What is the concept and importance of emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is a relatively new concept that has gained significant attention in recent years. It refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. This concept has become increasingly important as research has shown that it plays a crucial role in personal and professional success. In this essay, we will explore the concept of emotional intelligence and its various components, as well as its significance in our everyday lives. We will also discuss how developing emotional intelligence can positively impact our relationships, work performance, and overall well-being.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is an ability, skill or, in the case of the trait EI model, a self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. Various models and definitions have been proposed of which the ability and trait EI models are the most widely accepted in the scientific literature. Criticisms have centered on whether the construct is a real intelligence and whether it has incremental validity over IQ and the Big Five personality dimensions.



The earliest roots of emotional intelligence can be traced to Darwin’s work on the importance of emotional expression for survival and, second, adaptation. In the 1900s, even though traditional definitions of intelligence emphasized cognitive aspects such as memory and problem-solving, several influential researchers in the intelligence field of study had begun to recognize the importance of the non-cognitive aspects. For instance, as early as 1920, E.L. Thorndike used the term social intelligence to describe the skill of understanding and managing other people.

Similarly, in 1940 David Wechsler described the influence of non-intellective factors on intelligent behavior, and further argued that our models of intelligence would not be complete until we can adequately describe these factors. In 1983, Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences introduced the idea of multiple intelligences which included both interpersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people) and intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations). In Gardner’s view, traditional types of intelligence, such as IQ, fail to fully explain cognitive ability. Thus, even though the names given to the concept varied, there was a common belief that traditional definitions of intelligence are lacking in ability to fully explain performance outcomes.

The first use of the term “emotional intelligence” is usually attributed to Wayne Payne’s doctoral thesis, A Study of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence from 1985. However, prior to this, the term “emotional intelligence” had appeared in Leuner (1966). Greenspan (1989) also put forward an EI model, followed by Salovey and Mayer (1990), and Daniel Goleman (1995). The distinction between trait emotional intelligence and ability emotional intelligence was introduced in 2000.



Substantial disagreement exists regarding the definition of EI, with respect to both terminology and operationalizations. Currently, there are three main models of EI:

  • Ability EI model
  • Mixed Model
  • Trait EI model

Different models of EI have led to the development of various instruments for the assessment of the construct. While some of these measures may overlap, most researchers agree that they tap different constructs.


Ability model

Salovey and Mayer’s conception of EI strives to define EI within the confines of the standard criteria for a new intelligence. Following their continuing research, their initial definition of EI was revised to “The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth.”

  • The ability-based model views emotions as useful sources of information that help one to make sense of and navigate the social environment. The model proposes that individuals vary in their ability to process information of an emotional nature and in their ability to relate emotional processing to a wider cognition. This ability is seen to manifest itself in certain adaptive behaviors. The model claims that EI includes four types of abilities:
  • Perceiving emotions – the ability to detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, and cultural artifacts—including the ability to identify one’s own emotions. Perceiving emotions represents a basic aspect of emotional intelligence, as it makes all other processing of emotional information possible.
  • Using emotions – the ability to harness emotions to facilitate various cognitive activities, such as thinking and problem solving. The emotionally intelligent person can capitalize fully upon his or her changing moods in order to best fit the task at hand.
  • Understanding emotions – the ability to comprehend emotion language and to appreciate complicated relationships among emotions. For example, understanding emotions encompasses the ability to be sensitive to slight variations between emotions, and the ability to recognize and describe how emotions evolve over time.
  • Managing emotions – the ability to regulate emotions in both ourselves and in others. Therefore, the emotionally intelligent person can harness emotions, even negative ones, and manage them to achieve intended goals.

The ability EI model has been criticized in the research for lacking face and predictive validity in the workplace.


Measurement of the ability model

The current measure of Mayer and Salovey’s model of EI, the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) is based on a series of emotion-based problem-solving items. Consistent with the model’s claim of EI as a type of intelligence, the test is modeled on ability-based IQ tests. By testing a person’s abilities on each of the four branches of emotional intelligence, it generates scores for each of the branches as well as a total score.

