Above some Emotionally Intelligent Young People
What is emotional intelligence?
'We define emotional intelligence as the ability to reason with emotion.' John Mayer and Peter Salovey
US psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey published the first formal definition of emotional intelligence in 1990. Their publication also claimed that it might be possible to assess and measure a person’s emotional intelligence.
Mayer and Salovey believed that emotional intelligence is a subset of social intelligence and is about a person’s ability to:
- Perceive emotion in oneself and others
- Integrate emotion into thought
- Understand emotion in oneself and others
- Manage or regulate emotion in oneself and others.
Since 1990, Mayer, Salovey and David Caruso have developed a set of tasks that assess this four-dimensional model. These include identifying emotions in human faces. They claim their research indicates that emotional intelligence can be measured reliably and that it is related to, but independent of, standard intelligence.
The development of emotional intelligence
Although theories of emotional intelligence have been around since the 1920s, writers such as Howard Gardner and Daniel Goleman have championed the importance of emotions and feelings in learning more recently. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence pioneered the view that intra and interpersonal intelligences were as important as other forms such as linguistic and logical. Daniel Goleman, who later coined the phrase ‘emotional intelligence’, put forward the argument that emotional intelligence (EQ) mattered more than IQ (Intelligence Quotient).
Goleman broadened the definition of emotional intelligence devised by Mayer and Salovey. He defined it as ‘understanding one’s own feelings, empathy for the feelings of others and the regulation of emotion in a way that enhances living’. Goleman also identified what he called the ‘the five domains of emotional intelligence’ namely:
- Knowing one’s emotions
- Managing one’s emotions
- Motivating oneself
- Recognising emotions in others
- Handling relationships.
It has also been pointed out by many academics that Goleman ignored the growing body of empirical research already carried out in the area of emotional intelligence. This omission, they argue, led Goleman to:
- make unsupported claims about the power and predictive ability of emotional intelligence that do not stand up to scientific scrutiny
- broaden the definition of emotional intelligence to include aspects of personality and behaviour, which are not correlated to emotional intelligence as it is scientifically defined
- make premature and exaggerated claims about the extent to which we can increase our emotional intelligence.
In the UK, the concept of emotional intelligence has influenced those promoting the importance of self-esteem in learning, but these proponents have tended to use the term 'emotional literacy' rather than 'emotional intelligence'.
In recent times, those who have championed what might be termed the ‘self-esteem movement’ in schools regard emotional intelligence as being closely connected to the building of self-esteem. Elizabeth Morris (2002) argues that it is hard to feel good about yourself if you don’t know yourself well, and if you can’t recognise and manage emotions such as anger and frustration. The more able you are to read body language and relate to other people and their emotional states, the more likely you are to be popular. Morris and other academics argue that this is what encourages a sense of belonging and builds self-esteem.
Their view is based on a belief that, although emotional literacy helps to develop self-esteem, it is not the same as self-esteem and they distinguish between the two concepts as follows:
Self-esteem - the inner perception people have as being more or less valuable, worthy and powerful in the world
Emotional literacy - the practice of being aware of, understanding and managing emotional states in both oneself and other people.
The idea that the emotions are central to learning, and that handling our own and other people’s emotions is crucial for success and happiness, goes back a long way in both western and eastern philosophy.
Advances in neuroscience and brain imaging techniques, however, have enabled scientists to understand much more about the way that the human brain works. They have been able to distinguish between the emotional centre of the brain - which gives rise to feelings and emotions - from the neocortex, which is responsible for thinking and reasoning. Today most scientists believe that our emotions are intimately involved in the rational decisions and choices we make, and there is increasing evidence to show that what is known as emotional intelligence has a far greater impact on our ability to learn and our future success than was previously recognised.
Peter Salovey and Jack Meyer, who first coined the term ‘emotional intelligence’ in 1990, are qualified cognitive psychologists who base their claims about the nature of emotional intelligence and how it can be measured on scientific research, citing over 160 academic studies. Salovey and Meyer are still working on and refining the instruments that they use to measure emotional intelligence. Their ability tests focus on, in particular, whether emotional intelligence can be grown and developed, although they accept that some people are born with higher levels of emotional intelligence than others.
