Most people wish to be intelligent, especially in our society. Intelligence is viewed as an asset in life, whether in school, at a job, or in everyday life. People who are considered highly intelligent often have opportunities that others do not receive. Despite this, however, there is frequently little agreement on what intelligence is, how to measure it, or how to utilize it. To add to the confusion, there are different types of intelligence, and these types are not always equally valued. In order to understand and apply intelligence, it is necessary to define the terms and examine how different types of intelligence can work to benefit those who possess these abilities.
There are two types of intelligence that are in many ways opposite one another. The first is what we call cognitive intelligence (sometimes referred to as CI); this is what many people mean when they say, “He is really smart,” or “She has a high I.Q.” Cognitive intelligence can be defined as the ability to comprehend ideas and abstract concepts and use memory to retain these ideas and concepts (Giles, 1995). It focuses on facts and information, as well as the brain’s ability to process them.
For decades, educators and social scientists have worked to develop ways to measure cognitive intelligence, relying heavily on tests that measure how well a person and remember information and regurgitate it on command (Giles, 1995). This model is why some people do really well on standardized tests; they can handle huge amounts of information and give it back as needed with little or no change in meaning or usage. However, many researchers have come to believe that cognitive intelligence is only a small part of the picture when it comes to learning or to functioning successfully. For these researcher, emotional intelligence (EI) is equally important and may actually be a better way of developing life skills and coping functions.
Emotional intelligence was first defined by two researchers, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, as:
A set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one’s life. (Salovey and Meyer, 1990).
For many people, emotional intelligence can be far more beneficial than simple cognition. Students who are exposed to the concepts of emotional intelligence from an early age learn more than reading and math. They begin to make cultural connections. They are often more open to diversity because they learn that all people have similar hopes, fears, and ambitions. Students who are taught to use emotional intelligence frequently become more socially conscious and more concerned about global issues such as environmental concerns and social justice, because they perceive that these issues affect them as well as those around them (Peninger and Roemer, 2015, p. 8).
Emotional intelligence can solve problems in a neighborhood or community as well. One excellent example is the use of street signs designed to appeal to the emotions. In neighborhoods where children were at risk of accidents, concerned parents and other created signs designed to appeal to drivers’ empathy, such as “Drive like your kids live here.” The results were impressive:
Though geographically and stylistically diverse, the signs have one thing in common. Rather than merely communicating basic information, or threatening drivers with possible punishments, they convey or elicit empathy. “Usually, the way we get people to follow rules is we wag our finger at them or threaten them,” says Daniel Pink, a bestselling American author who’s tracked the evolution of such signs. “All these people around the world are doing this, but they don’t have a name for it and they don’t even know other people are doing it.” So Pink coined a term: emotionally intelligent signage. (Rinaldi, 2015, p. 46)
By appealing to the near-universal love for children, regular citizens were able to create campaigns that reduced the number of accidents involving children and other vulnerable populations. Drivers were more careful because they understood on an emotional level why care was so important. It was no longer an abstract concept; safety had a face.
Emotional intelligence is also a valuable trait for leaders in many professions. For example, nurses who possess such EI qualities as accurate self-assessment, self-confidence, adaptability, conflict resolution skills, and the ability to be a change catalyst are likely to be strong candidates for leadership positions, because they can draw on all of these skills (Cooper, 2015, p. 38).
Most people would associate nurses with emotional intelligence, but what about lawyers? Once such qualities might have seemed unimportant, but more and more law schools are testing potential students to find their EI. Why? It is simple: lawyers must work with people—clients, colleagues, judges, and juries. Successful attorneys must be able to:
Perceive emotions in one’s self and in others
Use emotions to facilitate thinking
Manage emotions, both in themselves and in others (Kelton, 2015, p. 487)
Using emotional intelligence helps attorneys deal effectively with clients and manage the often stressful process of court cases. As author Christine Kelton explains:
Emotions contain valuable information that enhances our cognitive processes. We are not able to think without our emotions. Many lawyers are not emotionally intelligent perhaps because the focus of legal education is to teach students to “think like lawyers”…The lawyer’s ability to integrate emotions and cognition can transform the lawyer-client relationship into a richer and deeper trust relationship. All lawyers and clients benefit when lawyers understand, appreciate, and apply emotional intelligence skills. Clients benefit from lawyers who infuse their practice with cognition and emotion. (Kelton, 2015, p. 493)
In the end, of course, both cognitive and intelligence are valuable. A person who lacks the cognitive abilities needed to discover, absorb, and retain information will have a difficult time living in our highly technological world. At the same time, however, it is becoming more evident that cognitive intelligence without emotional intelligence leaves a person at a disadvantage, unable to understand others and unable to use his or her emotions to create productive solutions. People everywhere need to be encouraged to develop their emotional intelligence, both for their sake and to the benefit of the world around them.
- Cooper, J. (2015). “Wellbeing. Nurses as leaders — creating nurses with drive and passion.” Australian Nursing & Midwifery Journal, 22(10), 38.
- Giles, T. W. (1995). A Piagetian View of Learning Styles.
- Kelton, C. C. (2015). “Clients want results, lawyers need emotional intelligence.” Cleveland State Law Review, 63(2), 459-494.
- Salovey, S. and Meyer, J.D. (1990). “Emotional Intelligence: Imagination, cognition, and personality,” 9, 185-211. http://www.unh.edu
- Peninger, K., & Roemer, M. (2015). “Trinity Valley aims for students’ emotional growth, global awareness.” Fort Worth Business Press, 8.