Central to the four-branch model is the idea that EI requires attunement to social norms. Therefore, the MSCEIT is scored in a consensus fashion, with higher scores indicating higher overlap between an individual’s answers and those provided by a worldwide sample of respondents. The MSCEIT can also be expert-scored, so that the amount of overlap is calculated between an individual’s answers and those provided by a group of 21 emotion researchers.

Although promoted as an ability test, the MSCEIT is unlike standard IQ tests in that its items do not have objectively correct responses. Among other challenges, the consensus scoring criterion means that it is impossible to create items (questions) that only a minority of respondents can solve, because, by definition, responses are deemed emotionally “intelligent” only if the majority of the sample has endorsed them. This and other similar problems have led some cognitive ability experts to question the definition of EI as a genuine intelligence.

In a study by Føllesdal, the MSCEIT test results of 111 business leaders were compared with how their employees described their leader. It was found that there were no correlations between a leader’s test results and how he or she was rated by the employees, with regard to empathy, ability to motivate, and leader effectiveness. Føllesdal also criticized the Canadian company Multi-Health Systems, which administers the MSCEIT test. The test contains 141 questions but it was found after publishing the test that 19 of these did not give the expected answers. This has led Multi-Health Systems to remove answers to these 19 questions before scoring, but without stating this officially.


Mixed models

The model introduced by Daniel Goleman focuses on EI as a wide array of competencies and skills that drive leadership performance. Goleman’s model outlines four main EI constructs:

  • Self-awareness – the ability to read one’s emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
  • Self-management – involves controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
  • Social awareness – the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social networks.
  • Relationship management – the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.

Goleman includes a set of emotional competencies within each construct of EI. Emotional competencies are not innate talents, but rather learned capabilities that must be worked on and can be developed to achieve outstanding performance. Goleman posits that individuals are born with a general emotional intelligence that determines their potential for learning emotional competencies. Goleman’s model of EI has been criticized in the research literature as mere “pop psychology” (Mayer, Roberts, & Barsade, 2008).


Measurement of the Emotional Competencies (Goleman) model

Two measurement tools are based on the Goleman model:

The Emotional Competency Inventory (ECI), which was created in 1999, and the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI), which was created in 2007.


Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI)

Bar-On defines emotional intelligence as being concerned with effectively understanding oneself and others, relating well to people, and adapting to and coping with the immediate surroundings to be more successful in dealing with environmental demands. Bar-On posits that EI develops over time and that it can be improved through training, programming, and therapy. Bar-On hypothesizes that those individuals with higher than average EQs are in general more successful in meeting environmental demands and pressures. He also notes that a deficiency in EI can mean a lack of success and the existence of emotional problems. Problems in coping with one’s environment are thought, by Bar-On, to be especially common among those individuals lacking in the subscales of reality testing, problem solving, stress tolerance, and impulse control. In general, Bar-On considers emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence to contribute equally to a person’s general intelligence, which then offers an indication of one’s potential to succeed in life. However, doubts have been expressed about this model in the research literature (in particular about the validity of self-report as an index of emotional intelligence) and in scientific settings it is being replaced by the trait emotional intelligence (trait EI) model discussed below.


Measurement of the ESI model

The Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), is a self-report measure of EI developed as a measure of emotionally and socially competent behavior that provides an estimate of one’s emotional and social intelligence. The EQ-i is not meant to measure personality traits or cognitive capacity, but rather the mental ability to be successful in dealing with environmental demands and pressures. One hundred and thirty three items (questions or factors) are used to obtain a Total EQ (Total Emotional Quotient) and to produce five composite scale scores, corresponding to the five main components of the Bar-On model. A limitation of this model is that it claims to measure some kind of ability through self-report items (for a discussion, see Matthews, Zeidner, & Roberts, 2001). The EQ-i has been found to be highly susceptible to faking (Day & Carroll, 2008; Grubb & McDaniel, 2007).


