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.


Let’s Hypothesize: empathy, self-knowlegde

In this segment of ‘Let’s Hypothesize’ I want to argue that scoring high on empathy will also you will have more self-knowledge, which ultimately makes things easier for you to understand. With empathy, we’re able to understand what others around us are feeling. This means that we can validate feelings of those around us (we understand what they’re feeling anyway) and we can actively help them in times of need. We feel happy for those who are doing great things or we feel for those going through rough patches. We let a lady line jump us at the grocery store because she’s in a hurry to visit her sister in the hospital. Or we let our friend have half of our sandwich because they’re really hungry.

Here I want to give you my take on how self-knowledge can shape your empathetic senses. Often we hear people unable to understand why others are feeling a certain way. In turn, these people might react badly to their situation and feelings. They might tell the person to ‘just man up’ or to ‘stop exaggerating’. Or, even worse, they will come up with a story to prove that they were once in a situation much worse than them.

On top of my head, I think empathy has been linked to recognizing our own internal states. This means being able to tell when we’re feeling hungry or need sleep. This might seem like things we should all be able to do but it’s not that self-evident. For instance, some people might start to feel moody when hungry and are unable to make the connection between their moodiness and hunger. The question is why some people are able to clearly make this distinction and accurately interpret their feelings while others aren’t. Is this because people have learned to understand these feelings or is it an inherited trait? Do you need some kind of emotional intelligence in order to do so?

To be able to understand and interpret others’ feelings, naturally, you should be able to understand your own first. But not only understand the feelings in itself but also how situations can affect people. For instance, this means recognizing that people might get annoyed if you were to repeatedly kick their seat at the movies. Thus, you must understand how feelings emerge and ultimately, you must care what it does to others. Of course, there are people who can perfectly understand how someone is feeling, but it doesn’t mean they care. Because they might reason that it isn’t happening to themselves, so it doesn’t matter. All in all, the ability to empathize is affected by an array of factors.