The Science behind Emotional Intelligence: literature review


Quick overview: The studies I reviewed were basically trying to find a consistent definition of emotional intelligence so that the topic could be scientifically investigated. The researches end up concluding that emotional intelligence became so ‘trendy’ so quickly that the theory was never able to ground itself with a consistent definition… in all the definition that the authors found, there was not a definition that lent itself to research. The definitions of emotional intelligence were too broad and the topic could not be broken down into observable and measurable variables. The studies that I investigated suggest that it is important to teach people skills that help people to be more empathetic, self regulating, thoughtful and compassionate etc…       they were not arguing the validity of the importance of what society has come to define as ‘emotional intelligence,’ instead they were suggesting that emotional intelligence lacks a consistent definition…The authors maintain that it is hard to say what the value of emotional intelligence is to society when there is no way of cleary articulating what emotional intelligence is.


The authors suggested that emotional intelligence (like an IQ) is a measure of one’s capacity to attain skills and knowledge related to social and emotional skills… it is not the skills or the knowledge itself… it is the capacity to attain the knowledge.


How do you measure this capacity?


My review – I found an article which investigated the science surrounding emotional intelligence. The Article titled Educational Policy on Emotional Intelligence: Does It Make Sense? By John D. Mayer and Casey D. Cobb looked at the history of emotional intelligence and the impact of the concept on education and culture. The study cautioned that it might be possible that more research needs to be done before emotional intelligence is integrated on a large scale. To justify the hesitation, the study reminded us of California’s effort to promote self esteem in their school system in the 80’s. Self-esteem did not end up having a significant positive effect on either social of academic variables, and lots of money was spent on the fruitless venture.

The authors’ first critique was that they could not find a consistent definition of emotional intelligence in much of the early literature.

  • The one measurable definition they found defined emotional intelligence as ‘the capacity to process emotional information accurately and efficiently, including the capacity to perceive, assimilate, understand, and manage emotion’ (Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso, 2000).


Second, the authors were unsatisfied with the abbreviation EQ as the acronym already had many other meaning and was never accurate… it should have been E IQ.

  • They found that it was Time magazine which perpetuated the misleading acronym.


The author quickly defined the current parameters of emotional intelligence being:”perception, integration, understanding, and management of emotion” (Mayer and Cobb, 2000) Mayer and Salovey’s 1990 articles described an emotionally intelligent character: a well-adjusted, genuine, warm, persistent, and optimistic person.

The history of Socio-emotional learning and character education traditions were examined in relation to historical patterns of implementing character building skills into school curriculum. Both were found to be helpful and effective.

The article became very interesting in that it found that as soon as journalism made emotional intelligence the latest trend the definition changed to include many variables which had never truly been studied (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).

  • The journals also sited correlations between emotional intelligence and desirable social behaviors that had never been studied (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).
  • The authors concluded that public knowledge about emotional intelligence is based on a bunch of articles citing a journalist instead of the scientific literature (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).
  • The authors found that the public seems to view emotional intelligence as describing a wide range of traits involved in positive and empathetic social contact.


For emotional intelligence to be a justified personality trait it must exist as a unitary entity (it must be measurable and separate from other constructs) (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).

  • The authors found that Emotional intelligence likely does exist given the measurable definition offered above by Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso.


In relation to success, the authors found that Goleman’s book, which is seen as the impetus of the movement, used such a broad and immeasurable definition (with inherent contradicting traits) that the findings related to increasing emotional intelligence were not surprisingly correlated with success (Mayer and Cobb, 2000). In other words if you define emotional intelligence with all the terms associated with success it is not surprising that your made up term will be correlated with success.  the authors maintain that many of the inflated numbers that the have been published in relation to success and emotional intelligence come from Goleman’s fallacious reasoning that if intelligence accounts for 20% of the predictability than 80% must be up to something else, which he concludes in emotional intelligence. In truth the remaining 80 percent in related to a vast array of personality traits and chance (Mayer and Cobb, 2000).

The authors then remind us that intelligence is a capacity to learn; they suggest that emotional intelligence, like IQ, is relatively unaffected by education.

  • It seems as though emotional IQ has come to be synonymous with social and emotional knowledge. Social and emotional knowledge will likely be beneficial to our community and we must recognize that it is in fact far different from emotional IQ.
  • to be most specific, the authors were suggesting that emotional intelligence is a measure of a person’s capacity to attain social and emotional knowledge… it is not the knowledge itself… it is the capacity to attain that knowledge.


The authors finish by pointing our social tendency to become fixated on the trendy personality trait of a time when we should be taking a broader approach to maximize the development of many socially beneficial personality traits.

Mayer John D. and Cobb Casey D (2000). Educational Policy on Emotional
Intelligence: Does It Make Sense? Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 12, No. 2

Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., and Salovey, P. (1999). Emotional intelligence meets standards for a traditional intelligence. Intelligence 27: 267–298.

Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., Salovey, P. Formica, S., and Woolery, A. (1999). Validity studies of the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scales [Unpublished raw data].

Mayer, J. D., DiPaolo, M. T., and Salovey, P. (1990). Perceiving affective content in ambiguous visual stimuli: A component of emotional intelligence. J. Person. Assess. 54: 772-781.

Mayer, J. D., and Geher, G. (1996). Emotional intelligence and the identification of emotion.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

William Hambleton Bishop

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

7 thoughts on “The Science behind Emotional Intelligence: literature review

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  3. Our present time is indeed a criticizing and critical time, hovering between the wish, and the inability to believe. Our complaints are like arrows shot up into the air at no target: and with no purpose they only fall back upon our own heads and destroy ourselves.

  4. Your write up is nice  really enjoyed them but  was expecti and hiping to see †♓ε̲ use of emotional intelligence in psychotherapy or †♓ε̲ relevance of emotional intelligence in psychotherapy

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