Trait EI model

Soviet-born British psychologist Konstantin Vasily Petrides (“K. V. Petrides”) proposed a conceptual distinction between the ability based model and a trait based model of EI and has been developing the latter over many years in numerous scientific publications. Trait EI is “a constellation of emotional self-perceptions located at the lower levels of personality.” In lay terms, trait EI refers to an individual’s self-perceptions of their emotional abilities. This definition of EI encompasses behavioral dispositions and self perceived abilities and is measured by self report, as opposed to the ability based model which refers to actual abilities, which have proven highly resistant to scientific measurement. Trait EI should be investigated within a personality framework. An alternative label for the same construct is trait emotional self-efficacy.

The trait EI model is general and subsumes the Goleman and Bar-On models discussed above. The conceptualization of EI as a personality trait leads to a construct that lies outside the taxonomy of human cognitive ability. This is an important distinction in as much as it bears directly on the operationalization of the construct and the theories and hypotheses that are formulated about it.


Measurement of the trait EI model

There are many self-report measures of EI, including the EQ-i, the Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test (SUEIT), and the Schutte EI model. None of these assess intelligence, abilities, or skills (as their authors often claim), but rather, they are limited measures of trait emotional intelligence. One of the more comprehensive and widely researched measures of this construct is the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue), which was specifically designed to measure the construct comprehensively and is available in many languages.

The TEIQue provides an operationalization for the model of Petrides and colleagues, that conceptualizes EI in terms of personality. The test encompasses 15 subscales organized under four factors: Well-Being, Self-Control, Emotionality, and Sociability. The psychometric properties of the TEIQue were investigated in a study on a French-speaking population, where it was reported that TEIQue scores were globally normally distributed and reliable.

The researchers also found TEIQue scores were unrelated to nonverbal reasoning (Raven’s matrices), which they interpreted as support for the personality trait view of EI (as opposed to a form of intelligence). As expected, TEIQue scores were positively related to some of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness) as well as inversely related to others (alexithymia, neuroticism). A number of quantitative genetic studies have been carried out within the trait EI model, which have revealed significant genetic effects and heritabilities for all trait EI scores. Two recent studies (one a meta-analysis) involving direct comparisons of multiple EI tests yielded very favorable results for the TEIQue.


Alexithymia and EI

Alexithymia from the Greek words “λέξις” (lexis) and “θυμός” (thumos) (literally “lack of words for emotions”) is a term coined by Peter Sifneos in 1973 to describe people who appeared to have deficiencies in understanding, processing, or describing their emotions. Viewed as a spectrum between high and low EI, the alexithymia construct is strongly inversely related to EI, representing its lower range. The individual’s level of alexithymia can be measured with self-scored questionnaires such as the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) or the Bermond-Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ) or by observer rated measures such as the Observer Alexithymia Scale (OAS).


Criticisms of the theoretical foundation of EI

EI cannot be recognized as a form of intelligence

Goleman’s early work has been criticized for assuming from the beginning that EI is a type of intelligence. Eysenck (2000) writes that Goleman’s description of EI contains unsubstantiated assumptions about intelligence in general, and that it even runs contrary to what researchers have come to expect when studying types of intelligence:

“[Goleman] exemplifies more clearly than most the fundamental absurdity of the tendency to class almost any type of behaviour as an ‘intelligence’… If these five ‘abilities’ define ’emotional intelligence’, we would expect some evidence that they are highly correlated; Goleman admits that they might be quite uncorrelated, and in any case if we cannot measure them, how do we know they are related? So the whole theory is built on quicksand: there is no sound scientific basis.”

Similarly, Locke (2005) claims that the concept of EI is in itself a misinterpretation of the intelligence construct, and he offers an alternative interpretation: it is not another form or type of intelligence, but intelligence—the ability to grasp abstractions—applied to a particular life domain: emotions. He suggests the concept should be re-labeled and referred to as a skill.

