A Review of the Emotional Intelligence Theories

Significant efforts have been allocated over the last thirty years towards the definition and measurement of the Emotional Intelligence construct. Several Emotional Intelligence theories and models have been produced to support psychological assessment processes. However, barriers are identified for their wide adoption and exploitation by social scientists.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is one of the most highly used psychological terms by multidisciplinary scientists the last three decades, focusing on its applicability on research and applied fields to tackle societal challenges at intrapersonal and interpersonal level. As defined by Salovey and Mayer, EI is “a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions”.

EI is also used to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s) (Colman, 2009). High EI is associated with positive effects -among others- on mental health (Fernández-Abascal and Martín-Díaz, 2015), stress management (Lea et al., 2019), aggressive behavior (García-Sancho et al., 2014), leadership skills (Rosete and Ciarrochi, 2005), academic (Qualter et al., 2007) and job performance (Sy et al., 2006).

A lot of research effort has been devoted towards the definition and measurement of the EI construct. Several EI theories and models have been developed to support psychological assessment processes. However, a set of barriers are identified that do not permit the homogeneous representation and evaluation of the EI construct, as well the wide adoption and usage of the produced measurement instruments by multidisciplinary scientists to tackle emerging societal challenges.

The absence of a common structured format to represent concepts in Emotional Intelligence models has resulted in lack of clarity and consistency, while hindering comparison, validation and extensive evaluation processes. Provision of open access to such models and measurement instruments has not been promoted so far, however, considered crucial for their wide adoption. Furthermore, the inclusion of indexes from the sociometry domain can facilitate participatory modeling by multidisciplinary scientists during the development of social and emotional training programs. 

Emotional intelligence theories classification

Emotional Intelligence (EI) has been conceptualized under distinct forms the last three decades, mainly under the categories of ability EI, trait EI and mixed EI (O’Connor et al., 2019). A distinction between ability EI and trait EI has been provided by Petrides based on the applied measure (Petrides and Furnham, 2001). In the case of ability EI, the measure was a test of maximal performance, while in the case of trait EI, a self-report questionnaire is being used. Another method of classification is in the form of EI streams, where stream 1 refers to ability measures, stream 2 to self-report measures and stream 3 to self-report mixed measures (O’Connor et al., 2019). The latter ones measure a combination of traits, social skills and competencies that overlap with other personality measures and belong to the category of mixed EI. Most of the mixed EI measures consider the assessment of emotional competencies of individuals that are mainly used for improving their professional capabilities (Goleman, 1995). However, considering the distinction provided by Petrides, stream 2 and stream 3 measures are both classified as trait EI measures. Furthermore, independently of the type of the stream, self-report measures present high correlation among each other (Pérez et al., 2005).

Considering the aforementioned classification of EI theories, we have selected and examined six EI models that are considered dominant in the area of EI based on their strong presence in the literature -depicting adoption levels and usage- and their assessment based on a strong empirical basis. The selected models are representative of ability EI, trait EI and mixed EI models, while various overlaps exist in the declared constructs. Following, we shortly refer to these models, taking into account their category and that they consider EI as a set of abilities, personality traits, competencies, or a combination of them. The selected models cover a wide range of application domains, including, for instance, work environments (e.g., the model proposed by Goleman (Boyatzis et al., 2000)) and educational environments (e.g., the model proposed by Bisquerra and Perez (Bisquerra Alzina and Perez Escoda, 2007)).

EI emerged as a psychological construct in the early 1990s, where Salovey and Mayer (model 1 – ability EI) have conceptualized it as a set of abilities that are analogous to general intelligence (Mayer and Salovey, 1993; Mayer et al., 2016). A relevant definition of EI was produced, as detailed in the introductory part of the manuscript. Individuals with high EI are considered to have certain emotional abilities and skills to appraise and regulate emotions in the self and others (O’Connor et al., 2019). The model has been slightly revised in 2016, where EI has been positioned amidst other hot intelligences including personal and social intelligences (Mayer et al., 2016). The four branches refer to “perceiving emotion”, “facilitating thought using emotion”, “understanding emotions” and “managing emotions”. Assessment is based on the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) that involves scoring against results determined by a panel of experts, as well as results obtained using the Self-reporting of Emotional Intelligence (SREI).

Goleman broadened Mayer and Salovey’s four-branch system to incorporate five essential elements of emotional intelligence: emotional self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills (Boyatzis et al., 2000). The overall EI model (model 2 – mixed EI) includes four main domains, namely self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Within these domains, twelve EI competencies are nested. The EI model is assessed by the emotional and social competency inventory (ESCI) (Emotional and social competence inventory (ESCI) 2020). The ESCI measures the demonstration of individuals’ behaviors, through their perceptions and those of their raters, making it distinct from measures of EI that assess ability or personality preferences.

