By Categories: Ethics

1) Introduction
2) Concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI)
3) Definition of Emotional Intelligence
4) What Emotional Intelligence ‘is’ and is ‘not’
5) Historical Development of Emotional Intelligence
6) Components of Emotional Intelligence
7) Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence: Relationship between IQ and EQ
8) Benefits of Emotional Intelligence
9) Conclusion


Emotional intelligence (EI) reflects the current view in modern neuroscience wherein emotions are framed as sources of useful data about our environment, rather than hindrances or disruptors in rational thinking.

Using emotions intelligently can provide competitive advantage in a world where technical knowledge and “booksmarts” may be in abundance, but the ability to deal with uncertainty, frustration, conflicts and interpersonal relationships may be scarce.

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) social reality, being attuned to one’s own and others’ emotions can help us tap into a unique kind of resource to navigate the world.

While many of us are already familiar with general or cognitive intelligence given the emphasis placed on Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in academic and professional contexts, emotional intelligence is a relatively new concept that is still under development and research.

Here we will introduce the construct and provide context and background for its emergence. And also examine why IQ is not sufficient to ensure success in today’s world and why EI is receiving so much attention across domains.


The term emotional intelligence can be broken down into two concepts- emotions and intelligence. If one is asked about emotions in general terms, the first responses are likely to constitute a perspective on emotions that is inherently restrictive. Most commonly, emotions are seen to make us inefficient, are a sign of weakness, a distraction and obstacle to good judgment and decision making.The two words in the term emotional intelligence can then be seen to contradict each other, if viewed from this lens.

However, modern neuroscience has served to debunk these myths and highlighted several important functions that emotions serve. We now know that emotions provide vital feedback and information about our world, spark creativity, aid decision making, enhance reasoning and strengthen trust and connection- all of which are crucial if we are to not just function but thrive as human beings.

In fact, the word emotion itself derives from the Latin word “motere” or “movere” meaning “to move”, to stir up, to agitate or to excite. Emotional intelligence leverages and expands on these ideas by proposing that thinking (including memory, judgment, reasoning) and emotions go together.

Emotions assist thinking and thinking can be used to analyse and regulate emotions. For example, anger signals the presence of an obstacle and gives one energy to fight. Fear is a survival emotion that protects from danger by taking our attention to possible threats. Trust flags the presence of a sense of safety and motivates one to open up to connections.

Thus, while emotions may be seen to disrupt thinking in some situations, they also signal where one’s attention needs to be directed in a given situation.

Some basic principles about emotions that are relevant to emotional intelligence are :

1. Emotions are information and present useful data about our worlds.

2. Decisions must incorporate emotions in order to be effective and lead to intended outcomes. For example, Reinhard & Schwartz have found that people in a less positive or even negative mood perceive truthful information more effectively than those in a positive mood.

3. We can try to ignore emotions but it doesn’t work, especially over long periods of time. Suppressing and hiding emotions takes up valuable mental energy that could have been directed at an important task and is highly stressful when continued for long.

4. We can try to hide emotions but are not as good at it as we might think. Most people are able to read tiny, fleeting changes in emotional expressions and interpret them correctly, such as identifying a fake smile by noticing the lack of movement of the eye muscles while smiling.

Given the above, dismissing or ignoring emotions may not be a realistic goal if we are to function healthily. Instead, it may be worthwhile to consider how we might use emotions intelligently so that they help us thrive.

Definition of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. Several definitions of emotional intelligence have been proposed over the years.

One of the most popular definitions is “Emotional intelligence is the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships”

Just as intelligence is quantified and measured through Intelligence Quotient (IQ) emotional intelligence is indicated by Emotional Quotient or EQ.

Over decades of research, it has been established that EI is a distinct ability that does not share attributes with either personality or intelligence. Having certain personality traits does not automatically predispose one to have high or low emotional intelligence.

For example, while extroverts may feel energised by interacting with people and introverts share a preference for solitude, it does not automatically imply that extroverts are more emotionally intelligent than introverts. Similarly, having an ability to process information cognitively or intelligence, does not indicate one’s level of EI.

In addition, while personality and intelligence are relatively stable and resistant to change after the age of 18-20 years, EI comprises a dynamic component that has the potential to evolve and grow over time, as well as with targeted interventions.