The essence of this criticism is that scientific inquiry depends on valid and consistent construct utilization, and that before the introduction of the term EI, psychologists had established theoretical distinctions between factors such as abilities and achievements, skills and habits, attitudes and values, and personality traits and emotional states. Thus, some scholars believe that the term EI merges and conflates such accepted concepts and definitions.


EI has little predictive value

Landy (2005) claimed that the few incremental validity studies conducted on EI have shown that it adds little or nothing to the explanation or prediction of some common outcomes (most notably academic and work success). Landy suggested that the reason why some studies have found a small increase in predictive validity is a methodological fallacy, namely, that alternative explanations have not been completely considered:

“EI is compared and contrasted with a measure of abstract intelligence but not with a personality measure, or with a personality measure but not with a measure of academic intelligence.” Landy (2005)

Similarly, other researchers have raised concerns about the extent to which self-report EI measures correlate with established personality dimensions. Generally, self-report EI measures and personality measures have been said to converge because they both purport to measure personality traits. Specifically, there appear to be two dimensions of the Big Five that stand out as most related to self-report EI – neuroticism and extroversion. In particular, neuroticism has been said to relate to negative emotionality and anxiety. Intuitively, individuals scoring high on neuroticism are likely to score low on self-report EI measures.

The interpretations of the correlations between EI questionnaires and personality have been varied. The prominent view in the scientific literature is the Trait EI view, which re-interprets EI as a collection of personality traits.


Criticisms of measurement issues

Ability EI measures measure conformity, not ability

One criticism of the works of Mayer and Salovey comes from a study by Roberts et al. (2001), which suggests that the EI, as measured by the MSCEIT, may only be measuring conformity. This argument is rooted in the MSCEIT’s use of consensus-based assessment, and in the fact that scores on the MSCEIT are negatively distributed (meaning that its scores differentiate between people with low EI better than people with high EI).

Ability EI measures measure knowledge (not actual ability)

Further criticism has been leveled by Brody (2004), who claimed that unlike tests of cognitive ability, the MSCEIT “tests knowledge of emotions but not necessarily the ability to perform tasks that are related to the knowledge that is assessed”. The main argument is that even though someone knows how he should behave in an emotionally laden situation, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he could actually carry out the reported behavior.

Ability EI measures measure personality and general intelligence

New research is surfacing that suggests that ability EI measures might be measuring personality in addition to general intelligence. These studies examined the multivariate effects of personality and intelligence on EI and also corrected estimates for measurement error (which is often not done in some validation studies). For example, a study by Schulte, Ree, Carretta (2004), showed that general intelligence (measured with the Wonderlic Personnel Test), agreeableness (measured by the NEO-PI), as well as gender had a multiple R of .81 with the MSCEIT. This result has been replicated by Fiori and Antonakis (2011),; they found a multiple R of .76 using Cattell’s “Culture Fair” intelligence test and the Big Five Inventory (BFI); significant covariates were intelligence (standardized beta = .39), agreeableness (standardized beta = .54), and openness (standardized beta = .46). Antonakis and Dietz (2011a), who investigated the Ability Emotional Intelligence Measure found similar results (Multiple R = .69), with significant predictors being intelligence, standardized beta = .69 (using the Swaps Test and a Wechsler scales subtest, the 40-item General Knowledge Task) and empathy, standardized beta = .26 (using the Questionnaire Measure of Empathic Tendency)–see also Antonakis and Dietz (2011b), who show how including or excluding important controls variables can fundamentally change results—thus, it is important to always include important controls like personality and intelligence when examining the predictive validity of ability and trait EI models.


