EQI.org Home | Emotional Intelligence | Problems with Mainstream Concept of EI

The 80% Myth

Note - This page was created in 2002. There is an important Oct 2006 update.


Recently someone showed me material she had received to prepare her for a seminar on emotional intellingence in South Africa. It was a collection of several articles taken from books and the Internet. As I looked through the information I was greatly troubled by what I found. In spite of all the work I and others have done to educate the public about what emotional intelligence is and is not, this package was full of false and misleading information. It was as if I was reading something which was 5 years outdated. Five years ago very few people, including myself, knew the extent to which Daniel Goleman had mislead the public beginning with his 1995 book. Now though, this is well documented. Still, people are using the claims of Goleman and others to capitalize on the terms "EI" and "EQ."

Among the information package's errors is a reprint of an article which states that EQ predicts 80 percent of success. This is something which I have discussed on my site quite some time ago, but perhaps needs to be mentioned again. I am troubled that whoever put this package together did not take the time to read at least my critique of Goleman. Here is one part of this critique:

1. Misleading claims about the power and predictive ability of EI

In his 1995 book Goleman told us that IQ only contributes to "at best" 20% of "factors that determine life success." He implies, and let's us believe that EI accounts for the other 80%. Here is one quote from Goleman:

(Goleman being interviewed by John O'Neil, Senior Editor of Educational Leadership)

And you contend that emotional intelligence is just as important as the more familiar concept of IQ?

Both types of intelligence are important, but they're important in different ways. IQ contributes, at best, about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success. That leaves 80 percent to everything else. There are many ways in which your destiny in life depends on having the skills that make up emotional intelligence.

From http://www.ascd.org/publications/ed_lead/199609/oneil.html
backup copy)

In fact, because of his misleading statements, many people have made this inaccurate assumption and they are saying things like "scientific research shows that emotional intelligence accounts for 80% of success in work, school and relationships." The truth is there is no research which shows any such thing. (See how Goleman says that "IQ contributes, at best, about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success. That leaves 80 percent to everything else" in his interview with the journal Educational Leadership)

(For more notes on the 80 percent myth see my notes from my Goleman page and this note from June 2001.)

In the information package there are also many claims about how EI and EQ training increases sales, productivity etc. Very few references are provided, making it harder for anyone in the seminar to investigate the claims. Since I am familiar with the actual research on EI, and have been following it for about 6 years now, I can state with confidence that the vast majority of the claims in the package are simply false. The biggest problem is the way EI and EQ have been defined in the popular press, from which the information package draws. The terms have been defined so loosely in the popular press and in the business press, as well as by business consultants, that the terms mean almost nothing now.

The first article in the package is a copy of the 1995 Time Magazine article. This contains the now famous story of the marshmallow test which Goleman used as example of the predictive power and importance of emotional intelligence. Basically he claims that the ability to delay gratification is a major component of emotional intelligence and that this ability is in turn a predictor of academic success. I won't argue that the ability to delay gratification is a predictor of academic success. The problem is when Goleman calls this ability a part of emotional intelligence. The academic researchers have never included this in the definition of EI. It may be a very nice thing, when in moderation, but it has not been shown to be a part of emotional intelligence.

Another part of the infomation package is a reprint of an article by Steven Stein, the president of the MHS, the company which has been marketing a test which they claim is a test of emotional intelligence. This is the EQi test, designed by Reuvon Bar-On. This test has repeatedly been criticized by academic scientists because it is a personality test, not a test of EI as it claims to be. MHS and Bar-On have intensely marketed this test as a test of EI for several years. MHS also is marketing the MSCEIT test, the Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. This is the only test which I am aware of which has come anywhere close to being accepted as a measure of emotional intelligence. It took MHS years to get this test on the market. In the mean time, they were busy making money from selling the EQi as a test of EI. I feel suspicious of this. Also, in his article, Stein use the opportunity to promote Bar-On, which indirectly benefits Stein and his company since the more people who associate the name "Bar-On" with EI, the more the sales of the EQi. In short, I have serious questions about Stein's motives and integrity. Like so many who are now associated withthe term EI, Stein seems to be motivated by making money first and foremost.

This also seems to be the case with a South African consultant, Stephanie Vermeulen who has written her own book allegedly about EI. The infomation package contains a reprint from one chapter in her book. I looked carefully at this book, however, and it has almost nothing to do with EI. It is a motivational book, not a book about emotional intelligence. In talking repeatedly about the "magic" of EI, for example, the book is insulting to my both my emotional and intellectual intelligence! The author is clearly trying to sell herself to naive corporate managers. She never even mentions the leading researchers in EI, Mayer, Salovey and Caruso, in the entire book. This frustates me. It motivates me to continue trying to educate the public.

There is also an article by Josh Freedman. I believe Josh means well. But his article contains many examples of misleading claims about EI. Instead of having something practical and helpful, the article is simply an advertisement for the supposed miracle of EI. A collection of claims is made about how EQ training raised productivity 94% or some such thing. Particulary offensive to me is the reference to the cosmetics company, Loreal, who is now evidently selling more make up thanks to "EI training." I will ask the same question I asked in an earlier editorial: Is this what the world needs now? More make up sales?

The person who showed me this package is a primary school teacher. She sincerely wants to learn all she can about emotional intelligence. She values emotions; she values feelings. She wants to know how she can help the children develop their emotional intelligence so they can follow their inner voice. This information package does her a disservice. She is dealing with children's lives. She doesn't want to increase the sales of make up. She wants to help children. I believe this is what the world truely needs. And I believe the way to do it is to teach them to identify, communicate, honor and trust their feelings. This is much different than trying to turn them into "winners," - a term Vermeulen refers to repeatedly in her writings.

