a person's person's innate potential versus what actually happens to that potential over their lifetime. See the next section on Potential EI vs. Actual EI Skills (EI vs EQ)

See Defintions of Emotional Intelligence Page for A More Complete Discussion

Academic Definition and History of the Term "Emotional Intelligence"

In 1985 Wayne Leon Payne, then a graduate student at an alternative liberal arts college in the USA, wrote a doctoral dissertation which included the term "emotional intelligence" in the title. This seems to be the first academic use of the term "emotional intelligence." In next five years, no one else seems to have used the term "emotional intelligence" in any academic papers.

Then in 1990 the work of two American university professors, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, was published in two academic journal articles. Mayer, (U. of New Hampshire), and Salovey (Yale), were trying to develop a way of scientifically measuring the difference between people's ability in the area of emotions. They found that some people were better than others at things like identifying their own feelings, identifying the feelings of others, and solving problems involving emotional issues. The title of one of these papers was titled "Emotional Intelligence".

Since 1990 these professors have developed two tests to attempt to measure what they are calling our "emotional intelligence." Because nearly all of their writing has been done in the academic community, their names and their actual research findings are not widely known.

Instead, the person most commonly associated with the term emotional intelligence is actually a New York writer and consultant named Daniel Goleman. In the early 1990's Goleman had been writing articles for the magazine Popular Psychology and then later for the New York Times newspaper. In 1992 he was doing research for a book about emotions and emotional literacy when he discovered the 1990 article by Salovey and Mayer. According to the article by Annie Paul, Goleman asked them permission to use the term "emotional intelligence" in his book and that permission was granted providing he told people where he heard the term. Before then it seems his book was planning to focus on "emotional literacy". See this discussion for more about this. (gole.htm#9. Original Intention of his Book)

In 1995 Goleman's book came out under the title "Emotional Intelligence." The book made it to the cover of Time Magazine in the USA and Goleman began appearing on American television shows such as Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue. He also began a speaking tour to promote the book and the book became an international best seller. It remained on the New York Times best-seller list for approximately one year.

In the book he collected, and often dramatized, a lot of information on the brain, emotions, and behavior. On the Daniel Goleman page you can see notes and criticisms of the book. One thing Goleman has been criticized for is misrepresenting what Salovey and Mayer meant by the term "emotional intelligence". Annie Paul says Goleman "distorted their model in disturbing ways." John Mayer has been quoted as saying "Goleman has broadened the definition of emotional intelligence to such an extent that it no longer has any scientific meaning or utility and is no longer a clear predictor of outcome. (Source: http://www.fastcompany.com/online/35/emotion.html)

In 1998 Goleman published a book called "Working with Emotional Intelligence". In that book he widened the definition of emotional intelligence even farther, saying that it consists of 25 "skills, abilities and competencies". For a more thorough explanation of why Goleman's corporate definition of EI is misleading, see article originally published in HR.com or the articles: Models of emotional intelligence and Emotional Intelligence as Zeitgeist, as Personality, and as a Mental Ability, both written by Mayer, Salovey and Caruso.

Since then there have been many definitions about emotional intelligence and many claims made about it. Below I discuss the most current Mayer Salovey definition.

The Current Mayer Salovey Definition

Here I discuss the definition of emotional intelligence as proposed by Mayer, Salovey and their recent colleague David Caruso. (Referred to below as MSC.)

MSC suggest that EI is a true form of intelligence which has not been scientifically measured until they began their research work. One definition they propose is "the ability to process emotional information, particularly as it involves the perception, assimilation, understanding, and management of emotion." (Mayer and Cobb, 2000)

Elsewhere they go into more detail, explaining that it consists of these "four branches of mental ability":

1. Emotional identification, perception and expression

2. Emotional facilitation of thought

3. Emotional understanding

4. Emotional management

In a February, 2004 radio interview, David Caruso said they defined emotional intelligence as the ability to:

1. accurately identify emotions
2. use emotions to help you think
3. understand what causes emotions
4 manage to stay open to these emotions in order to capture the wisdom of our feelings

In one publication they describe these areas as follows:

The first, Emotional Perception, involves such abilities as identifying emotions in faces, music, and stories.

