Emotional Intelligence

Emotional IntelligenceEmotional intelligence (EI) is a concept that has caught the attention of researchers, practitioners, and the general public over the last decade. The idea that career development involves not only a cognitive but also an affective component has been promoted in recent years. Popular books discuss the importance of EI for success in academic and occupational settings, as well as how it determines success in current jobs, promotions, and other important life outcomes. Claims abound that successful negotiation of relationships in a career depends on the perceptions and management of emotions in oneself and others. This article covers three areas associated EI. First, there is a review of the competing conceptualizations (and associated measurements) of EI. Second, there is an overview of empirical studies that attempt to link EI to successful career development. Finally, there is an identification of some critical future research needs and potential applications.

Conceptualizing Emotional Intelligence

Although emotional intelligence as a distinct term has been in use for only a little over a decade in the industrial, work, and organizational (IWO) psychology literature, researchers have been exploring alternate intelligences since the beginning of the twentieth century. The notion of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences had previously been put forth. Research on the role of affect in explaining organizational behavior has a lengthy past, and the recent emphasis on EI has built on these traditions.

The current literature on EI can be grouped into two rather distinct camps, based on differing conceptualizations of the construct. The correlation between measures of the two conceptualizations has been in the low .10 range, suggesting that the two assess distinct concepts. That is, an individual who scores high on one conceptualization of EI need not score high on the other. Instead, the assessment of an individual depends on the measure used. For clarity of communications and practical use, it is necessary that the two constructs be separated. In this entry, we will focus on each of the current conceptualizations and their links to career success.

One conceptualization of EI, often termed trait-based or mixed EI, views it as a conglomeration of personality traits. Emotional stability, agreeableness, sociability, and empathy are among the traits considered to be central aspects of EI. Given that this model places EI close to the domain of personality characteristics, EI is assessed using self-reports similar to those employed in the assessment of personality. It has been argued that since most of the affective processes underlying EI are not observable to outsiders, self-reports may be the most appropriate method for measuring it. The writings of Reuven Bar­On, Daniel Goleman, and others can be broadly grouped in this camp. However, during high-stakes testing (e.g., selection into highly competitive positions, admissions into educational institutions), there is a concern that such self-reports could be distorted by motivated faking. In fact, it could be argued that individuals with good EI skills are the most capable of such distortion. Individuals high on EI are probably better able to perceive what kinds of answers or behaviors are expected of them in a social context and would thus better be able to distort their responses.

The actual dimensions that constitute EI have varied across writers. Furthermore, some authors have shifted the defined content domain of EI over the years. It is in part this lack of consensus among EI researchers that has generated criticism and the perception that EI is a fad instead of a valid psychological construct. For example, Goleman has conceptualized EI as consisting of five dimensions or core competencies described by self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, social awareness (empathy), and social skills. This model is primarily driven by its relationship with personality-based variables. Others have claimed that self-awareness is the key to EI. Self-awareness refers to one’s ability to know and monitor one’s feelings on a regular basis. This enables one to be aware of one’s preferences, internal states, and intuitions. These descriptions mirror the definition of private and public self-consciousness that psychologists have studied in preceding decades. The second core competency in this model refers to self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to managing one’s internal states and impulses. This competency includes elements of self-control, conscientiousness, adaptability, and so forth.

The third competency, self-motivation, is the force behind being goal oriented and taking an optimistic point of view regarding outcomes. To complete work successfully, the individual should experience a feeling of self-efficacy. This competency appears to include achievement, drive, commitment, and so forth. Awareness of others’ feelings and emotions, social empathy, is construed as the fourth basis for EI. This element of EI encompasses empathy, a variable that has been studied extensively by psychologists. Given that careers of the twenty-first century increasingly involve work in teams and thus necessitate interpersonal skills, this component of EI is viewed as a critical aspect in studying career success. The last component of this conceptualization of EI, social skills, refers to a person’s adeptness in interpersonal relations.

