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Emotional Intelligence

The expression emotional intelligence or EI indicates a kind of intelligence or skill that involves the ability to perceive, assess and positively influence one's own and other people's emotions.

John A. Mayer and Peter Salovey introduced the term to psychology in a series of papers. They showed that the ability to direct one's emotions, as well as understanding and influencing other people's emotional responses, went a long way towards effective adaptation to an environment.

Daniel Goleman popularized the term in 1995 in his best-selling book of the same title: Emotional Intelligence. Goleman's popularized definition of emotional intelligence has largely displaced the more cautious and technical definition of Mayer and Salovey in the public imagination. Putting together research in neurophysiology, psychology and cognitive science, Goleman made the following observations:

  • A part of the human brain called the reptilian brain (because it has similar functions to those of reptiles) does most of the processing of human emotional responses. These responses mostly occur automatically, as in the case of the familiar flight-or-attack response triggered by threatening situations. Humans have evolved in such a way that a "neural-hijacking" takes place that provides a quick answer to life's critical situations.
  • In humans, the reptilian brain has links with the neocortex, which can accordingly exert some control over the largely automatic responses of the reptilian brain.
  • The amount of control has a genetic component; yet one can learn to control emotions to a certain degree. Most people do learn this at some point. Further, it is possible to hone the skill, achieving greater abilities to manage emotions.
  • There does not exist a strong correlation between the Intelligence quotient (IQ) and success in life, although popular opinion largely correlates success with this measurement. According to Goleman, success correlates mainly with emotional intelligence.

Goleman divides up emotional intelligence into the following five emotional competencies:

  • To identify and name one's emotional states and to understand the link between emotions, thought and action
  • To manage one's emotional states - to control emotions or to shift undesirable emotional states to more adequate ones
  • To enter into emotional states associated with a drive to achieve and be successful
  • To read, be sensitive to and influence other people's emotions
  • To enter and sustain satisfactory interpersonal relationships

In Goleman's view, these emotional competencies build on each other in a hierarchy. One must identify one's emotions in order to manage them. One aspect of managing emotions involves entering into drive-to-achieve emotional states. These three abilities, when applied to other people, lead to the fourth one: to read and influence positively other people's emotions. All four competencies lead to increased ability to enter and sustain good relationships.

Goleman observes that emotions always exist - we always feel something. Organizations of all kinds often prize "being rational", whereas they do not esteem "being emotional". But even in the most "rational" of decisions, emotions persist: how else do we decide which criteria to use for evaluating the options in making a decision? - pace experience and statistical probabilities. Emotions also play a role in making a final decision between equally good choices - pace random chance. Goleman also laments gender role idiosyncrasies: Western society usually sees it as acceptable for women to show their emotions, but not for men.

After the publication of his book, Goleman founded the Emotional Intelligence Consortium in order to continue his research. He also published several other books. Further, he has enhanced his emotional competence framework; as of 2002, his competencies divide into 25 abilities, and for each one he lists observable behaviors. In his web site, he shares his new framework, bibliographic references on emotional intelligence, courses and strategies devoted to enhancing EI, emotional intelligence tests and so on. Several schools have actually implemented programs to develop emotional abilities in children with very good results.

This preoccupation with the importance of emotions and emotional handling did not originate with Goleman, although he certainly has contributed very much to raise attention to this kind of alleged intelligence. Psychotherapy of course, deals mainly with the emotions of patients; Goleman however, has brought attention to the fact that emotions play a crucial role in everyday lives, and that so-called "normal" people can enhance their emotional competency.

Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana sees emotions as "predispositions of the body to certain kinds of actions and not others". He notes for instance that the actions available to an angry person differ from those available to a non-angry person. The trick then becomes how to enter into emotional states that enhance and enrich the range of effective action. He also sees strong two-way connections between emotions and language; in particular, the kind of talk we allegedly constantly use to address ourselves.

Many other books on emotional intelligence have appeared in the train of Goleman's work.

See also
Theory of multiple intelligences

Other resources
Emotional Intelligence Consortium
History and definition of emotional intelligence

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