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Emotional Intelligence

Origins, Characteristics, Applications

The ability to perceive and constructively act on both one's own emotions and the feelings of others.


Emotional intelligence (EI) is sometimes referred to as emotional quotient or emotional literacy. Individuals with emotional intelligence are able to relate to others with compassion and empathy, have well-developed social skills, and use this emotional awareness to direct their actions and behavior. The term was coined in 1990 by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey. In 1995, psychologist/journalist Daniel Goleman published the highly successful Emotional Intelligence, which built on Mayer and Salovey's work and popularized the EI concept.

The four areas of emotional intelligence, as identified by Mayer and Salovey, are as follows:

  • Identifying emotions. The ability to recognize one's own feelings and the feelings of those around them.
  • Using emotions. The ability to access an emotion and reason with it (use it to assist thought and decisions).
  • Understanding emotions. Emotional knowledge; the ability to identify and comprehend what Mayer and Salovey term "emotional chains"—the transition of one emotion to another.
  • Managing emotions. The ability to self-regulate emotions and manage them in others.


The brain and emotional learning

The amygdala, a structure of the limbic system (the behavioral center of the brain) located near the brain-stem, is thought to be responsible for emotional learning and emotional memory. Studies have shown that damage to the amygdala can impair the ability to judge fear and other emotions in facial expressions (to "read" the emotions of others), a skill which is critical to effective social interaction. The amygdala serves as an emotional scrapbook that the brain refers to in interpreting and reacting to new experiences. It is also associated with emotional arousal.

The ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others is also regulated by the prefrontal cortex of the brain, sometimes called "the executive center." This brain structure and its components store emotional memories that an individual draws on when interacting socially. Research studies have demonstrated that individuals with brain lesions in the prefrontal cortex area have difficulties in social interactions and problem-solving and tend to make poor choices, probably because they have lost the ability to access past experiences and emotions.


The concept of emotional intelligence has found a number of different applications outside of the psychological research and therapy arenas. Professional, educational, and community institutions have integrated different aspects of the emotional intelligence philosophy into their organizations to promote more productive working relationships, better outcomes, and enhanced personal satisfaction.

In the workplace and in other organizational settings, the concept of emotional intelligence has spawned an entire industry of EI consultants, testing materials, and workshops. "People skills," another buzzword for emotional intelligence, has long been recognized as a valued attribute in employees. The popularity of the EI concept in business is easily explained—when employees, managers, and clients have mutually rewarding personal relationships, productivity increases and profits follow.

Educators and youth counselors who work with children try to help them develop emotional self-awareness and the ability to recognize and positively act on feelings. Emphasis on emotional intelligence in the classroom also focuses on problem solving, conflict resolution, empathy, coping, and communication skills, and is frequently implemented in violence-prevention programs. Self-science, an educational curriculum developed in the 1970s by educator Karen Stone McCown and psychologist Hal Dillehunt, was an early forerunner of emotional intelligence. The program, which focused on developing social and emotional skills to nurture unique learning styles and life skills, is still in use today.

A number of tests or assessments have been developed to "measure" emotional intelligence, although their validity is questioned by some researchers. These include the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS), the Emotional Competence Inventory 360 (ECI 360), the Work Profile Questionnaire-emotional intelligence version (WPQ-ei), and the Baron Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i). Other psychometric measures, or tests, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Revised (WISC-R), a standard intelligence test, are sometimes useful in measuring the social aptitude features of emotional intelligence.

Paula Ford-Martin

Further Reading

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam, 1995.

Mayer, J.D. and P. Salovey. "What Is Emotional Intelligence?" In Emotional Development, Emotional Literacy, and Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Educators, edited by P. Salovey and D. Sluyter. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Further Information

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 6001 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8184, MSC 9663, Bethesda, MD, USA. 20892-9663, fax: (301) 443-4279, (301) 443-4513. Email: nimhinfo@nih.gov. http://www.nimh.nih.gov.

6 Seconds. 316 Seville Way, San Mateo, CA, USA. 94402, (650) 685-9885. Email: solutions@6seconds.org. http://www.6seconds.org.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Kenneth John William Craik Biography to Jami (Mulla Nuruddin ʼAbdurrahman ibn-Ahmad Biography