In addition to this five-competency conceptualization of EI, several other trait-based models exist. One of the popular models, developed by Bar-On, conceptualizes EI as consisting of five main factors: intrapersonal, interpersonal, stress management, adaptability, and general mood. The intrapersonal component is based on an individual’s self-awareness and expression. This requires individuals to be aware of their emotions and effectively express them toward others. The interpersonal component involves an individual’s social awareness and adeptness at social relationships. A key aspect here is the ability to empathize with how others experience social situations and the feelings they experience, as well as the ability to build and maintain relationships. Stress management deals with a person’s ability to manage and regulate his or her emotions. Individuals high on this dimension control their emotions instead of allowing emotions to control them. Adaptability revolves around a person’s capacity to adjust his or her feelings in order to effectively deal with emotional situations, whether internal or external. The last dimension, general mood, is based on a person’s degree of happiness or overall feeling of well-being. This dimension has been described as a key facilitator of emotionally intelligent behavior.

These five dimensions are further broken down into 15 components that are said to describe EI. Interestingly, 5 of these components have recently been described as “facilitators” of EI rather than actual subdimensions. The scales assessing this conceptualization of EI generally demonstrate small correlations with cognitive ability and considerably larger correlations with personality as described by the Big 5 factors. It should also be noted that a number of EI scale names have been directly adapted from facets or compound traits of the Big Five personality factors (e.g., well-being).

The second major conceptualization of EI has been termed the ability-based model of EI. In this model, EI is described as a set of cognitive abilities involving the perception of emotions in oneself and in others, as well as understanding and using emotions effectively. Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer have popularized this conceptualization and, over the last decade, have developed several measures to assess this model. A characteristic of this conceptualization is the notion that because EI is considered an ability, performance-based measures should be the preferred means of assessment instead of self-reports. It has been known for some time that self-reports of ability do not necessarily correlate with actual performance-based measures of ability. Because the ability-based model of EI is conceptualized as a specific cognitive ability, its measures should correlate positively with those of general mental ability but not so high as to be redundant with it.

According to the ability-based model, there are four dimensions of EI: perception and expression of emotion, assimilating emotion in thought, understanding and analyzing emotion, and reflective regulation of emotion. Salovey and his colleagues have referred to these four components as “branches” of EI. It is not yet clear whether there is a hierarchy among the four dimensions or even some kind of temporal sequence or developmental-age patterns across the four dimensions similar to those found in developmental models of intelligence (i.e., Piagetian notions of concept development). The perception of emotions involves the ability to recognize emotions in oneself, other people, and stimuli, such as music, scenery, and art. Emotional facilitation of thought allows a person to use emotions in a rational and adaptive manner to guide judgments and actions. An actress, for instance, may use emotion to enable herself to fully immerse herself in a character she portrays.

As the branch name suggests, emotional understanding involves the capability to comprehend emotional information and to realize how emotions can change, whether across situations or people. The final branch, emotional management, is proposed as the highest level of emotional functioning. Here, people not only recognize and understand emotions but also know how to properly regulate and utilize emotions effectively in different situations.

Unlike trait-based models, which overlap with personality, the ability-based model manifests greater correlations with cognitive ability. Other researchers have postulated similar models of EI and have designed measures to assess the construct. However, the instruments typically attempt to measure ability-based EI using a self-report methodology, which differs from the performance-based scoring techniques.

Suzy Fox and Paul Spector have conceptualized EI as a set of competencies that could be utilized by individuals to effectively use emotions to attain desirable outcomes. They measured three components of EI, described as empathy, self-regulation of mood, and self-presentation. Fox and Spector have acknowledged a serious weakness in EI measurement because of the lack of a clear operationalization of the construct. Empathy consists of several components, including being able to relate to another person’s point of view and to experience emotions as others would in a given situation. Self-regulation of mood is based on a person’s ability to identify his or her feelings and those of others and to use this information effectively. The third component, self-presentation, involves a person’s ability to create a desired impression, often using nonverbal cues.

