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Emotional Intelligence

The Link Between Emotional Intelligence and Critical Thinking

Critical thinking requires self-regulation.

Key points

  • Leave emotion at the door when engaging in critical thinking.
  • Emotional intelligence isn’t an emotion, it’s a way in which we process emotions.

In a recent entry on this blog, I discussed my interest in emotional intelligence (EI) and referred to it as an important psychological function. Some readers commented on links they saw between my discussion of EI and my generally sour view on emotion in scenarios that require critical thinking (CT). I'd like to clarify what EI is.

The generally sour view I have of emotion in the context of critical thinking is that it acts as a barrier to critical thought. I often advise that people should leave emotion at the door as much as they can when engaging in critical thinking. Of course, it is not possible to entirely eliminate emotion or its associated biases from thinking. However, by being aware of the impact of emotion and bias, we can work to account for such influences in the manner in which we draw conclusions and make decisions. Think of it as being particularly cautious. I know some great thinkers who have drawn rather poor conclusions regarding topic areas they feel passionate about and it’s likely a result of that passion (see a previous post about the concept of passion).

How does emotional intelligence relate to this? To start, EI isn’t an emotion, rather, it’s a way in which we process emotions; for example, through appraising and regulating them. Think of a time when you have been insulted by something someone has said. Depending on the situation, it may be in your best interest to keep your true feelings about the insult to yourself. Your ability to appraise the situation and self-regulate consistent with the desired expression (or suppression of emotion in this case) is an example of emotional intelligence in action. This process is quite similar to other processes inherently involved in CT.

Through my work in developing a critical thinking framework (see, for example, Dwyer, 2017; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2014; 2015), a self-regulatory functions component was included, consisting of an array of (meta)cognitive mechanisms, like executive functioning, disposition, and motivation. The self-regulation comparison between EI and critical thinking is largely self-evident. That is, we need to self-regulate to think critically and EI is, simply, a form of self-regulation. Indeed, its self-regulatory function might even be more important than I initially gave it credit for when I started working on the framework. Only in recent years, as my focus turned towards factors that impede CT, have I realised how important EI might indeed be to CT.

I’ve been called out before for advising people to "leave emotion at the door" as if we can somehow flip the off switch on emotion. As I addressed above, we can’t eliminate all emotion. But, we can diminish its power if we make efforts to account for the influence of emotion on our thinking. Arguably, this could be half the battle. For example, before putting my foot down on an argument I feel passionate about (cue sensationalist headline, clickbait on social media), simply pausing beforehand to ask myself whether or not my conclusion is a result of credible evidence alone or is potentially biased because of my feelings, is a great way of playing the necessary devil’s advocate to ensure the right conclusion is drawn and not just the conclusion I want to be right. In this way, EI works in a manner akin to reflective judgment, which is also a fundamental part of critical thinking.

In other words, engage your EI. If the impact of emotion on thinking is one of the biggest barriers to CT, as I believe it is, then the ability to self-regulate your thinking in a manner that accounts for such potential impact is of utmost importance. And so, we as individuals who place great value on critical thinking must in turn place great value on emotional intelligence.


Dwyer, C.P. (2017). Critical thinking: Conceptual perspectives and practical guidelines. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, C. P., Hogan, M. J., & Stewart, I. (2014). An integrated critical thinking framework for the 21st century. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 12, 43–52.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J., & Stewart, I. (2015). The evaluation of argument mapping-infused critical thinking instruction as a method of enhancing reflective judgment performance. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 16, 11-26.

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