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Emotional Intelligence and Conformity


In this article I talk about the MSCEIT test which is being called a test of emotional intelligence. I try to show how in some ways it is more a test of conformity than of intelligence. I use a comparison to the current president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who is quite a non-conformist, yet is the president of an entire country.

This is an edited version of some journal writing I did in Bolivia in early May 2006.

Here in Bolivia Evo Morales is famous. So famous that everyone knows him just by one name - "Evo", a bit Jesus, Gandhi and Madonna. I have a lot of respect for Evo because he seems to be quite the non-conformist. For one thing, he recently nationalized the petroleum industry in Bolivia, a very risky move which so far seems to be going fairly smoothly.

Something else I respect him for is because in all the pictures I have seen of him, I have never yet seen him wearing a tie. Please think about that for a moment. He is meeting with other foreign presidents this week in Europe. There are pictures of him with all the other presidents. Among the male presidents, he is the only not wearing a tie.

This brings to mind a question I have asked many people here in South America:

Do you think Jesus would wear a tie?

Children quickly say “no.” Adults, on the other hand, often have to think about it, and often hesitate or can’t give me a definite answer. Now let me "tie" this to Jack Mayer, David Caruso and Peter Salovey, the authors of a test they and MHS (the company marketing and
distributing the test) claim is measuring emotional intelligence.

The other day I looked at Jack Mayer' website. I saw that he is making new claims about emotional intelligence. I felt discouraged by this. He used to be very careful about making claims. But now he seems to believe the test he and his colleagues have created is really a test of emotional intelligence, so he has now joined the bandwagon of making claims about emotional intelligence, without cautioning us that it might not really be emotional intelligence that his test is measuring.

Just because Jack, David and Peter and the marketing folks at MHS started calling the MSCEIT a test of emotional intelligence does not meant it would not be more accurate to call it a test of emotional conformity. If we look at MHS's track record for honesty in terms of the Reuven BarOn test, we see that it leaves a lot to be desired.

I suggest that the BarOn test would be better called a test of emotional coping ability, or "well-being" if they want to call it that, as Reuven used to call it. But these names don't have the sales appeal that emotional intelligence does, so it is unlikely MHS will change what they are doing unless they are legally forced to, which I personally hope they are.

As for the MSCEIT test, let's go back to Evo and the other presidents. Let’s say we develop a test and call it a test of “intelligent dressing”. Then we have questions on the test like “If you are going to an international meeting of presidents of countries, would it be more effective to wear a tie or to not wear a tie?”

Then we give the test to a lot of people and we let them select the “best” answers. (This is exactly what Jack, David and Peter did, by the way.)Then we decide, based on these other people’s answers, that the “best” answer is “it would be more effective to wear a tie.”

Then we say that if you answer our questions correctly you are an “intelligent dresser.” Then we looked at the pictures of presidents and we saw that most of them are wearing ties. So then we say that our test of intelligent dressing predicts who will be presidents.

So then we say that if you don’t score highly on our test, you are not an intelligent dresser, you are not likely to be a president, etc.

But would it really be fair to say that our test is a test of “intelligent dressing?” Or would it be more accurate to call it a test of “dressing conformity?”


How do we know that something is actually a test of emotional


Do we believe the test authors? Do we believe the business

consultants? Do we believe the marketing company who sells the


I want to add that I personally believe Jack Mayer, David Caruso

and Peter Salovey have relatively high levels of integrity. I am

not questioning their integrity as I have with Dan Goleman and

Reuven BarOn.

I am questioning one aspect of their work. I would like other

academic scientists to also question this and improve upon the work

in the area of EI tests.

I still firmly believe in the concept of emotional intelligence.

And I believe in the scientific process. I personally believe that

EI can be measured, but I don’t believe the MSCEIT test is the one

we should be using and calling a test of emotional intelligence.

And I definitely don’t believe the BarOn test is.

I would like to see new tests of EI developed. Until then I would

like MHS and everyone else to stop calling the MSCEIT and the EQi

tests of emotional intelligence.

Steve Hein
May 31, 2006
Salta, Argentina

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Now, I can predict the reaction of Jack, David and Peter. They will probably say that the word “intelligence” is a special word. They will say that in their discipline of psychology the word “intelligence” has a special meaning. They will say it has to do with cognitive skills, for example. So they might say that choosing what you wear doesn’t require any form of cognitive skills.

And I might not argue with them on that.

Or, then again, I might.

Since this article is getting a bit long I will let you choose to keep reading about why I might argue with them. If you want there

is a link below to that.
The other day I took a look at Jack’s website and I read a recent article co-authored by Peter. I feel discouraged and disillusioned by what I saw. I feel less respect and admiration for them now. Basically, they seem to be moving
closer towards what I might call a “conformist’s” definition of emotional intelligence.

On Jack’s website he describes what he, David and Peter think of as an

emotionally intelligent person. They say things like, according to

them, an emotionally intelligent person gets along with everyone

and doesn’t do anything unhealthy like smoke or use drugs.

I feel personally offended by this, not because I smoke or do

drugs, but because, first, I don’t get along with everyone and I don’t think this means I lack EI. I believe instead that to get along with everyone means you have to be either emotionally dishonest or emotionally out of touch with your own true feelings – something which could occur for several reasons.

Also, I personally know people who do many unhealthy things, such as using drugs, who I consider to be very emotionally intelligent. Sometimes they are even suicidal. Yet they are all very intelligent and very sensitive. They are just in extreme emotional pain from living in emotionally unsupportive and invalidating environments, within the larger context of a world where cruelty and killing are commonplace, things which are virtually ignored or justified by less sensitive and I would say less humane, people.

I personally feel offended by the implication that these people are not emotionally intelligent. Some of these suicidal people have been among my very best friends and among the most emotionally understanding, caring and supportive people I have ever met.