The many alternate conceptualizations of EI have generated skepticism about the concept itself. Some argue that if one were to wait long enough or read widely enough, one will come across a conceptualization to one’s liking. This hodgepodge of models has also generated the criticism that there is nothing new in the concept of EI. Hans Eysenck, for instance, argued that EI should be dismissed as an amalgamation of emotional stability and intelligence, just as physicists will dismiss the concept of “hot lengths” as a muddled mix of the concepts of temperature and length. At times, these criticisms of the field of EI have overshadowed recent work that has been empirically grounded and conducted independently from commercially interested parties, such as test developers and publishers.

For clarity and usefulness in research and practice, the following steps should be undertaken to clear these skepticisms. First, factor-analytic studies with representative (large) samples and measures should be undertaken to distill the dimensions that constitute the concept of EI. On a related note, temporal or hierarchical relations among the different dimensions should be clearly delineated. As a result of this process, some of the existing conceptualizations will undoubtedly no longer be considered as EI. Second, the relative independence of this newly distilled EI construct from more traditional constructs, such as personality, interests, and intelligence, needs to be documented. It is true that even decades of research have not resulted in a consensus on what constitutes constructs such as stress or general intelligence. Thus, a quick resolution of these issues should not be expected with EI, but it is hoped that future work will at least clarify the nature of the construct to a significant degree. In a short period of time, EI research has covered a substantial amount of ground, but more remains to be investigated if EI is to be widely accepted as a viable construct.

The popularity of EI in career counseling and other areas depends partly on the expectation that (a) EI is distinct from other traditional predictors, (b) EI adds incremental predictive potential beyond what is provided by traditional predictors, (c) EI is developable through interventions (unlike interests or intelligence, which are more biologically based and inherited), and (d) there are minimal group differences in EI, so that the use of EI measures in selection and personnel decision making results in a more egalitarian society. As will be elaborated on in the final section of this entry, the empirical research base to support these assertions is weak in many areas. The EI bandwagon is fueled by myths that may fail to withstand empirical scrutiny and, if so, may cause the enterprise to come crashing down. Careful research is needed to prevent this occurrence.

Components of Emotional Intelligence Linked to Career Outcomes

This section reviews some of the research findings that support the role of various components of EI (e.g., self-control, empathy) in predicting career success, career commitment, and career satisfaction. Career success can include successful job performance, doing well in academics, and having career commitment and satisfaction with the chosen career. Several theories on effective career counseling have stressed the importance of self-observation and regulation. The concept of self-efficacy has been central in these accounts. EI, with its emphasis on accurate perception and management of emotions, is likely to be a critical component in many career endeavors. For example, in the exploratory stage of Super’s model of career development, accurate perceptions of environmental cues are critical for proper career choices. Differential progression of individuals across the developmental career stages is likely a result of individual differences in EI. The theory of work adjustment postulates that people will gravitate to jobs commensurate with their abilities and interests, a pull that might be fueled by the EI levels of individuals (as well as contextual pressures). Social learning theories applied to career counseling emphasize the need for accurate perception of emotions in oneself as well as in others. Thus, EI is likely to be useful in explaining career choices and could serve to enhance the explanatory power of these different approaches.

Before discussing specific empirical findings, some boundary conditions need to be specified. A long tradition of research has linked the components of EI that reflect personality variables to occupational outcomes such as job performance. In fact, multiple quantitative summaries of these empirical studies have amply documented the relationship between certain personality characteristics and job performance. For example, the personality traits of conscientiousness and achievement striving have been linked to successful performance in almost all jobs. Other personality traits, such as emotional stability, have been linked to performance in specific occupations. As an example, emotional stability has been linked to performance in stressful jobs, such as security personnel. Agreeableness has been found to be a determinant of career success in jobs involving teamwork, whereas extraversion has been linked to success in sales and managerial jobs. Similarly, a voluminous literature supports the notion that general mental ability or intelligence is predictive of performance in all jobs.

