social sciences

Emotional intelligence

Intelligence is deemed to be a very important for many different reasons, it should make life easier and goals more achievable. Intelligence is regarded as a valuable trait to have. However, the way we define intelligence is often very one-dimensional and simplified. Especially in Western schools, STEM subjects (math, natural sciences, engineering) are seen as a measure of intellectual capacity. Other subjects such as arts or history are considered to be too subjective and sometimes even easy. But at least, today, these topics are now part of many schools’ curricula. There is another important measure of intelligence that is often overlooked, emotional intelligence. While proficient numerical reasoning and spatial aptitude can help you get high grades in STEM-related subjects, it is not the sole predictor of success in later life. Many other factors play a huge role in your capacity to achieve much sought after ambitions, one of those being emotional intelligence.

Is emotional intelligence a real thing?
The first question that arises with this (new) form of intelligence is legitimate and scientifically backed. To study whether emotional intelligence can be regarded as a separate intelligence in itself, researchers looked at a questionnaire that supposedly measures this trait. This questionnaire is called the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS). Skills that fall under this trait are reflectively regulating emotions, understanding emotions, assimilation emotion in thought and perceiving and expressing emotions. In order to measure such skills, participants were asked to, for instance, judge pictures of people expressing emotions. So participants had to correctly indicate the emotion being portrayed by the faces. Other tasks included correctly describing emotions or indicating what to do in several social situations. After a statistical analysis, the researchers found that the questionnaire worked well.¹

Example question

But what exactly is emotional intelligence? And is it linked to other behaviors or traits?
According to Howard Gardner, who is known for developing theories on multiple intelligences:

“Basically, your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them”.

The ’emotional version’ of the IQ, the EQ, encompasses self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.² A research team created a new questionnaire to measure this type of intelligence. This questionnaire contained 33 statements on which respondents had to disagree or agree. Examples of statements: I arrange events others enjoy, other people find it easy to confide in me, I have control over my emotions. But what is really interesting is that they linked the scores on this questionnaire to other behaviors or life events. Their study showed that their measure of EQ predicted first-year college grades. That females score higher on emotional intelligence and that it is unrelated to cognitive intelligence. It is also linked to openness to experience, one of the traits of the Big Five personality test.³

Self-report: a cautionary tail
However, I would like to note that there might be an issue of self-report measures. Any other type of questionnaire that contains items about the self will have the same possible problem. In order to correctly respond to the statements, people need to be able to self-reflect. The question is whether every participant has adequate self-knowledge. For instance, the statement ‘other people find it easy to confide in me’ can be difficult to answer. People often try to maintain positive self-perception and respond negatively to such a statement might go against that. Social desirability plays a role in filling in questionnaires, even thoug people are anonymous, they still might not want to fill out socially unacceptable ideas.

1. Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., & Salovey, P. (1999). Emotional intelligence meets traditional standards for an intelligence. Intelligence, 27(4), 267-298.
2. Akers, M. D., & Porter, G. L. (2003). Your EQ skills: Got what it takes?. Journal of Accountancy, 195(3), 65.
3. Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Hall, L. E., Haggerty, D. J., Cooper, J. T., Golden, C. J., & Dornheim, L. (1998). Development and validation of a measure of emotional intelligence. Personality and individual differences, 25(2), 167-177.

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