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Emotional intelligence

The expression emotional intelligence is used to indicate a kind of intelligence that involves the ability to perceive, assess and positively influence one's own and other people's emotions.

Intelligence is the "ability to adapt effectively to the environment, either by making a change in oneself or by changing the environment or finding a new one" (Encyclopędia Britannica, "intelligence"). According to this definition, being intelligent entails much more than having strong cognitive abilities -the kind of abilities that are typically measured by an intelligence test.

To address some of the further abilities possessed by intelligent people, Elliot Solloway[?] coined the term emotional intelligence. He considered that being able to direct one's emotions as well as being able to understand and influence other people's emotional responses, went a long way towards effective adaptation to an environment.

The term was picked up in 1995 by Daniel Goleman in his best-seller[?] book of the same title: Emotional Intelligence. Putting together research in neurophysiology[?], psychology and cognitive science, Goleman made the following observations:

  • Our emotional responses are mainly handled by a part of our brain called the reptilian brain[?], because it has similar functions to those of reptiles. These responses are mostly automatic, such as the familiar flight-or-attack response triggered up by threatening situations. We have evolved in such a way that an "emotional hijacking" takes place that provides a quick answer to life's critical situations.

  • In humans, this reptilian brain is wired up with the neocortex[?], which can therefore exert some control towards these automatic responses.

  • The amount of control has a genetic component; yet, it is possible to learn to control emotions to a certain degree. Most people do learn this at some point of their lives. Further, it is possible to learn it further achieving greater abilities to manage emotions.

  • There does not exist a strong correlation between the Intelligence quotient (IQ) and success in life, however one defines success. According to Goleman, success is mainly due to 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

One can see that these emotional competencies build on each other in succession. It is necessary to identify one's emotions in order to manage them. One aspect of managing emotions is to be able to enter 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 are always present - we are always feeling something. In organizations of all kinds, "being rational" is often prized, whereas "being emotional" isn't. But even in the most "rational" of decisions, emotions are present: how else do we decide which criteria to use for evaluating the options in making the decision? Emotions also play a role in making a final decision between equally good choices. Goleman also laments gender role idiosyncrasies: it's usually seen as okay 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 is not original of Goleman, although he certainly has contributed very much to raise attention to this kind of 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 are not the same as those available to a person who is not angry. The trick is then 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 constantly use to address ourselves. Many other books have been published on Emotional Intelligence after Goleman's work.


Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence: why it matters more than IQ, Bantam Books 1995.

Maturana, H. and Francisco J. Varela. The tree of knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding, Translated by Robert Paloucci. Shambala Publications 1998.

Reuven Bar-On and James D. A. Parker (Editors). The Handbook of Emotional Intelligence : Theory, Development, Assessment, and Application at Home, School and in the Workplace, Jossey-Bass 2000.

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