To the extent that EI is conceptualized as a construct comprising these traditional personality variables and intelligence, any review that links the components of EI to job performance will also have to demonstrate the added utility of this new construct over those already well established as valid predictors in occupational domains. Thus, the goal here is not to comprehensively review all research linking any component ever conceptualized as constituting part of EI to job performance. Instead, we focus on research that claims to link EI to job performance as an independent predictor of valued outcomes (independent of the traditional and more established predictors, such as personality and intelligence).

Recent studies have stressed the need to combine personality, interests, and abilities when investigating career choice, career commitment, and career success. However, within each of these predictor domains, sev­eral competing models have also been provided. For example, books on personality discuss theories postulating as few as 3 personality dimensions to as many as 16 distinct dimensions. Multiple cognitive abilities have also been proposed, and several factor-analytic studies have come up with different clusters and models of these abilities. Although there is a positive correlation across the different abilities, which suggests the presence of a general factor, the career counselor is as likely to be interested in the profile of specific abilities as in the general factor. Given the different interest clusters, it is cumbersome to combine models of personality, interests, and abilities in investigating career choice, career commitment, and career success. The idea is that EI could be a bridge across the domains linking the rational-cognitive and affective as well as conative aspects of career choice, career commitment, and career success.

Although it is possible to summarize the attempts to measure the construct of EI explicitly and link it to career success, it should be noted that a more profitable research approach would be to first develop a theoretical framework that clearly delineates the content domain of EI and how it relates to career success. There is, at present, limited theory-guided research that tests processes that have been hypothesized a priori. Furthermore, the incremental validity that EI components yield over traditional personality and ability measures is seldom assessed. We hope such research will receive more attention in the future.

A recent meta-analytic review of 59 studies found that EI can be useful for predicting performance. In particular, subgroup meta-analyses based on criterion type demonstrated that EI predicted workplace performance and to a much lesser degree could be used to help explain success in academic settings. Since that time, more studies have begun to review the link between EI and success in the classroom. A study of 372 undergraduate students found that highly successful students scored higher on several components of EI than did their less successful counterparts. In a study of 650 British students, trait EI was found to be related to scholastic achievement. In particular, high EI was associated with improved academic performance across individuals who scored low on cognitive ability. Yet in another study involving 180 students, a different trait-based measure was unrelated to academic success. A youth version of the same trait measure, however, was found to be related to academic performance in a study of 667 high school students. Overall, findings are still equivocal, and more research is needed in this area. Given a stronger cognitive component, ability-based measures of EI appear to have more potential in this area than the more affectively laden trait-based measures.

One theoretical framework that focuses on how EI should relate to career success is the contextualized action theory of career development. Richard Young and his colleagues proposed that emotions play a central role in how individuals develop coherent narratives of their careers. Emotions energize people to take and sustain action, help individuals decode feedback, and so forth. Career management includes appraisal of one’s goals, present conditions, strategies for achieving goals, and career exploration. Components of EI such as understanding and managing emotions should therefore be important in the different stages of career management. It has been reported that those who trust and use their feelings effectively achieve success in their careers. In fact, career success can be described either in objective terms (e.g., levels promoted) or, more subjectively, in terms of internal psychological satisfaction. Effective use of EI has been postulated as a precursor for attaining feelings of psychological success. In a study involving 288 college students, it was found that a measure of EI (assessing empathy, utilizing feelings, handling relationships, and self-control) was positively related to career decision-making self-efficacy, career choice commitment, and vocational exploration. Career commitment has been linked, in turn, to successful job performance, promotions, and satisfaction.