Self-report measures are susceptible to faking

More formally termed socially desirable responding (SDR), faking good is defined as a response pattern in which test-takers systematically represent themselves with an excessive positive bias (Paulhus, 2002). This bias has long been known to contaminate responses on personality inventories (Holtgraves, 2004; McFarland & Ryan, 2000; Peebles & Moore, 1998; Nichols & Greene, 1997; Zerbe & Paulhus, 1987), acting as a mediator of the relationships between self-report measures (Nichols & Greene, 1997; Gangster et al., 1983).

It has been suggested that responding in a desirable way is a response set, which is a situational and temporary response pattern (Pauls & Crost, 2004; Paulhus, 1991). This is contrasted with a response style, which is a more long-term trait-like quality. Considering the contexts some self-report EI inventories are used in (e.g., employment settings), the problems of response sets in high-stakes scenarios become clear (Paulhus & Reid, 2001).

There are a few methods to prevent socially desirable responding on behavior inventories. Some researchers believe it is necessary to warn test-takers not to fake good before taking a personality test (e.g., McFarland, 2003). Some inventories use validity scales in order to determine the likelihood or consistency of the responses across all items.


Claims for the predictive power of EI are too extreme

Landy distinguishes between the “commercial wing” and “the academic wing” of the EI movement, basing this distinction on the alleged predictive power of EI as seen by the two currents. According to Landy, the former makes expansive claims on the applied value of EI, while the latter is trying to warn users against these claims. As an example, Goleman (1998) asserts that “the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. …emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership”. In contrast, Mayer (1999) cautions “the popular literature’s implication—that highly emotionally intelligent people possess an unqualified advantage in life—appears overly enthusiastic at present and unsubstantiated by reasonable scientific standards.” Landy further reinforces this argument by noting that the data upon which these claims are based are held in “proprietary databases”, which means they are unavailable to independent researchers for reanalysis, replication, or verification. Thus, the credibility of the findings cannot be substantiated in a scientific way, unless those datasets are made public and available for independent analysis.

In an academic exchange, Antonakis and Ashkanasy/Dasborough mostly agreed that researchers testing whether EI matters for leadership have not done so using robust research designs; therefore, currently there is no strong evidence showing that EI predicts leadership outcomes when accounting for personality and IQ. Antonakis argued that EI might not be needed for leadership effectiveness (he referred to this as the “curse of emotion” phenomenon, because leaders who are too sensitive to their and others’ emotional states might have difficult to take decisions that would result in emotional labor for the leader or followers). A recently-published meta-analysis seems to support the Antonakis position: In fact, Harms and Credé found that overall (and using data free from problems of common source and common methods), EI measures correlated only r = .11 with measures of transformational leadership. Interestingly, ability-measures of EI fared worst (i.e., r = .04); the WLEIS (Wong-Law measure) did a bit better (r = .08), and the Bar-On measure better still (r = .18). However, the validity of these estimates does not include the effects of IQ or the big five personality, which correlate both with EI measures and leadership. In a subsequent paper analyzing the impact of EI on both job performance and leadership, Harms and Credé found that the meta-analytic validity estimates for EI dropped to zero when Big Five traits and IQ were controlled for.


EI, IQ and job performance

Research of EI and job performance shows mixed results: a positive relation has been found in some of the studies, in others there was no relation or an inconsistent one. This led researchers Cote and Miners (2006) to offer a compensatory model between EI and IQ, that posits that the association between EI and job performance becomes more positive as cognitive intelligence decreases, an idea first proposed in the context of academic performance (Petrides, Frederickson, & Furnham, 2004). The results of the former study supported the compensatory model: employees with low IQ get higher task performance and organizational citizenship behavior directed at the organization, the higher their EI.


Emotional literacy

The term emotional literacy has often been used in parallel to, and sometimes interchangeably with, the term “emotional intelligence”. However, there are important differences between the two.

