Editor’s Column – Emotional Intelligence Issue

me with kikiAndrea Scarantino, Department of Philosophy and Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University

We have all met people who appear singularly unable to understand and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others, despite being smart in other areas of their lives. Consider Uncle Joe, a successful cardiologist who recently began his Thanksgiving dinner by cheerfully telling the host that she had gained weight, loudly remarked about the turkey’s lack of tenderness in front of the cook, and proceeded by sharing details about his sexual escapes during a recent trip to Thailand in front of children, clearly oblivious to the horrified looks on everyone else’s face.

Or consider Job Candidate Sally, whose job talk on quantum gravity was widely considered to be a success, but who sank her chances to get an offer during dinner, when she ordered the most expensive wine on the list, yelled at a confused waiter in a fit of sudden anger, and confided to the stunned hiring faculty that she wrote several fake positive reviews on her own Rate My Professor page using pseudonyms. And yet, Sally thought the dinner had gone great.

There clearly is something wrong with Uncle Joe and Job Candidate Sally, although they are far from being globally dumb people. A first pass at what is wrong with them is to say that they both lack emotional intelligence or that they both engaged in emotionally dumb behaviors. This is because they seemed unable to predict how others would feel as a result of their actions, unable to contribute to a collectively cheerful mood and capitalize on it, unable to control their own emotional impulses and unable to read the emotional reactions of others on their faces.

The objective of this issue of Emotion Researcher is to delve into the concept of emotional intelligence, tracing its (brief) intellectual history, theoretical developments, recent challenges and practical applications. The first point to clarify is that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is both a scientific construct and a cultural meme. The scientific construct of EI was born in 1990, introduced by John (Jack) D. Mayer and Peter Salovey in a seminal paper (cited 7,362 times so far!). The cultural meme entered popular culture in 1995, when New York Times journalist Daniel Goleman took the publishing world by storm with his bestseller Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.

Ever since, emotional intelligence has led a double life: widely acclaimed on the shiny covers of Time Magazine and self-help books during the day, so to say, and extensively challenged on the drabber pages of scientific journals at night. Quite paradoxically, supporters of EI in the popular culture have promoted the concept for its alleged scientific credentials, while critics of EI have challenged the concept because the scientific facts do not seem to back up the popular hype.

In this issue of Emotion Researcher, we will try to understand what is the current status of EI as a scientific construct, leaving aside the cultural meme of EI and the hype (and money trail) that comes with it. We are guided in this endeavor by a cast of leading EI researchers.

Our exploration begins with Neal M. Ashkanasy and Marie T. Dasborough’s overview of the history of Emotional Intelligence research, with special focus on the development of the three main scientific measures of EI: task-based measures of EI as an ability, self-reported measures of EI as an ability and self-reported measures of EI as a personality trait. Ashkanasy and Dasborough are critical of personality measures of EI, but are generally optimistic about the scientific prospects of ability measures of EI, especially if task-based. They are highly supportive of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MISCEIT), which they characterize as the “gold standard” of EI testing.

John Antonakis has an unequivocally critical outlook on MISCEIT and on EI testing more generally. In his piece, he argues that EI as currently conceived is not a valid scientific construct. Antonakis makes the case that poor testing standards have been used to measure EI and to figure out whether it adds anything to the predictive value of personality traits and IQ. He also brings up a moral problem related to the way in which EI testing packages are marketed to unsuspecting human resource managers. On his view, it is unethical to claim, as publishers of EI tests routinely do, that there is solid scientific evidence backing up that high EI scores lead to success on the workplace: this amounts to false advertising.

Dana Joseph and Daniel Newman are also critical of current EI research, although a bit more optimistic about its possible future developments. Besides questioning the incremental validity of EI measures for predicting other work-related outcomes, once personality and IQ are taken into account, Joseph and Newman also raise the issue that the scientific study of EI is impaired by the high costs involved in administering EI tests, which are copyrighted intellectual property. Their suggestion is that such tests should be made available to academic researchers for a nominal fee or for free. They also explore gender differences in emotional intelligence, and whether having high EI could have a ‘dark side’.

Moïra Mikolajczak and Ainize Peña-Sarrionandia distinguish between measures of emotional intelligence that focus on knowledge, abilities, and traits. They argue that Trait EI, measured through questionnaires, has a significant impact on well-being, health, relationships and work performance. Their central question is whether Trait EI can be improved through training. They provide a qualified “yes”, and share some of the techniques used for improving Trait EI. You can also check a New York Times article on whether emotional intelligence can be taught here.

These first four articles are followed by a “Topical Q&A” with John (Jack) D. Mayer, the father of the science of Emotional Intelligence (jointly with Peter Salovey). Unlike regular interviews with prominent emotion researchers also featured in ER, “Topical Q & A”s focus exclusively on points of theoretical analysis. I presented Jack Mayer with some of the key challenges EI has received over the years, using the critical pieces in ER as a starting point, and he generously answered them, conceding some points to his intellectual adversaries, but also defending the value of EI as a scientific construct.

All in all, I think these five pieces on EI can provide us with a snappy, up-to-date and truly helpful overview of the main live issues in the science of emotional intelligence, highlighting both challenges and opportunities as we move forward. I am very grateful to the authors for working with me over an extended period of time to make their contributions comprehensible to an interdisciplinary audience.

The featured interviewee of this issue is Klaus Scherer, one of the world’s leading affective scientists. In a wide-ranging interview full of entertaining moments and scholarly digressions, Scherer traces the history of his intellectual life, offering a systematic overview of his influential research on a number of central topics in emotion science, with special attention to his Component Process Model of emotions. I am hopeful you will enjoy this interview as much as I did (and check out Klaus’ advice on where to eat at ISRE 2015 in Geneva!).

ISRE’s President Arvid Kappas uses his ISRE Matters column to discuss how emotion theory could help in the fight against terrorism, which is occupying an ever-increasing portion of our public discourse due to the fact that it has become hard to escape terrorist imagery in mass media. Some possibilities Arvid explores include studying countermeasures to emotional manipulation through imagery, helping law enforcement develop facial expression recognition systems, and helping to figure out how to block the emotional appeal terrorism exerts on some young people.

Last but not least, Daniel Kelly, recipient of the latest Young Researcher Spotlight, gives us a thorough self-presentation on his cutting-edge research in empirically-based philosophy of mind, which covers three main topics: the origin and nature of disgust, the moral-conventional distinction and racial cognition and implicit bias.

As usual, be in touch with comments, suggestions, ideas for future issues, feedback on the website, and anything else that strikes your fancy. And enjoy this issue, of which I am especially happy.

PS For the PDFs of this issue, you can click here.


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