The second, Emotional Facilitation of Thought, involves such abilities as relating emotions to other mental sensations such as taste and color (relations that might be employed in artwork), and using emotion in reasoning and problem solving. (Also: "integrating emotions in thought," Mayer and Cobb)

The third area, Emotional Understanding involves solving emotional problems such as knowing which emotions are similar, or opposites, and what relations they convey.

The fourth area, Emotional Management involves understanding the implications of social acts on emotions and the regulation of emotion in self and others.

Source - Selecting a Measure of Emotional Intelligence: The Case for Ability Scales, 2000

In a 1997 publication Mayer and Salovey listed these branches as follows and offered a detailed chart reflecting their thoughts. In that article they say that the branches in the chart are "arranged from more basic psychological processes to higher, more psychologically integrated processes. For example, the lowest level branch concerns the (relatively) simple abilities of perceiving and expressing emotion. In contrast, the highest level branch concerns the conscious, reflective regulation of emotion." They add that abilities that emerge relatively early in development are to the left of a given branch; later developing abilities are to the right." And they also say that, "people high in emotional intelligence are expected to progress more quickly through the abilities designated and to master more of them." (From What is Emotional Intelligence, by John Mayer and Peter Salovey. Chapter 1, pp. 10,11 in Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Educational Implications, by Peter Salovey and David Sluyter. 1997.)

The Four branches of EI:

1. Perception Appraisal and Expression of Emotion
2. Emotional Facilitation of Thinking
3. Understanding and Analyzing Emotions; Employing Emotional Knowledge
4. Reflective Regulation of Emotions to Promote Emotional and Intellectual Growth

Perception, Appraisal and Expression of Emotion

Ability to identify emotion in one's physical states, feelings, and thoughts. Ability to identify emotions in other people, designs, artwork, etc. through language, sound, appearance, and behavior. Ability to express emotions accurately, and to express needs related to those feelings. Ability to discriminate between accurate and inaccurate, or honest vs. dishonest expressions of feeling.

Emotional Facilitation of Thinking

Emotions prioritize thinking by directing attention to important information. Emotions are sufficiently vivid and available that they can be generated as aids to judgment and memory concerning feelings. Emotional mood swings change the individual's perspective from optimistic to pessimistic, encouraging consideration of multiple points of view. Emotional states differentially encourage specific problem-solving approaches such as when happiness facilitates inductive reasoning and creativity.

Understanding and Analyzing Emotions; Employing Emotional Knowledge

Ability to label emotions and recognize relations among the words and the emotions themselves, such as the relation between liking and loving. Ability to interpret the meanings that emotions convey regarding relationships, such as that sadness often accompanies a loss. Ability to understand complex feelings: simultaneous feelings of love and hate or blends such as awe as a combination of fear and surprise. Ability to recognize likely transitions among emotions, such as the transition from anger to satisfaction or from anger to shame.

Reflective Regulation of Emotion to Promote Emotional and Intellectual Growth

Ability to stay open to feelings, both those that are pleasant and those that are unpleasant. Ability to reflectively engage or detach from an emotion depending upon its judged informativeness or utility. Ability to reflectively monitor emotions in relation to oneself and others, such as recognizing how clear, typical, influential or reasonable they are. Ability to manage emotion in oneself and others by moderating negative emotions and enhancing pleasant ones, without repressing or exaggerating information they may convey.

I have a few concerns about their definition and some suggestions I would like them to consider.

First, I would like to see them focus more on the idea that intelligence is potential. An infant can be intelligent, for example, without being able to read, write or take intelligence tests. In other words, he may have no demonstrable abilities as yet, but he may have extremely high potential ability. He simply has not had a chance to develop his potential and his intelligence into competencies which can be measured by any existing tests.