EI has also been linked to career choice and satisfaction. A study of 295 business majors showed that individuals scoring low on a measure of EI (assessing self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness) were likely to choose accounting majors. Career satisfaction has been predicted by personality traits such as emotional resilience across different occupational groups. Neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness have been related to the career satisfaction of executives. In a database involving about 6,000 individuals from 14 different occupations, it was reported that emotional resilience, optimism, and work drive predicted career satisfaction in all the occupational groups assessed (e.g., accounting, clerical, customer service, engineering, human resources). Thus, available empirical research suggests that EI has potential in the arena of career counseling. However, it is likely there are some critical gaps in our knowledge about the viability of EI in career counseling, which must be addressed to enhance our understanding of the construct’s utility in this domain.

Future Research Needs

This section addresses the issue of clarifying the concept of EI and the relative independence of EI from traditional predictors (e.g., intelligence, personality traits, interests). Perhaps the foremost research need is conceptual work clarifying the content domain of EI. In this process, it could be argued that some current conceptualizations should be discarded as EI (but perhaps resurface as important determinants of occupational outcomes, albeit under new names). Such clarification will help the advancement of science and practice. One approach is to factor analyze the different measures to identify common factors. Furthermore, multiple measures of the same construct should be developed to allow for the assessment of convergent validity through triangulation. At present, there is really only one measure that is claimed to measure EI as a specific cognitive ability. Other ability-based instruments do exist, but their foci are narrower and do not cover all postulated EI components. Thus, it is currently difficult to infer whether existing research findings are more a reflection of the EI-as-ability construct or of the one specific measure of it. Whereas test developers prosper by developing a unique measure, science progresses by analyzing constructs, not measures. The proprietary nature of most of the measures and their scoring keys is also a problem in that it hinders the free exchange of information between research groups, which makes comparison of results difficult.

Related to the need for conceptual clarification is the issue of measurement. The predominant question here is the role of self-report methodologies. Self-reports can be used to assess EI whether EI is conceptualized as an ability or as a personality trait. However, self-reports of ability do not necessarily correlate highly with performance-based, objective measures of ability. On the other hand, if EI were to be conceptualized as a personality trait, some aspects would be best assessed by self-reports. When self-reports are used in high-stakes assessments, the potential issue of motivated response distortion needs to be addressed. In personality assessment, there is a voluminous literature on impression management, response distortion, faking, dissimulation, socially desirable responding, lying, and the like. Most personality inventories include scales that detect (or at least flag) potentially distorted responses and invalid test profiles. Several indices have been empirically developed to assess when faking should be a concern. Even though the validity and utility of such indices themselves are still under heavy debate in the scientific community, similar efforts should be considered when using EI inventories employing self-reports. Several of the self-report measures (e.g., the Bar-On EQ-i and the Emotional Judgment Inventory) have already taken this step.

A related measurement issue is the appropriate scoring method employed. The accuracy of individual responses can be determined by comparing them to (a) consensus criteria obtained from responses across a representative sample of respondents, (b) target criteria (self-reports of individuals who created test items or item stimuli of their actual emotions at the time of item generation), or (c) responses generated by experts in the domain of emotions. The use of consensus scoring presents a dilemma: The emotionally intelligent individual could be penalized for choosing a response that is better than that of the majority (which, by definition, should score about average), as his or her response will then most likely deviate from the mean response obtained from the standardization sample. The use of target scoring may not be justifiable, as there is no strong empirical evidence that the creators of stimuli or the so-called targets of EI test items (e.g., the person depicted in a task of emotional facial expressions) have insight into the stimuli they are creating that would constitute a sound criterion allowing for an accurate comparison. The use of experts in generating scoring keys to EI inventories raises multiple concerns, such as how to determine who should constitute the expert group (e.g., are researchers in the domain of emotions necessarily emotionally intelligent?) and the potential of cultural biases. More important, the scant empirical research that exists to date that has assessed the convergence across the different scoring methods has found little convergence and/or problems of psychometric equivalence of scoring procedures (e.g., differences in distributional properties of scores and levels of reliability). In fact, the convergence between self-reports of EI and peer reports of EI is often lower than the convergence between self-reports of EI and measures of traditional personality variables (e.g., emotional stability).

