A Brief History of the Emotional Intelligence Theory

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Emotional Intelligence Theory

In 1990, the world was introduced to the term “emotional intelligence” (aka EI or EQ) as a new means to understand human intellect when Peter Solovey and John D. Mayer posited the significance of EQ in their article titled “Emotional Intelligence.”

Their work was groundbreaking in that it revealed that human intelligence was not simply guided by our cognition but also by our emotional responses and our social interactions.  The article led to a new understanding of how to define intelligence, and over time, the once tried and true IQ test was complemented with rigorous quantifying tests measuring the social and emotional intelligence of an individual.

Theories on EQ also helped predict achievement beyond academia—and helped explain why perhaps many highly intelligent individuals fail to leave the mark and make the successful leaps that would be expected of their level of intellect. As EQ evolved into a part of our concept of intelligence, there became a clear understanding that IQ alone was not enough to define and direct success.

Emotional Intelligence Theory

Measuring Emotional Intelligence

In 2001, Mayer and Solovey along with researchers David R. Caruso (with Work-Life Strategies) and Gill Sitarenios (with Multi-Health Systems, Inc.) published a paper in the journal Emotion for the American Psychological Association titled “Emotional Intelligence as a Standard Intelligence.”  This paper discussed the measurement of EQ and scoring standards. Like all intelligence tests, the scoring of EQ tests required the need for determining the correct responses for each question to accurately measure EQ.

Emotional Intelligence and Performance

Through the years, EQ tests have evolved and have become quite prevalent as an effective means to predict success. As a greater understanding of EQ took hold, researchers began to discover that job performance—especially in the working world—was significantly impacted by an individual’s emotional intelligence.

In 2010, a team at Virginia Commonwealth University analyzed the role that emotional intelligence plays on workplace performance. Their study “The Relation Between Emotional Intelligence and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis” concluded that emotional intelligence tests were reliable predictors of future job success.

According to a press release issued by the University: “The study explored the three prominent testing procedures of emotional intelligence and found that each reliably predicts job performance based on empirical data.”

Many companies have embraced the use of EI tests in their pursuit of the ideal employee…especially for management positions. However, possessing high EI also has been shown to boost sales numbers—L’Oreal discovered that sales force members with high EQ sold $2.5 million more than their other team members.  Other companies have discovered that their high EQ leaders had a much lower turnover.

Emotional Intelligence and Relationships

Beyond the boardroom, a high EQ also influences interpersonal relationships. Those who possess an ingrained ability to understand, show empathy and react to even tense situations with grace and respect don’t just command respect and show leadership…they make others want to be near them.

The theory of emotional intelligence proves that true intellect isn’t just about abstract reasoning and the ability to understand difficult concepts. Human intelligence also encompasses our emotional make-up—how we manage ourselves and how we manage our relationships with others. Our success is no longer predetermined by a number on a standardized intelligence test. And while major corporations do still value book smarts—and high IQ—what HR really wants to discover about potential candidates lies in tests that measure EQ. While IQ may predict intelligence, it is a candidate’s EQ that predicts leadership ability and corporate success.


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