Emotional Intelligence | Stevehein.com


One of the problems with defining emotional intelligence is the problem with the terms used in creating the definition. For example, the leading researchers, Mayer and Salovey, talk about the “ability model” of EI. And they say their test of EI is an “ability” test. Yet what do they mean by “ability”? I used Microsoft Word to check some synonyms for ability. Here is what I found:

1. One of the synonyms for ability is "capability". Another is "skill".

2. One of the synonyms for capability is "potential".

3. If you look up “skill” two of the synonyms are proficiency and expertise.


So it goes like this

Ability > A. Capability > Potential
B. Skill > Proficiency, Expertise



If we then consider a baby, it seems fair to say that “A baby has potential, but not skills.”

So what did Mayer and Salovey mean when they first started talking about ability?

Did they mean potential? Or skill, proficiency and expertise?

If they mean it is a skill, or a "set of skills" as they first hypothesized in 1990, then there is a basic inconsistency in their thinking. Jack Mayer said you can't teach intelligence and he gave the example that we don't talk about teaching math "intelligence". I agree with him. You don't teach intelligence, you develop it. Yet I think even Jack and Peter Salovey would have to agree that skills can be taught.

So where does this leave their definition of EI? I am afraid it leaves it on an unstable, unsupportable foundation.

What we need then, is a better definition of emotional intelligence. If you are interested in my proposed definition you can see it on this page. But my goal in writing this article is not to promote my definition. It is to get you thinking about the problems with the Mayer Salovey definition and the problems with the Mayer Salovey Caruso test, the MSCEIT, which they call a test of emotional intelligence. If their definition of EI is flawed, then how can we accept their test as being a true test of emotional intelligence?

I personally feel sad as I write this. For a long time I supported the work of Jack, Peter and David. But with time I have seen more and more problems with it. I feel sad because I don't know of anyone else who has but as much thought or effort into designing what might deserve to be called a definition of emotional intelligence. I sincerely hope that someone in the academic community will offer us a new definition of EI which does not have same kinds of problems as the Mayer Salovey model.





Defining emotional intelligence is not like math. When we say “triangle” most people around the world know what we are talking about. But when we use terms like “effective” or “drug abuse” there is much less agreement on what these things mean.

The two terms “effective” and “drug abuse” were chosen as examples because they are both terms Mayer and Salovey use their writing about EI. They use the term “effective”

Is terrorism effective?

This is much different than asking “Is 2+2 4?”

It is different because it depends who you ask, what they believe, what their goals are and what their values are.

With these fundamental problems in their work, I am wondering now if it is really fair to call even the Mayer, Salovey Caruso definition of EI "scientific".




So we have two kinds of problems with the words used in the definition.

1. A word can have two meanings, as in the case of "ability".

2. The meaning of a word can depend on your beliefs, your values, your goals etc., as in the case of "effective."