Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

An intelligence suggests a particular profile of strengths

Posted Sep 23, 2009

This is the second of two posts on Emotional Intelligence, written for Charaktery magazine, a Polish language publication. It is now on-line in Charaktery and is cross-posted here for readers of the Personality Analyst Blog. The first post is here. This week's regular Personality Analyst post on the Fact magazine libel trial is here

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters in Intelligence Research

In 1993, John Carroll proposed a three-stratum model of intelligence to describe the most comprehensive study of cognitive abilities available at the time. At the top of Carroll's model was g or general intelligence. G, in turn, could be broken down into 8 categories, including fluid intelligence (spatial and logical on-the-spot reasoning), crystallized intelligence (vocabulary knowledge, reading comprehension and the like), and five more areas including broad memory, broad speediness, broad visual analysis, broad auditory intelligence, and the like. Carroll and others made the point that g relied on a broad number of subsidiary intelligences. One fair conclusion from Carroll's work was that g was far broader than most our current intelligence tests measure.

Fifteen years after Carroll's work, I foresee that there is a further group of second-stratum intelligences beyond the surprising new abilities that Carroll himself had catalogued. These new abilities, which escaped Carroll's attention because they were too infrequently measured up to that time, are what I refer to today as hot intelligences -- hot because they deal with personally-relevant, meaningful, and often pleasurable or painful information: information about whether we are hot lovers or hotly tempered, hotly defensive, or warmly open. These hot intelligences include emotional, social, and practical intelligence among others.

How Emotional Intelligence Helps Influence Life Outcomes

The hot intelligences provide us with a more complete picture of information processing, but they also enhance our ability to predict many life outcomes. Recent reviews, for example, suggest that emotional intelligence - the most heavily researched of the group -- predicts a number of key social outcomes. Those high in EI have more rewarding relationships with friends, and more successful relationships at work. These predictions are above and beyond what can be made with other personality variables such as the cognitive/cool intelligences.

Can Emotional Intelligence be Enhanced - and Does it Matter?

So, should you try to raise your emotional intelligence? First, a quibble: Psychologists mean something very specific about "raising an IQ" - they mean raising your capacity to carry out accurate information processing in a given area. I think what most people mean when they ask about raising emotional IQ is more like, "Can people improve themselves by acquiring knowledge about emotions?" The answer to the "raise your EIQ" question is unknown, but the answer to whether it is worth acquiring knowledge about emotions is surely yes (although I am speaking a bit ahead of the research curve here).

People develop their knowledge of economics, baseball, foreign languages, algebra, what-have-you all the time. So, I don't think it is at all controversial to say that you can learn about emotions. Moreover, there are now many sources of reliable information about emotions ranging from magazine articles to emotions textbooks. And will this help your life? That is a trickier question.

If you are interested in emotions, learning about them will satisfy your curiosity. If you depend upon emotional knowledge in your job, learning more about emotions would likely help. Whether learning more about emotion will improve your social relations to the degree obtained by those higher in EI is uncertain. The research is ongoing; its conclusions unknown.

Meanwhile, it may be enough to learn about whether your EI is high or low, and to adjust accordingly. If the idea that emotions convey information is new to you, read up a bit on the topic and see if emotions interest you. If you don't care, let it go and develop some other mental capacities: as Carroll's work, and the theories of others indicate, many mental abilities make up intelligence and you may prefer to learn about what interests you most. That could involve something other than emotions: It could be learning about spatial relations, verbal comprehension, or social reasoning. You are likely to sustain your interest and learning in an area that interests you, which is more likely to bring you gains over the long-term.

Notes (Part II): John Carroll's three-stratum theory of intelligence is summarized in this chapter: Carroll, J.B. (1997b). The three-stratum theory of cognitive abilities. In D.P. Flanagan, J.L. Genshaft, & P.L. Harrison (Eds.), Contemporary intellectual assessment: Theories, tests, and issues (pp. 122-130). New York: The Guilford Press. The original factor analytic work was in book form: Carroll, J.B. (1993). Human cognitive abilities: A survey of factor-analytical studies. New York: Cambridge University Press. Other important works on expanding what g includes are by Howard Gardner and Robert J. Sternberg. A recent article in the Boston Globe outlines current work on bringing emotional education into the classroom. Bennett, D. (2009, April 5). The other kind of smart. Is it time for schools to try to boost kids' emotional intelligence? The Boston Sunday Globe. Ideas Section, pp. K1-K2.  For a recent scientific review of what EI predicts, see Mayer, J. D., Roberts, R. D., & Barsade, S. G. (2008).  Human abilities: Emotional intelligence.  Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 507-536.

Copyright (c) 2009 John D. Mayer