Intro to Emotional Intelligence

Let’s not make this complicated.

Emotional intelligence as an idea goes back a long way, to the start of civilization.

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy.  But to be angry…                        

– with the right person,

– to the right degree,

– at the right time,

– for the right purpose,

– and in the right way,

…that is not easy.”


Today, what we call Emotional Intelligence is rooted in the idea of “multiple intelligences.” This evolved over the last century, in part as an antidote to the hyper-rationality and worship of the logical and analytical in western society.  It was best articulated and popularized by Howard Gardner  and illustrated like this:

Video Interview with Howard Gardner

This also represents some of the early rumblings of feminism, as emotion had been commonly portrayed as a female weakness and vocational disability.  (Although we are routinely reminded of the work to be done on this:  Sigh.)

By the 1980’s the idea of multiple intelligences was firmly established in western culture. Emotional Intelligence as a term was introduced at this point. Several behavioral scientists made significant contributions, notably John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who introduced the first generally accepted model of EI.

Daniel Goleman then made EI into a popular science topic, by introducing a business-oriented model and selling a few million copies of this:

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

              and a couple of decades later, we arrive here:

There are now numerous models of EI, each attempting to provide insight in a unique manner, and to reflect human reality. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of consultants and firms that offer help with the topic. There are thousands of research papers. Summary information on all of this is available through the Research and State of the Art sections of this site.

Yet we still don’t have a shared definition of Emotional Intelligence, I think for three reasons:

  1. We still have differing definitions of “emotion.”

  2. There’s a lot of money being made with emotional intelligence, and some of this economic activity is made possible through competing definitions.

  3. We continue to deconstruct human functioning and see rational thought and emotional experience as different functions in the brain that compete for dominance. They aren’t:

“I view emotions as organizing processes that enable individuals to think and behave adaptively.

This perspective can be contrasted with a more traditional one that sees affect as a disorganized interruption of mental activity that must be minimized and controlled.” 

Peter Salovey, Ph.D., Chair of Psychology, Yale University, Major EQ Researcher and Theorist

“Smart decisions require emotions. Far from interfering with rationality, the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality and make wise decision making almost impossible.”

– Antonio Damasio
Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, leader of USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute