Emotional intelligence is so well established in contemporary psychology that it has a widely used abbreviation (EI). And the idea dates back at least to Aristotle, who challenged humanity to manage emotional life with intelligence in The Nicomachean Ethics. Charles Darwin wrote that emotions provide animals with signals to one another that are critically important; those who can’t display or read emotions accurately may not survive. The concept also owes much to Goleman’s old friend and Harvard classmate, Howard Gardner, whose theory of multiple intelligences recognized “intrapersonal” intelligence (self-awareness) and “interpersonal” intelligence (the ability to understand others) as distinct forms of capability. In the 1980s, several psychology researchers began using the term emotional intelligence in published work; Goleman encountered it in a 1990 article by Yale psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. (“Jack”) Mayer. Salovey and Mayer found that the ability to think dispassionately about one’s passions was correlated with success, or what they called “positive outcomes,” in experiments.
Goleman’s contribution to the new field was synthesis: combining the latest findings from neuroscience with the insights of psychiatric research, presented in deft, commonsense sentences. Readers had a kind of collective “aha!” moment, as if 5 million minds suddenly registered it: “So that’s why my boss, co-workers, spouse, children, neighbors, and I all behave that way.”
In Goleman’s model, emotional intelligence involves four competencies: self-awareness (recognizing a feeling as it happens); self-management (maintaining calm in stressful or unfamiliar situations); social awareness (empathy, organizational awareness, and an orientation toward service); and relationship management (effectively communicating with, influencing, and developing others). Each of the four domains derives from neurological mechanisms, all distinct from one another and from the purely cognitive abilities that are measured by intelligence quotient, or IQ, tests.
Some academic psychologists dismiss Goleman’s work as pop psychology, especially as human brain research expands beyond such concepts as the amygdala hijack. At the mention of “emotional intelligence,” a scholarly conference can erupt into booing, and entire Web sites are devoted to criticizing Goleman as a self-promoter. Some of this carping reflects Goleman’s millions of dollars in book sales, far more than any other researcher in the field has earned. And yet academic psychology increasingly recognizes that emotional intelligence can be studied and measured empirically: There are a number of standardized psychometric tests in place, including one developed by Salovey and Mayer, and endless debate about which is the most relevant.
Salovey, now the dean of Yale College and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology at Yale University, says that Goleman’s work is credible science journalism and good for the field. Mayer, now a professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, is more critical. On his emotional intelligence blog, he writes: “[Goleman’s] enlargement of our model…had the unfortunate effect of suggesting to some that nearly every human style or capacity that was not IQ itself was a part of emotional intelligence.” And Goleman himself irritates his critics by continuing to insist that although emotional maturity may not “matter” more than IQ, it is a stronger predictor of leadership competence.
In a recent informal talk to graduate students at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, for instance, Goleman was bathed in affection until he questioned the relevance of their scores, presumably stellar, on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which the school requires from many applicants for admission. “How many of you know the correlation between your score on the GMAT and your degree of success in your career?” he asked. After a pause, he gave them the answer: “It’s zero.” When a student in the audience challenged the credibility of that result, Goleman said he was quoting from a study performed there at Harvard, where the average GMAT score is in the 90th percentile.