“Emotional intelligence is learned. Unlike IQ, which is essentially fixed within narrow parameters at birth, EQ can be developed and enhanced. In other words, temperament is not destiny. Empathy and the capacity to understand the emotions of others can be nurtured.” In fact, several studies have shown that older participants tend to score higher on EI measures and may indicate that EQ increases with age and maturation.

Thus, in order to consider ‘the whole person’, emotional intelligence must be considered alongside personality and intelligence.

What Emotional Intelligence ‘is’ and is ‘not’

What emotional intelligence ‘is’:

  • Being aware of oneself
  • Being able to manage emotions
  • Being socially aware
  • Ability to manage interpersonal relationships by using emotions
  • A field of scientific study

What emotional intelligence is ‘not’:

  • Ignoring or suppressing emotions
  • Allowing emotions to dominate thinking and decision making
  • A permanent trait
  • An indicator of cognitive and academic intelligence
  • A person’s aptitude or interest
  • Avoidance of conflict
  • Best predictor of success in life

As Aristotle has put it, “ Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy”. Hence, getting aware of the emotions, and knowing proper ways to express emotions are crucial for success in life.


The concept of emotional intelligence has its roots in early psychologists’ conceptualisation of intelligence. Thorndike in 1920 proposed that intelligence is comprised of three distinct domains or classes:

(i) Abstract, analytic or verbal;

(ii) Mechanical, performance and visuo-spatial;

(iii) Social or practical.

Thorndike, thus, expanded on the traditional view of ‘intelligence’ as being purely cognitive by identifying several other kinds of intelligences. Specifically, his social/practical intelligence component indicates emotional intelligence aspect.

Howard Gardner (1983) further identified eight different abilities: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal- linguistic, bodilykinesthetic, logical-mathematical, intrapersonal, interpersonal and naturalistic.

Here, the intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences are related to aspects of emotional intelligence. Another psychologist, Sternberg (1985) talked about three types of intelligence such as analytical, creative and practical intelligence.

In all these notions of intelligence, we can see the building blocks of emotional intelligence – social intelligence, intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences, and practical intelligence can all be said to reflect emotional intelligence abilities.

Salovey & Mayer are widely credited with first using the term ‘emotional intelligence’ in 1990. However, they themselves acknowledge that the term was used much earlier in passing in the 1960s in literary criticism and psychiatry and eventually in a dissertation by Payne in 1986.

The construct remained largely unknown until it attained popularity when Daniel Goleman published his book on the subject in 1995 and argued that ‘people with the highest levels of intelligence (IQ) outperform those with average IQs just 20 percent of the time, while people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70 percent of the time’.

His assertion that EI could predict job performance and success held intuitive appeal and since then, the concept has become extremely mainstream and received international attention among several domains such as mental health, business, education etc.


Broadly, emotional intelligence can be viewed as having four interrelated components:-

1. Perceiving emotions: This is the basic ability to register and recognise emotions in ourselves and other people. People who are high in emotional intelligence are able to identify when they are experiencing a particular emotion and able to use their vocabulary to label the feeling.

For example, experiencing the sensation of “butterflies in the stomach” and knowing that they are feeling nervousness or anxiety. They are also sensitive to other people’s emotions and are able to see when someone is feeling angry, sad, happy or a range of other feelings by reading their facial expressions and body language. This is a fundamental skill because without recognising the experience of an emotion, it is very difficult to understand it or change it in any way.

2. Understanding emotions: This component refers to using the specific information that various emotions provide and knowing how that might affect their behavior. As discussed earlier, each emotion conveys distinct data to individuals about their environment and energizes one for action in a particular direction.

Emotionally intelligent people are able to ‘read’ this information and use it to guide their behaviour. For example, understanding that one’s anger at their friend may be a result of feeling unfairly treated by them. Understanding emotions in others is similar- observing that a sibling is hanging their head low and has reduced their interactions with others might indicate they are upset or sad about something

3. Managing emotions: When one recognises their emotions quickly and understands their meaning, it becomes relatively easier for them to think about the next steps regarding how to change them. This applies to the self as well as others. Recognising that one is feeling low and wanting to change that emotion may encourage one to make plans to go out for a movie or meet a friend they enjoy talking to or just talk to the person over phone.