Although several conceptual links have been made between individuals’ EI and their success at the different stages of career development, the actual empirical research supporting these links is primarily restricted to academic and job performance. A recent meta-analysis found support for the hypothesis that EI has validity in predicting performance in both settings. More empirical studies are needed to assess the link between individual differences in EI and outcomes such as leadership emergence, successful handling of stress, and career satisfaction. Furthermore, it is important to demonstrate that EI helps explain career choices and career success beyond traditional variables such as abilities, interests, and personality variables.

Along these lines, future research is needed to assess the boundary conditions associated with these links and the potential moderators influencing these relationships. For example, it is possible that EI is more likely to be a predictor of academic performance in educational settings in which interpersonal skills are important than in those in which hard learning criteria are used to evaluate success. In addition to moderating influences, process mechanisms by which EI contributes to success need to be tested. As an illustration, it is possible that individuals high on EI could handle conflict and stress more effectively, either of which may enhance their performance in certain settings. Such mediational tests necessitate the need for longitudinal data collection and knowledge of the temporal effects of EI on performance. Consider one implication of the inattention that has so far been paid to such effects. At present, we do not know whether the difference in performance (academic or job) between high- and low-scoring individuals on EI measures attenuates over time and whether performance differences dwindle as relative experience increases. Alternately, the difference could magnify over time, in that the initial advantage in EI allows individuals to gain more resources and disproportionately better their performance over time. Of course, there is also the possibility that performance differences will be stable over time.

One of the appealing features of EI for social policy is the supposed lack of ethnic group differences in EI scores. In the case of mean score differences, the group displaying the lower mean is likely to be under-represented in the job or position selected for when such selection is done top-down using EI scores. Such disparities could potentially result in adverse impact (legally defined by the four-fifths rule in the United States) when EI is used for selection purposes. This may not be a problem as long as EI is used only for counseling, but given the widespread claims that EI predicts performance, leadership, and other valued criteria, it is imperative to assess ethnic group differences on this construct. Limited empirical research currently exists on this issue.

On a related note, an implicit claim is made in many trade books “selling” EI to the general public that EI can be developed by anyone. The idea that EI can be developed or schooled through interventions raises the hopes that every individual can be successful—a very promising alternative to the view that general mental ability is rather stable throughout one’s life and also highly heritable. However, such hopes at this point remain exactly that: only hopes. There is no cumulative empirical research unequivocally demonstrating that EI can be developed to any level or that the heritability of EI is low. In fact, given the correlations EI demonstrates with ability and personality variables, it is likely that the heritability of EI will prove similar to those found for such constructs, though possibly not to the same extent as with general mental ability.

In summary, although the empirical research base is just beginning to accrue, several models of career development and success suggest an important role for EI. Career counseling researchers and practition­ers need to stay tuned for developments in this area. However, at present, the empirical research on the criterion-related validities of EI is limited to selected criteria such as academic and job performance and certain aspects of life success. More research on the validity of EI for predicting diverse criteria such as stress management is still needed. A better differentiation of the criterion domain of interpersonal skills is necessary if there is to be a better understanding of the processes through which EI influences success in this important area of career success. The incremental gains from using EI over traditional predictor variables, such as abilities and interests, need to be demonstrated. The concept has to be clarified and its theoretical underpinnings more clearly and consistently defined. The moderating and mediating influences have to be empirically tested in more detail, and lon­gitudinal research should be employed. Ethnic group differences and the heritability of EI need to be documented before expectations of successful interventions are encouraged.

The intent here is not to paint a pessimistic picture of EI but, instead, to draw attention to the need for independent and focused work on the construct. Findings have at times been encouraging and at other times nebulous and conflicting. Replication of sound research studies is a necessity, and careful examination at this time is warranted and recommended to provide a more thorough understanding of EI. This would include further clarification of the diverging models as well as the continued assessment of their predictive and incremental validity.

See also:


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