The word "ability" itself can have two meanings. First, it can mean potential, yet undeveloped ability. Second, it can mean potential which has been developed into something which can be demonstrated, measured or tested. At present it is impossible to measure pure potential, thus the MSC tests (MEIS and MSCEIT) focus on only the second form of ability. (I suspect, though, that one day brain scanning devices will be able to tells us much more about a baby's potential.)

Second, their definition and the way they discuss EI in their writing ignores the fact that a child can start out with high innate emotional intelligence and then be emotionally damaged. (I discuss this further in my section on EI vs EQ.) I would like to see them address this more in their work.

Third, I would like to see them emphasize that an emotionally intelligent person is capable of mastering an extensive vocabulary of what I call feeling words. By mastering I mean having the ability to not only perceive an extensive range of feelings in oneself and others, but also to quickly assign the most specific label to the feeling, for example in conversation with others or in self-reflection. In some of their writing MSC do include the ability to express emotion as part of their first branch of EI, but they seem to limit their test to only a few emotions compared with the much broader available scope of feeling words which are available in the English language.

Fourth, in the section on emotional understanding much of this is probably better called knowledge of emotions, rather than an aspect of emotional intelligence itself. Knowledge can be taught but intelligence represents potential before any learning has taken place. Of course, if one is more intelligent, emotionally or otherwise, this learning takes place faster and can go further.

Fifth, is my concern with measuring emotional facilitation of thought and emotional management. I don't see how you can really do this with a paper and pencil test. The MSC team say they are measuring some of these things with their tests, but it is hard to say how much their test scores reflect actual ability in real life situations, or when under extreme stress. And these are the situations when highly developed emotional intelligence may be the most important.

Finally their definition is a bit too abstract for me when it comes to things like identifying emotion in art and music. I found this section of their CD ROM test a little hard to take seriously when it asks you to look at a graphic design and try to guess what emotions it is conveying. Therefore I would like to see them test for something like the ability to identify emotion in tone of voice or body language instead.

Now I will give you my adaptation of their definition.

1. Emotional identification, perception and expression

  • The ability to perceive and identify emotions in faces, tone of voice, body language
  • The capacity for self-awareness: being aware of your own feelings as they are occurring
  • The capacity for emotional literacy. Being able to label specific feelings in yourself and others; being able to discuss emotions and communicate clearly and directly.

2. Emotional facilitation of thought

  • The ability to incorporate feelings into analysis, reasoning, problem solving and decision making
  • The potential of your feelings to guide you to what is important to think about

3. Emotional understanding

  • The ability to solve emotional problems
  • The ability to identify and understand the inter-relationships beween emotions, thoughts and behavior. For example, to see cause and effect relationships such as how thoughts can affect emotions or how emotions can affect thoughts, and how your emotions can lead to the behavior in yourself and others.
  • The ability to understand the value of emotions to the survival of the species

4. Emotional management

  • The ability to take responsibility for one's own emotions and happiness
  • The ability to turn negative emotions into positive learning and growing opportunities
  • The ability to help others identify and benefit from their emotions

Because the above attempt at a definition is still a bit cumbersome, here are two less complicated ways to look at it:

The mental ability we are born with which gives our emotional sensitivity and potential for emotional management skills that help us maximize our long term health, happiness and survival.

Or more simple yet:

Knowing how to separate healthy from unhealthy feelings and how to turn negative feelings into positive ones.

For a more detailed description of the definitions used by Mayer et al, see the academic section

Potential EI vs. Actual EI Skills (EI vs EQ)

As written in my Short Defintion Section, I believe each child enters the world with a unique potential for these components of emotional intelligence:

1. Emotional sensitivity

2. Emotional memory

3. Emotional processing and problem solving ability

4. Emotional learning ability.

The way we are raised dramatically affects 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 is never given the chance to develop their musical potential, they will never become a talented musician later in life, and the world will miss out on this person's special gift to humanity.

And a child being raised in an emotionally abusive home can be expected to use their emotional potential in unhealthy ways later in life. (See this section on the "Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence")

Because of these possibilities, I encourage you to make a distinction between a person's inborn emotional potential and their actual emotional skills and use of emotional intelligence later in life. I suggest we use the term "emotional intelligence" only for a person's inborn emotional potential. When we want to talk about their actual emotional skills and emotional management as we see by their behavior, I suggest we use the term "EQ" since it is already often being used talk about a person's practical emotional skills.