A desire to reduce one’s anger may also lead to the use of deep breathing and relaxation strategies to calm oneself down. Similar tools may be used to help change emotions in others as well. For example, saying sorry or apologising to an angry friend may reduce anger or sadness. Listening to a sibling who is feeling sad may improve their mood.

4. Using emotions: The ability to use one’s emotions is more than just dealing with or managing emotions. It involves the skill of leveraging emotions to enhance our thinking, decision-making and relationships.

For example, concealing one’s nervousness about public speaking by using body language and hand gestures to show excitement instead so that the audience is more engaged. Channelizing anger at perceived injustice towards fighting for one’s legitimate rights is another example of using emotions and has been used extensively to bring about social changes and reforms for centuries.


When we use the word “intelligence”, usually we refer to cognitive intelligence or academic intelligence. However, there are other types of intelligences also such as social and emotional intelligence.

The most well known and referenced definition of intelligence is probably that of Wechsler’s“intelligence is the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment”.

The highest level of cognitive mental abilities is called general mental ability or ‘g’, which is thought to predict learnability and performance across domains. ‘g’ is further classified into fluid and crystallised forms of intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is a measure of the abilities of information processing and reasoning. Crystallized intelligence has to do with acquiring, retaining and organising information and is different from information processing.

Furnham, have explained this with the help of an analogy. If cognitive intelligence is a computer, fluid intelligence would be the information processor (computer chip) while crystallised intelligence is analogous to the information stored in memory (hard drive).

Having a high IQ does not automatically indicate a high EQ, while having a high EQ may indicate a high or average IQ at least and predict success at work better than IQ alone. While IQ can predict academic success, it may not necessarily lead to success in life; whereas EQ predicts success and effectiveness in life. Given the importance of emotional intelligence, it may be noted here that unlike intelligence, emotional intelligence can be increased through training at any age.

IQ can therefore be considered a minimum requirement or “threshold competence”, for example, in getting into an academic institute through an entrance exam or a job in an organization on the basis of degrees and certifications attained.

Success thereafter, is determined by many more varied skills that must be built upon this. Emotional competence needs to supplement intellectual competence. A sub-set of emotional intelligence, emotional competence is defined as “a learned capability based on emotional intelligence that results in outstanding performance at work”

For example, one may have adequate baseline emotional intelligence but will still need to learn the specific competency of empathy to influence relationships with peers or superiors for success. Goleman has proposed five emotional competencies such as Self awareness, Motivation, Self-regulation, Empathy and Social skills.


The concept of emotional intelligence has become very popular and is steadily gaining traction because of the many benefits it purports to offer to these who have this capacity. Some of these benefits are:

1. Allows individuals to tap into not just thinking capacities, but also leverage information and strengths that emotions bring.

2. Takes a realistic and practical view of emotions as opposed to traditional notions that encourage leaving emotions out of certain contexts and encourage unhealthy suppression.

3. Facilitates understanding of self and others, beyond superficial information.

4. Encourages and enables empathy so that the quality of interpersonal interactions improves.

5. Adds competitive advantage over just cognitive intelligence and technical skills so that individuals are able to pursue excellence and success using a range of intelligences.

6. Allows individuals more agency and control over which emotions they would like to experience more of and which ones they consider undesirable in a given situation and would like to switch from.


Emotional intelligence has emerged as an exciting domain of study over the last 30 years or so, even though usage of the term and recognition of related skills has been around for several decades. The term is composed of two units- emotion and intelligence and arises out of the synthesis of these seemingly incompatible domains. Emotions can influence thinking and in turn, thinking can be used to make sense of and employ emotions effectively.

It is now well established that the abilities that comprise emotional intelligence and are concerned with recognising, regulating and using emotions to drive effective decision-making are crucial to adaptive functioning and optimal performance. There has been much debate about its distinctiveness as a construct and mixed evidence for its exponential impact on performance when compared with cognitive intelligence.

However, when taken together with cognitive intelligence, especially in social tasks, emotional intelligence can boost the impact of the former and yield tangible results.







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