The main messages
- Human beings are emotional animals and their emotions play a critical part in learning and in life.
- Being able to monitor our own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide our thinking is, perhaps, the most important life skill.
- Some people are innately more emotionally intelligent than others. However people can develop emotional intelligence, particularly at critical periods including infancy and teenage years.
- Emotional intelligence is a very complex area and, although our understanding is growing, there is still a great deal we do not understand.
- Emotional intelligence was popularised as a result of Daniel Goleman’s work, but many of his claims about the nature of emotional intelligence and its influence were premature and exaggerated.
- As yet, there is no universally recognised method of measuring emotional intelligence accurately, or demonstrating that it can be developed.
- Schools can help to teach young people how to develop their emotional intelligence. Classrooms also need to be emotionally secure places for both teachers and learners.
'In the brain and the central nervous system, the emotions have a privileged position over thought.' Joseph Ledoux (1998)
We now know that in certain situations, emotions have a stronger impact on human behaviour than thinking. When humans are in a situation of high threat, emotions take precedence over rational thought. This is what Goleman calls an ‘emotional highjack’. Strong emotions, such as anxiety and stress, can overwhelm our ability to think and make good decisions. This explains why in tests and examinations candidates often misread questions or express themselves poorly. Even when we are relaxed and in the optimum mood for learning, our emotions play a very strong role in how we come to learn and whether we will be successful in learning. This makes the case for developing emotional intelligence in young people very strong.
It seems likely that if we are aware of, and can understand and manage emotional states in ourselves and other people, we are more likely to have robust self-esteem and be happy in life. People with highly developed emotional intelligence are usually self-smart - they are able to make sense of what they do, the thoughts they have, and why they feel what they feel. They also communicate effectively and are able to tune in and empathise with others. They are better at handling relationships of every kind and are more likely to be happy and fulfilled.
Emotional intelligence and success
Goleman focused to a large extent on the power of emotional intelligence to help individuals achieve success and he closely equated success with money and earning power.
Goleman also claimed that 20% of success in life is down to IQ and 80% to EQ, although critics argue that he had little or no scientific evidence to back this up. Whilst Mayer and Salovey claim that there is research to show that IQ contributes to 25% of the success achieved by individuals, they cannot make similar quantifiable estimates about the impact of emotional intelligence on achievement.
The implications for learners
Emotional intelligence can be thought of as a set of skills that help learners to be successful in school, at work and in relationships. As a consequence of this, they are more likely have robust self-esteem and be better placed to cope with disappointments and setbacks.
To become effective learners, young people need to develop a strong sense of self-worth and confidence in their abilities. They need to learn to take responsibility for their own learning and performance, and demonstrate persistence and resilience in the face of obstacles or setbacks.
They must also be able to manage their emotions and help others to do the same. It is less to do with controlling emotions and more to do with recognising and understanding the effects of these emotional states and developing coping strategies. Young people must also come to understand that negative feelings can be valuable since they provide personal insights into thoughts, feelings and motivation to learn.
The implications for schools and teachers
The foundations for emotional intelligence, self-esteem, happiness and success in life are laid in childhood and adolescence. Schools and teachers can play a significant part in helping young people to establish these foundations for themselves.
Many proponents of emotional literacy believe that schools must set time aside specifically to teach young people strategies for managing their emotional states and developing empathy with others. Others argue, however, that this should not be treated as a separate area of the curriculum, rather developing emotional literacy ought to be a core part of every teacher’s work with young people.
Whichever approach prevails, schools must establish classroom environments that enable teachers and learners to discuss and share their feelings, beliefs and values openly and honestly.
The writer Andy Hargreaves proposes a four-point plan for making schools more emotionally positive and supportive workplaces. He proposes that schools should seek to:
- scale down the number of contacts between teachers and pupils, between pupils and pupils and between teachers and teachers
- develop structures that strengthen the emotional bonds between teachers and learners
- develop genuinely collaborative structures and ways of working that help teachers to work with and in front of their peers, without feeling that they are being judged
- encourage teachers to use their emotions in their teaching.
Journey to excellence