The Bisquerra and Perez’s (Bisquerra Alzina and Perez Escoda, 2007) (model 3 – trait EI) theoretical model of emotional competence proposes that emotional competencies can be grouped into five big dimensions: emotional awareness, emotional regulation, personal autonomy, social competence, and life competencies and well-being. The Bisquerra and Perez ‘s model can be considered a trait EI model because it incorporates both cognitive and personality dimensions. Assessment is based on the Emotional Development Inventory for Adults that is a self-report instrument (Bisquerra Alzina and Perez Escoda, 2007).

In the Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI) (Bar-On, 2006) (model 4 – Mixed EI), emotional-social intelligence is considered as a cross-section of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and facilitators that determine how effectively we understand and express ourselves, understand others and relate with them, and cope with daily demands (Bar-On, 2006). The Bar-On model considers five main constructs, related to the intrapersonal ability to be aware of oneself, the interpersonal ability to be aware of others’ emotions and to establish qualitative relationships, stress management competencies, effective management and adaptivity to changes, and trend to be sufficiently optimistic, positive and self-motivated. The Bar-On model provides the theoretical basis for the Emotional Quotient Inventory (the EQ-i) that is a self-report measure of emotionally and socially intelligent behavior that provides an estimate of emotional-social intelligence (Bar-On, 2006).

The trait EI model provided by Petrides (Petrides, 2011; Petrides et al., 2016) (model 5 – trait EI) is a theoretical framework that integrates emotions, personality traits, and intelligence, broadly defined. It is defined as a constellation of emotional self-perceptions located at the lower levels of personality hierarchies and measured via the trait emotional intelligence questionnaire. The trait EI model includes 15 facets, which are grouped into four broad factors. These facets are personality traits, as opposed to competencies or mental abilities or facilitators in other models. The four broad factors are self-control, emotionality, sociability and well-being.

The Five-factor model (FFM, known also as Big Five) (model 6 – trait EI) consists of five broad factors (dimensions) of personality traits (Goldberg, 1990). These factors regard the extraversion (includes traits as talkative, energetic, and assertive), the agreeableness (includes traits like sympathetic, kind, and affectionate), the conscientiousness, the neuroticism (includes traits like tense, moody, and anxious) and the openness to experience (includes traits like having wide interests, being imaginative and insightful). The FFM structure was derived from statistical analyses of the traits that tend to co-occur in people’s descriptions of themselves or other people. The Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R) is a personality inventory that examines a person’s FFM personality traits and reports on six subcategories of each personality trait. IPIP-NEO-120 (The IPIP-NEO 2020) is an open access version of the NEO-PI-R test.

The next table summarizes the selected EI models along with their core represented dimensions and their classification based on the EI assessment category that they belong to.

Table. EI Models Core Constructs/Dimensions and Type.

EI ModelConstructs/DimensionsType of EI
The Ability Model of Emotional Intelligence (Salovey, Mayer and Caruso) (Mayer et al., 2016)Perceiving emotion, Facilitating thought using emotion, Understanding emotions, Managing emotionsAbility EI

Emotional and Social Intelligence (Goleman and Boyatzis) (Boyatzis et al., 2000)Self-awareness, Self-management, Social awareness, Relationship managementMixed EI
Emotional Competences (Bisquerra) (Bisquerra Alzina and Perez Escoda, 2007)Emotional consciousness, Emotional regulation, Emotional autonomy, Social competence, Well-beingTrait EI
The EI Competencies and Skills (Bar-On) (Bar-On, 2006)Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Stress Management, Adaptability, General MoodMixed EI
EI Trait in adults (Petrides) (Petrides, 2011; Petrides et al., 2016)Well-being, Self-control, Emotionality, SociabilityMixed EI
Five Factor Model (Goldberg, 1990)Openness to Experience, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, NeuroticismTrait EI

By reviewing these models it can be observed that, independently of the category of EI, a set of similarities and conceptual overlaps appear in the majority of the models and measures, including the considered constructs and their breakdown in multiple facets. In particular, following the classification for EI constructs that was initially proposed by Mayer and Salovey (Mayer et al., 2016), the majority of measures include facets related to perceiving emotions (in self and others), regulating emotions (in self and others) and utilizing emotions. Furthermore, EI constructs are represented in the form of abilities in the model by Salovey and Mayer that is the most widely accepted ability model, as a set of micro-competencies in the models of Goleman, Bar-on and Bisquerra, and as a set of personality traits in the models of Petrides and the Five factor model.

This post is an adapted part, reviewed by the author, of the following paper:

Eleni Fotopoulou, Anastasios Zafeiropoulos, Symeon Papavassiliou,
EmoSocio: An open access sociometry-enriched Emotional Intelligence model, Current Research in Behavioral Sciences, Volume 2, 2021

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