Emotional intelligence has been increasingly referenced as a predictor of success among researchers. The premise of these claims is generally flawed, and even contradictory, as emotional intelligence is not a valid concept. Emotional intelligence does not have a clear definition, has become all-inclusive, contradicts itself as a reasoning of emotion, and refers to a personality trait rather than intelligence. Therefore, emotional intelligence is an ambiguous concept, and not a valid or appropriate measurement.
Researchers have attempted to define emotional intelligence in a variety of ways, and have not settled on one clear description (Slife, 2012). Salovery & Mayer originally defined emotional intelligence as “the ability to monitor one’s and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (as cited in Slife, 2012, p. 139). They continue to state that it includes the ability to assess, express, regulate, and utilize verbal and non-verbal emotions, which results in flexible planning, creative thinking, direction of attention, and motivation. Goleman than offered an alternative definition. He states that emotional intelligence involves “self-motivation and persistence; skill at introspection; delay of gratification; self-control of impulses, moods and emotions; empathy; and social skills” (as cited in Slife, 2012, p. 140). Furthermore, emotional intelligence is also defined by Mayer as “the capacity to reason with emotion in four areas: to perceive emotion, to integrate it in thought, to understand it, and to manage it” (as cited in Slife, 2012, p. 140). Given that there is a lack of a single, unanimous definition of emotional intelligence, it is difficult to apply as a measurement, and is invalid.
While a clear definition does not exist for emotional intelligence, it is generally correlated with multiple traits and characteristics. For instance, in the book Primal Leadership, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee list fourteen traits of leadership that are based on emotional intelligence (Slife, 2012). These traits include objective self-assessment, adaptability and flexibility, conflict management, and humor, among others. Goleman et al. also state that emotional intelligence draws from one or more of six leadership styles. It’s likely that most individuals show some of these traits, and therefore may be considered emotional intelligent. This is likely done in an effort to classify everyone as intelligent, which then rends the term meaningless.
As previously stated, Mayer defines emotional intelligence as the ability to reason with emotion. Reason and emotion, however, are contradictory cognitive processes. Reason requires consciously and logically evaluating data, whereas emotion is an automatic process based on one’s perceptions and judgments. Reason is based on facts and truth, and tends to be consistent across individuals. Conversely, emotion is highly personal, may be irrational, and is frequently inconsistent across individuals. As Slife (2012, p. 140) states, “one cannot, therefore, ‘reason with emotion’; one can only reason about it.” Emotional intelligence, then, is a contradictory concept, and cannot exist.
Given these multiple definitions and explanations of emotional intelligence, it may exist as a personality trait than a measure of intelligence. It may also be classified as a learned skill, acquired by observing and distinguishing emotions. Much of the research conducted on emotional intelligence focuses on neurophysiology; however, neurons and personality are not transposable concepts (as cited in Slife, 2012). The ability to distinguish, monitor, and regulate emotions is clearly stronger in some individuals than others, but this does not mean that it is a form of intelligence. Rather, these abilities are similar to abilities of personality, such as strong social skills or strong leadership skills.
Emotions are a highly complex concept, and cannot be reduced to the simplicity offered in the explorations of emotional intelligence. It is problematic for researchers to continue using emotional intelligence as a valid measurement, given that there is not a clear definition, it redefines intelligence to include all individuals, is self-contradictory, and is more closely related to personality than to intelligence. As researchers continue to use a poorly-defined concept as a predictor of success, findings will continue to be faulty and invalid. Therefore, it would be best to treat emotional intelligence as a personality trait of being highly introspective, rather than as a form of intelligence.
- Slife, B. (2009). Taking sides: Clashing views on psychological issues. (18th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-