Another problem with the information package is that the articles are still talking about "raising" one's emotional intelligence. I have also addressed this at length on my website. We don't talk about "raising someone's math intelligence." We talk about developing their innate ability and potential. Each child is born with a unique potential in the area of emotional intelligence, just as each child has a certain potential for math. This potential must be developed. It must also be recognized and valued. Some children are gifted by birth when it comes to emotional intelligence, yet they may raised in an emotionally dysfunctional family. The schools can serve to correct the effects of this family, or they can make it worse, or they can do nothing. Sadly, if I had to guess, I would guess that schools are more likely to make it worse for a child. The child emotionally intelligent child is sensitive, aware and thoughtful, yet insecure and emotionally needy. As such he or she may "misbehave" or drift away in thoughts. In most schools, this brings negative attention and punishment, both of which only serve to deepen the child's unmet emotional needs. The child needs approval and he or she gets disapproval. The child needs acceptance, and he or she gets rejection. The child needs safety and he or she gets threatened and punished. Or perhaps teased, embarrassed or humiliated.

These are the things I would like to see addressed in seminars in emotional intelligence. My site has enough information on it to create a week long workshop. I encourage you to read it thoroughly, especially if you are responsible for informing and training others. I give away all of this information because I want to help people, not because I want to make money. I am proud of this and I feel offended when I see others who misuse the terms EI and EQ purely for their own financial gain.

Please don't be among those people when you work in this field. There are other fields where you can make money if that is your goal. Please save this field for those people who care about children and teenagers; who care about the future parents of this world, the future law makers and teachers and judges and political and military addvisors; the people who will have to decide who lives and who dies, who goes to war and who works for peace. But most of all, please save this field for people who care about the one thing which matters most: our real human feelings.

S. Hein
October 17, 2002

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80% of success due to EI?

(Originally posted here)

While doing some research for an article I am working on I checked to see who else might have been misled by Goleman's oft-repeated statement that IQ accounts for "at best" 20% of success in life. Here are a few examples of the consequences of Goleman's careless, if not deliberately misleading, presentation of the data. As far as I can tell Goleman has done very little to try to set the record straight.

I found many of these examples by searching google for "80% of success" and "emotional intelligence" By the way there is a bit of humor at the bottom of the list!

1. "...recent studies have shown that emotional intelligence predicts about 80 percent of a person's success in life. Carolyn R. Pool, Educational Leadership, May 1997 v54 n8 p12(3).

2. "In his groundbreaking book “Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman writes that social/emotional skills account for up to 80% of success in life." http://www.emotionallyintelligent.com/Main_Programming_in_Schools.htm

3."... success at work is 80% dependent on emotional intelligence and only 20% dependent on IQ," HR magazine, November 1997.  as quoted on http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/research/personnel/ei_e.htm

4. "Research says over 80% of success comes from emotional intelligence...." http://www.coachingforexcellence.com/resources.htm#Emotional%20Intelligence

5. "Daniel Goleman, a brain researcher from Harvard, has discovered why people with a high IQ may flounder and those of modest IQ do surprisingly well. He explores a different kind of smarts called emotional intelligence. Research has demonstrated that 80% of success in life is related to EQ while 20% is related to IQ." http://www.cobb.k12.ga.us/~preventionintervention/program.htm

6. "While IQ predicts success about 20% of the time, behavioral scientists have discovered that 80% of success depends on emotional factors." http://www.lifeworksps25.com/leartobesmar.html

7. "In his best-selling book, “Emotional Intelligence”, an American author Daniel Goleman (1995) has made the term globally popular for the first time. He persuasively proposed, in his book, that a whole set of “soft skills”, e.g. self-awareness, self-motivation, empathy and self-control, were more or at least as important as purely “hard intelligence” in determining success. Goleman argued that emotional intelligence - actually another way of saying “emotional maturity,” - not only account for more than 80% of success in the workplace, but it also happens that without enough EQ many intellectual people do not succeed at all." http://www.consultthai.com/balanced.html

8. "As much as 80% of success in the workplace is based on self-management and social skills, not IQ or technical competency" http://www.regonline.com/evntinfo.asp?eventId=4179&cf=1

9. "According to contemporary research, the intelligence quotient contributes just 20 percent to success. In fact, 80 percent of success is attributed to other factors including 'emotional intelligence.' " http://www.cta.org/cal_educator/v1i7/diff_test.html

I also found this:

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is showing up.

and this:

After twenty-five minutes of any talk, 80% of the audience start thinking about something other than the speaker's focus. 85% of that 80% start thinking about sex.


Oct 2006 Update

Dan Goleman now has his own website. On the site there is this quote:

"Unfortunately, misreadings of this book have spawned some myths, which I would like to clear up here and now. One is the bizarre—though widely repeated—fallacy that "EQ accounts for 80% of success." This claim is preposterous.

The misinterpretation stems from data suggesting IQ accounts for about 20 percent of career success. Because that estimate—and it is only an estimate—leaves a large portion of success unaccounted for, we must seek other factors to explain the rest. It does not mean, however, that emotional intelligence represents the rest of the factors in success: they certainly include a very wide range of forces—from the wealth and education of the family we are born into, to temperament, to blind luck, and the like–in addition toemotional intelligence.

You can see my comments about this on my first critique of Dan's new site.