Emotional Literacy is a term that was used first by Steiner (1997) who says:

Emotional Literacy is made up of ‘the ability to understand your emotions, the ability to listen to others and empathise with their emotions, and the ability to express emotions productively. To be emotionally literate is to be able to handle emotions in a way that improves your personal power and improves the quality of life around you. Emotional literacy improves relationships, creates loving possibilities between people, makes co-operative work possible, and facilitates the feeling of community.

He breaks emotional literacy into 5 parts:

  • Knowing your feelings.
  • Having a sense of empathy.
  • Learning to manage our emotions.
  • Repairing emotional damage.
  • Putting it all together: emotional interactivity.

Having its roots in counseling, it is a social definition that has interactions between people at it heart. According to Steiner emotional literacy is about understanding your feelings and those of others to facilitate relationships, including using dialogue and self-control to avoid negative arguments. The ability to be aware and read other people’s feelings enables one to interact with them effectively so that powerful emotional situations can be handled in a skillful way. Steiner calls this “emotional interactivity”. Steiner’s model of emotional literacy is therefore primarily about dealing constructively with the emotional difficulties we experience to build a sound future. He believes that personal power can be increased and relationships transformed. The emphasis is on the individual, and as such encourages one to look inward rather than to the social setting in which an individual operates.


British context

In Britain the term ‘emotional literacy’ is often used and has developed, building on the work of Steiner and Goleman as a social construction – as opposed to the more individualistic ‘emotional intelligence’ with the attempts to measure it as if emotions were measurable in a relatively rational way. Educators did not like the way that ‘emotional intelligence’ focused so much on the individual and there were clear attempts to avoid the narrow EQ tests that were in use for two reasons:

  • The idea of an EQ test had resonance with discredited psychometric measures of intelligence such as IQ tests.
  • People were also concerned with the way that pupils could be subject to even more control through the introduction of emotional intelligence into the curriculum.

The National Curriculum in England and Wales emphasized a range of cognitive skills that were controlled through exams. Educators saw the need to expand the range of skills that pupils required and were also concerned with social inclusion. The Labour Government provided an overarching rationale for this with its promotion of well-being. However, when the Department of Children, Schools and Families developed a scheme for schools – called the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) – it was based on Goleman’s definition of emotional intelligence. Hence any distinctions between the terms emotional intelligence and emotional literacy were blurred. Even so, key educators in Britain continued to use the term emotional literacy. Emotional literacy took on an aspect that was concern with personal growth. For example, the importance of developing relationships is, to a degree, in Weare’s definition:

The ability to understand ourselves and other people, and in particular to be aware of, understand, and use information about the emotional states of ourselves and others with competence. It includes the ability to understand, express and manage our own emotions, and respond to the emotions of others, in ways that are helpful to ourselves and others.

Similarly, the organization Antidote defined emotional literacy as:

the practice of interacting with others in ways that build understanding of our own and others’ emotions, then using this understanding to inform our actions.

These definitions acknowledge both the individual and other people and so inter-personal relationships and the need for dialogue are included. Sharp has taken a broad approach to emotional literacy in a Local Education Authority (LEA) where he considers its development is important for teachers as well as pupils.

However, there was still an underlying assumption about the individual and how they develop as if they were culturally isolated and separate from factors such as religion and gender. Also, the development of emotional literacy was justified by arguing that its introduction would help to improve other factors such as behavior, attendance and academic achievement. Boler researched four of the emotional programs in America. She pointed out that the programs tended to view pupils as individuals who are in need of development through enabling them to control their impulses. This can mean that pupils are to become responsible for their own control and that other social factors can be ignored. It is possible that these programs can open the way for greater control of pupils with even their emotions being assessed. On the one hand the development of emotional literacy programs can be seen as progressive, but on the other the focus seems quite inward, as there is little reference leading to any broader concept of social and political reform.

In the same way that Goleman discusses emotional intelligence educational programs, emotional literacy programs can also be more about coping with the social and political status quo in a caring, interactive and emotionally supportive environment than with any systematic attempt to move beyond it to social improvement.