I don't feel very optimistic that many people will understand this distinction or use these terms as I suggest, but will still do what I can to promote this distinction.

Here is more writing on this idea of mine from a couple years ago....

And here is a bit of history on what seems to be the first published use of the term EQ, written by Keith Beasley in 1987 for Mensa Magazine in England. I like Keith's concept of EQ. It is more practical than the academic concept of emotional intelligence and more humanitarian than the corportate concept promoted by Goleman.

Innate Emotional Intelligence vs "EQ"

Most writers interchange the terms "EQ" and "emotional intelligence". I believe, however, it is useful to try to make distinction a person's person's innate potential versus what actually happens to that potential over their lifetime. I believe each baby is born with a certain potential for emotional sensitivity, emotional memory, emotional processing and emotional learning ability. It is these four inborn components which I believe form the core of one's emotional intelligence.

This innate intelligence can be either developed or damaged with life experiences, particularly by the emotional lessons taught by the parents, teachers, caregivers and family during childhood and adolescence. The impact of these lessons results in what I refer to as one's level of "EQ." in other words, as I use the term, "EQ" represents a relative measure of a person's healthy or unhealthy development of their innate emotional intelligence.

When I say "EQ" I am not talking about a numerical test score like IQ. It is simply a convenient name I am using. As far as I know, I am the only writer who is making a distinction between inborn potential and later development or damage. I believe it is possible for a child to begin life with a high level of innate emotional intelligence, but then learn unhealthy emotional habits from living in an abusive home. Such a child will grow up to have what I would call low EQ. I would suspect that abused, neglected and emotionally damaged children will score much lower on the existing emotional intelligence tests compared to others having the same actual original emotional intelligence at birth.

As I see it, I believe, then, that it is possible for a person to start out with high EI, but then be emotionally damaged in early childhood, causing a low EQ later in life. On the other hand, I believe it is possible for a child to start out with relatively low EI, but receive healthy emotional modeling, nurturing etc., which will result in moderately high EQ. Let me stress however that I believe it is much easier to damage a high EI child than to develop the EQ of a low EI child. This follows the principle that it is generally easier to destroy than create.

In comparison to say, mathematical intelligence, it is important to note that relatively few people start out with high innate mathematical abilities and then have this ability damaged through misleading or false math training or modeling. I say relatively few because I mean in comparison to the number of emotionally sensitive children who receive unhealthy and self-destructive emotional imprinting from any number of sources. Parents and television shows don't generally teach that 2+2=968. But they do often teach emotional lessons which are as equivalent in unhealthiness as this equation is in inaccuracy. Or we might say which would be as damaging to an intimate relationship as the false equation would be to the career of an accountant.

At present, all other models of emotional intelligence, including even the most "pure" of the group, the Mayer/Salovey/Caruso model, combine the measurement of the innate emotional variables (sensitivity, memory, processing and learning) with the environmental affects on those same variables. Certain writers have defined intelligence in general as "potential." (1) I agree with this and this is why I want to distinguish between EI and EQ.

Some of my criticism of the field of Emotional Intelligence

- A variety of my criticisms from the years 1999, 2000, 2001 - http://eqi.org/ei_ed1.htm

- Editorials from 2004: http://eqi.org/ei_ed36.htm, http://eqi.org/ei_ed37.htm

- This file on David Caruso shows more of my frustration and criticism of the others in the field of EI

- Criticism of the so-called tests of emotional intelligence

- A little story about tests and cultures

- Criticism of an academic journal article about EI tests

- My page on EI tests


1. For example, Howard Gardner in "A case against spiritual intelligence."

2. Educational Policy on Emotional Intelligence: Does It Make Sense? By J.D. Mayer and Casey D. Cobb, in Educational Psychology Review, 12, No. 2, 2000 pp 163-183