Is There Really Emotional Intelligence?

Is There Really Emotional Intelligence?

The book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman published in 1995 collected the research on this concept that soon led to a fierce debate among psychologists. Emotional intelligence would involve the individual’s emotional self-awareness, self-control, and self-motivation, as well as the ability to empathize with and trust others.  

But is emotional intelligence just another aspect of intelligence, a way of naming in an easily understandable way a set of personality traits? Or is it really a kind of ability independent of basic cognitive abilities? 

The origin of the study on emotional intelligence 

Is there really emotional intelligence?

Throughout the 20th century, psychology began to delve into the concept of intelligence, trying to understand its different aspects beyond studies on the IQ of individuals.  

In 1920, Edward L. Thorndike used the term social intelligence to describe the ability to understand and motivate other people: the American psychologist opened the door to understanding that intelligent behavior could also derive from “non-intellectual factors”. In this way, the traditional intelligence tests would not be enough to evaluate a notion as multifaceted and complex as human intelligence.  

Although the first use of the term ’emotional intelligence is attributed to Wayne Payne in a 1985 doctoral thesis, it would be Salovey and Mayer proposed in 1990 a definition that would have greater significance: “ emotional intelligence would include the ability to accurately perceive, assess and expressing emotion, of understanding emotion and emotional awareness, in addition to the ability to regulate emotions and thus promote emotional and intellectual growth ”. 

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Self-knowledge and self-control, empathy, and trust are terms that begin to dress this new concept of emotional intelligence that Daniel Goleman’s book popularizes. EI becomes a subject for study and debate, generating an abundant bibliography, both technical and informative. 

The 5 facets of emotional intelligence 

Is There Really Emotional Intelligence?



If Salovey and Mayer designate four branches that would make up people’s emotional intelligence – perception, facilitation, understanding, and regulation that would be studied in the famous MSCEIT test – Goleman delves into these concepts, reeling off EI in five facets: 

Emotional self-awareness 

Know yourself. The old Greek axiom that was written in the temple of Apollo at Delphi is the first pillar that supports the emotional intelligence of the individual. Sounds simple, right? We all think we know each other very well, but then why do we make the same mistakes over and over again?  

Emotional self-awareness would explain this special ability that some people have to learn from their mistakes, identifying dangers and risks in the persistence of certain negative behaviors. It is especially decisive in those moments in which the emotional balance is broken, either by very positive or very negative emotions. Emotional self-awareness would moderate both types of emotions by restoring balance. 

Emotional self-control  

About the first facet of EI, self-control would regulate primary emotions such as euphoria, anger, or envy, allowing them to be rationalized so as not to live at their mercy. It is important to note that EI does not try to eliminate basic primary emotions because they are inherent to human beings.  

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Getting angry when we feel humiliated, for example, may be inevitable in the first instance, but emotional self-control allows those primary emotions not to overwhelm the individual, transforming into anxiety, depression, or violence, more complex states that can have serious consequences for the individual in the long run. term. 


It would be a practical skill that would allow us to regulate and manage our emotions to achieve goals. For self-motivation to lead a long-term project, a good dose of optimism, decision, self-demand, and perseverance are needed, qualities that usually characterize a person with high emotional intelligence.  

Self-motivation would also be a defense against unforeseen events and frustrations since it would offer meaning for the life of the individual beyond the inevitable setbacks in any life process. 


Putting yourself in the place of the other, understanding their behavior, understanding their emotional states, and knowing how to tolerate negative behaviors resulting from intense situations are some of the elements that explain the empathic capacity of the individual. 

This ability would be one of the fundamental pillars of EI because it would put the individual in a harmonious relationship with the environment and with other human beings. Ultimately, empathy would become a global intelligence that would allow societies to progress toward a more just and tolerant world. 

Social skills 

The last facet of EI as explained by Daniel Goleman deals with people’s ability to relate to others. If empathy allows understanding others, social skills allow relating to them harmoniously but also productively, so that it is a facet with wide resonance in the workplace in which EI is already a key element in the management of the human resources of organizations and companies.

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Emotional intelligence and IQ 

The coldness with which intelligence was analyzed by science for years based on different tests for its study explains the success that the concept of emotional intelligence has achieved.  

And even though various researchers, such as Goleman himself, based their theories also on the study of the brain – in this sense, the amygdala would be the repository of our emotional memory, suggesting that the emotional system could act independently of the neocortex, without the participation of any conscious cognitive activity — the truth is that the most popular of these studies continue to be emotional skills and their applications in everyday life

But the psychological community still disagrees on the true nature of emotional intelligence. For example, it is suggested that EI would be nothing more than an aspect of intelligence, not ‘another’ type of intelligence that operates outside the cognitive one. Likewise, the categorization of people with a high EI index as successful, optimistic, and balanced individuals is considered too reductionist and an artificial point. 

Ultimately, the study of human intelligence involves entering the complex universe of the human mind that still hides many mysteries. Emotional intelligence would be an abstraction, a graphic way of identifying the amazing capacities of the human being that, of course, go beyond an index, be it the IQ or the EQ.  


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