Culturally situated emotional literacy

Matthews (2006) argues against the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ and for a developed definition of ‘emotional literacy’. His starting point is that all social and emotional interactions take place in a cultural context and that generally all emotions are felt because of interactions with other people. He argues that a group may, for example, contain men and women and people from a range of ethnicities. One could judge a person’s emotional literacy by observing what they brought to the situation, the way they interacted and the degree to which they showed empathy, and, the recognition of “self” and “others”. The way that one can reliable gauge the emotional literacy of a person is to see them interacting in a group and see how they behave towards other people of different genders, sexuality and social class. Hence, it makes little sense to talk about emotional literacy of a person as if it were separate from such factors – you may be able to empathize with people of your own sex, but not different sexualities or religions. Also, one may think that they can empathize with the other sex, or another religion, but the other person may not agree with them. Indeed, the views of other people are essential in deciding upon such factors. There is always a social context and in any context power differentials operate. Any form of paper and pen test will only give access to what a person thinks, not to the important view of how others think. For example, many men (and women) would say that they were not sexist, yet a person from the opposite sex not agree! Similarly with racism. This is key point, a person cannot tell how well they, say, empathize, only other people tell them if they are. A manager may think they are self-confident, open and friendly, but others find him or her aggressive and bullying.

Hence, according to Matthews, emotional literacy is a social process that takes place in a social setting, is something that is never really achieved, and has to be seen in conjunction with others. This indicates that key components of emotional literacy, which is a continual process, that includes dialogue, acceptance of ambiguity and the ability to reflect. Judgments are made on a person’s individual-in-group emotional literacy. He argues:

Emotional literacy involves factors such as people understanding their own and others’ emotional states; learning to manage their emotions and to empathize with others. It also includes the recognition that emotional literacy is both an individual development and a collective activity and is both about self-development and the building of community so that ones own sense of emotional well-being grows along with that of others, and not at their expense. Emotional literacy involves connections between people and working with their differences and similarities while being able to handle ambiguity and contradiction. It is a dynamic process through which the individual develops emotionally and involves culture and empowerment. For example, it includes understanding how the nature of social class, ‘race’ and gender (sexism and homophobia) impinge on peoples’ emotional states to lead to an understanding of how society could change. Hence it incorporates an understanding of power exchanges between people and a challenging of power differentials.

On this view emotional literacy is developed to help people understand themselves, others and the power connections between them. Matthews links emotional literacy to equality and social justice. Emotional literacy is not just to be “nice”, but also to know when to stand up for viewpoints and fight for a case. It is not about more control over people, but less. As McIntosh and Style argue schools are always involved in social, emotional and power relations, yet “power relations are a taboo subject in K-12 schooling and in the majority culture of the United States. Power relations are therefore little understood systemically. Students, however, learn about power by watching, by imitating, by avoidance of what they fear”.


‘Emotional Intelligence/Literacy in Education

In general, most of the criticisms of courses to promote pupils’ emotional development have been directed at those that develop emotional intelligence. For example, there are the courses developed in the USA and Britain. The critiques of these courses include that:

  1. Emotional intelligence/literacy courses can lead to more control over pupils with them being more defined in their behavior.
  2. The assessment of emotional intelligence/literacy can lead to pupils being labeled as inadequate.
  3. Emotional intelligence courses can locate problems in the individual that are also a function of how society is organised.
  4. When courses are taught it is often assumed that pupils are emotionally ready to deal with what is on the curriculum, whereas they may not be.
  5. The whole agenda of teaching emotional development can lead to pupils being seen as deficit in emotional control and so can depress their potential to have faith in future goals.
  6. Emotional intelligence courses have moral and ethical aspects that are not made explicit.

Matthews has tried to avoid some of the difficulties. For example, his strategies for the classroom mean that pupils only develop when, and in what areas, they are able. Emotional development between the genders has been the focus of research with a small reference to ‘race’. But these are limited in strategies and do not tackle fully the critiques.

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