Emotional Intelligence: Definition, Examples, and Explanation
By Helena Rose Karnilowicz, PhD Candidate
What is emotional intelligence? Discover the definition of emotional intelligence, the benefits of emotional intelligence, and how to be more emotionally intelligent.
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What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (also referred to as EQ or emotional quotient) is a type of intelligence that is defined as an ability to monitor and regulate one’s own and others’ emotions and to use emotions to facilitate one’s thoughts and actions (Brackett, Rivers, & Salovey, 2011).
You may think, isn’t emotion ‘the enemy of reason’? Not for people who are emotionally intelligent! Emotionally intelligent people use emotions as information and are able to listen to their gut to guide them to make good decisions.
4 Dimensions of Emotional Intelligence
There are 4 dimensions of emotional intelligence:
1. Perception of emotion
Emotionally intelligent people are able to identify and differentiate between different emotions and feelings. This dimension of emotional intelligence includes being able to pinpoint how one is feeling from bodily cues (like sweaty palms, or a racing heart might mean you are nervous) and thoughts (like thinking in a negative way might mean you are feeling down). People who are high on this dimension of emotional intelligence are also good at detecting emotions in others. For example, they can tell when someone is being false or behaving disingenuously.
2. Use of emotion to facilitate thinking
This dimension of emotional intelligence involves using emotions to foster reasoning, problem-solving, and interpersonal communication. In other words, highly emotionally intelligent people use emotions to help direct their attention and think critically to achieve their goals. For example, feeling angry helps people negotiate, and an emotionally intelligent person may listen to angry music before negotiating a salary raise.
3. Understanding and analyzing emotions
This aspect of emotional intelligence refers to understanding the language and meaning of emotions, including the causes of an emotion. People high on this dimension can accurately label their emotions and differentiate between complex emotional states (like mixed emotional states, such as feeling sad and angry).
4. Reflective regulation of emotions
Emotional intelligence includes the ability to prevent, reduce, enhance, or modify one’s own and others’ emotions. An important aspect of this dimension of emotional intelligence is being aware of which emotions are appropriate for a given context and regulating one’s emotions in line with the context. An example of this would be if you were at a funeral and thought of something funny, but redirected your attention to the sadness of the situation to keep yourself from laughing.
How Do You Know if You Are Emotionally Intelligent?
Just like how general intelligence is measured by standardized tests (e.g., SAT, ACT, GRE), researchers have developed tests to assess emotional intelligence. These tests consist of performance assessments that evaluate an individuals’ performance on each of the dimensions of emotional intelligence (perception of emotion, use of emotions to facilitate thinking, understanding and analyzing emotions, and reflective regulation of emotions). For example, to test perceptions of emotion, individuals are asked to identify the emotions being expressed in photographs of faces.
Assessments of the second dimension, use of emotions to facilitate thinking, involve describing emotional sensations. For example, questions ask you to imagine feeling an emotion (e.g., sadness) and rate which sensations (e.g., cold, blue) are similar to that emotion.
The third dimension of emotional intelligence (understanding and analyzing emotions) is assessed by asking people to recognize mixed emotions and how emotions change over time. To assess the last dimension of emotional intelligence (reflective regulation of emotions), people read stories about another person and say how they would deal with the emotions depicted in the story.
Answers to these tests are scored by comparing them to norms from a large population of test takers, similar to the SAT. While standardized comprehensive assessments of emotional intelligence are not widely available, there are many free online tests of dimensions of emotional intelligence.
3 Benefits of Emotional Intelligence
People who are highly emotionally intelligent are less likely to suffer from emotional disorders, like depression and anxiety and have fewer problem behaviors (like substance use or aggression). Emotionally intelligent people are also more likely to seek out therapy.
Emotional intelligence is associated with better social relationships, theoretically because emotionally intelligent people are more adept at interacting with others and providing emotional support.
Emotional intelligence is associated with several factors that are important for helping students learn and achieving academic and workplace success, including a positive classroom environment, being rated more positively by others, and better leadership.
How to Become More Emotionally Intelligent
So, can you become more emotionally intelligent? Yes! Just like general intelligence, research suggests that people can improve their emotional intelligence if they work on it. For example, schools have tried to implement programs to increase peoples’ emotional intelligence.
Socio-emotional learning programs in schools work on increasing students’ ability to recognize emotions in themselves and others and regulate their emotions effectively and studies have shown that these programs are generally effective at increasing academic success and positive school environments. While little research has examined whether therapy increases emotional intelligence, therapy has been found to improve emotional intelligence for schizophrenic patients (Eack et al., 2007), and increases emotion regulation skills (e.g., Jazaieri, Goldin, & Gross, 2017)
Activities to Increase Emotional Intelligence
Want some ideas for how to boost emotional intelligence? Here are a few activities to help you boost various aspects of emotional intelligence:
Activity: Gratitude List
In this activity, you'll think of and write about things you're grateful for.
Activity: Self-compassion letter
In this activity, you'll write yourself a kind, compassionate letter.
Activity: Positive memory
In this activity, you'll strengthen your brain's ability to work with positive information.
Find even more emotional skills here and some more activities to help you build these emotional skills here.
3 Tips for Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child
1. Engage in positive parenting behaviors. Positive parenting involves providing warmth, nurturance, and support to one’s child. These types of parenting behaviors have been associated with better emotional intelligence in children, including understanding emotions and effectively managing emotions.
2. To help your child become more emotionally intelligent, avoid harsh, critical, and punitive parenting behaviors. Punishment has been found to negatively associate with several factors related to emotional intelligence, including worse emotion regulation and lower levels of understanding emotions.
3. Model appropriate emotional expressions, manage your emotions, and talk to your children about emotions (here are some kids emotional intelligence games you can use). These types of behaviors, known as emotion coaching, help build children’s understanding and awareness of their own and others’ emotions.
Video on Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child
2 Things Most People Get Wrong About Emotional Intelligence
1. While some people argue that emotional intelligence is more important than general intelligence for success, there is little empirical evidence for this claim. That’s not to say that emotional intelligence is not important, but both general intelligence and emotional intelligence are instrumental for success and have different, but complementary outcomes.
2. Some researchers believe that emotional intelligence is more like a personality trait, than a type of intelligence. However, empirical research suggests that emotional intelligence is associated with general intelligence (though modestly), and experts’ scores on emotional intelligence are similar to the norms set by the general population. Moreover, emotional intelligence is associated with positive outcomes, above and beyond personality traits that are similar to emotional intelligence (like the personality trait of neuroticism, or how emotionally stable someone is).
Remember that emotional intelligence, just like other types of intelligence, takes time to develop. So take baby steps to build your emotional intelligence and you'll see improvement over time.