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What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Definitions, History, and Measures of Emotional Intelligence

By Kendra Cherry
Psychology Expert
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emotionally-intelligent.jpg - Image: Cultura/Liam Norris / Getty Images
Emotional intelligence involves our ability to understand, express, and control
our emotions. Image: Cultura/Liam Norris / Getty Images
"All learning has an emotional base."
-- Plato
The ability to express and control our own emotions is important, but so is our
ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Imagine
a world where you couldn't understand when a friend was feeling sad or when a c
o-worker was angry. Psychologists refer to this ability as emotional intelligenc
e, and some experts even suggest that it can be more important than IQ. Learn mo
re about exactly what emotional intelligence is, how it works, and how it is mea
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control and evalu
ate emotions. Some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence can be learne
d and strengthened, while others claim it is an inborn characteristic.
Since 1990, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer have been the leading researchers on
emotional intelligence. In their influential article "Emotional Intelligence,"
they defined emotional intelligence as, "the subset of social intelligence that
involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to
discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and
actions" (1990).
The Four Branches of Emotional Intelligence
Salovey and Mayer proposed a model that identified four different factors of emo
tional intelligence: the perception of emotion, the ability reason using emotion
s, the ability to understand emotion and the ability to manage emotions.
Perceiving Emotions: The first step in understanding emotions is to accurately p
erceive them. In many cases, this might involve understanding nonverbal signals
such as body language and facial expressions.
Reasoning With Emotions: The next step involves using emotions to promote thinki
ng and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and re
act to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.
Understanding Emotions: The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety o
f meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret
the cause of their anger and what it might mean. For example, if your boss is a
cting angry, it might mean that he is dissatisfied with your work; or it could b
e because he got a speeding ticket on his way to work that morning or that he's
been fighting with his wife.
Managing Emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of e
motional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and respond
ing to the emotions of others are all important aspect of emotional management.
According to Salovey and Mayer, the four branches of their model are, "arranged
from more basic psychological processes to higher, more psychologically integrat
ed processes. For example, the lowest level branch concerns the (relatively) sim
ple abilities of perceiving and expressing emotion. In contrast, the highest lev

el branch concerns the conscious, reflective regulation of emotion" (1997).

from http://psychology.about.com/od/personalitydevelopment/a/emotionalintell.htm