Psychology Emotional Intelligence
Marc Brackett, Peter Salovey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 January 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0047


Emotional intelligence (EI) emerged from the premise that emotions impact nearly every aspect of human experience. In their seminal 1990 article (Salovey and Meyer 1990, cited under General Overviews), Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer proposed a theory of emotional intelligence, asserting that cognition and emotion are interconnected. This perspective implied that individuals have the power to identify, leverage, and regulate their emotional states in order to achieve desired outcomes. But what does this mean? How, exactly, does one apply reason to feelings? These questions lie at the center of the work conducted by researchers in the field of EI. On the surface, the concept of EI may appear counterintuitive. However, if we view intelligence as a means of categorizing our internal abilities to better navigate our external landscape, then emotions play a significant role. In the decades since Salovey and Mayer’s article, the field of EI has grown to include a range of both theoretical and empirical works that have discriminant definitions, measurement tools, and applications of EI. This growth may, in part, be attributed to Daniel Goleman’s popularization of the construct in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence (Goleman 2006, cited under Competing Definitions). Goleman’s work tapped into the public appeal of EI and its connection to personal and professional success. Such a shift birthed two differing viewpoints: an ability model versus a trait-based model of EI. As a result, EI has been known to take on different meanings. While the founding fathers approached EI as a distinct yet malleable set of mental abilities, other researchers incorporated emotion-related qualities and personality traits into their models of EI. These opposing definitions are sometimes tied directly to measurement, with performance-based tests measuring emotion ability and self-report tests evaluating distinct emotions and traits. Although these tensions have divided the field to some extent, they have also expanded its literature and research, leading to a better understanding of the theory and impacts of EI. The future of EI holds many opportunities. In addition to reconciling disparate definitions and validating existing measures, potential considerations in the field could include deeper investigations into the cultural implications and differences of EI. Expanding studies beyond the United States and Europe is crucial for not only developing the theoretical construct of EI, but for ensuring its applications and outcomes are achieved more universally.

The authors would like to acknowledge Sarah Delaney and Nicole Elbertson for helping with the research for this article.

General Overviews

This body of work reflects EI’s evolution as a theoretical, success-oriented, and achievement-focused framework. Salovey and Mayer 1990 provides an initial framework for understanding the theoretical construct of EI. The authors view EI as a set of skills thought to contribute across varying emotion domains. This concept is explained in their four-branch model of EI—an early cornerstone of the field. In the years since this seminal article, much of the EI research and investigative studies has grown out of this model. Salovey and Mayer 1990 explores EI’s potential to influence specific variables. Given there was still much to be discovered about EI outcomes at the time of publication, Mayer and Salovey 1997 treads lightly over its potential contributions to personal and professional successes and only suggests that EI has strong potential for applications in real-world settings. The authors’ recommendations led researchers to investigate the role of EI at work, at home, and at school. Feyerherm and Rice 2002 reviews initial research that examines the relationship between EI and both team leadership and performance in the workplace. This article serves as a stepping-stone for readers interested in the positive correlations between EI and professional success. Mayer, et al. 2008a and Mayer, et al. 2008b review the differing models and approaches to EI, which was updated by Brackett, et al. 2011. This last article shows how EI, when viewed as a set of skills, starts developing early and extends well into adulthood—a valuable claim that is only possible when viewing EI as a distinct set of mental abilities. As a collection of work, the sources included here show the ongoing refinement of EI.

  • Brackett, M. A., S. E. Rivers, and P. Salovey. 2011. Emotional intelligence: Implications for personal, social, academic, and workplace success. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 5.1: 88–103.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00334.x

    Uses an ability-based approach to discuss EI’s relationship to cognitive abilities, mental health and wellbeing, social functioning, and academic and work performance. This article moves beyond theoretical implications of the construct to provide an overview of both potential and successful applications of EI in organization settings, including school systems.

  • Feyerherm, A. E., and C. L. Rice. 2002. Emotional intelligence and team performance: The good, the bad and the ugly. International Journal of Organizational Analysis 10.4: 343–362.

    DOI: 10.1108/eb028957

    Investigates EI’s relationship to overall team and leader performance. The Mayer and Salovey 1997 components of EI were used to assess customer service teams and their leaders. Positive findings demonstrate the value in applying EI to a professional setting, as well as encourage further research on EI in the workplace.

  • Mayer, J. D., R. D. Roberts, and S. G. Barsade. 2008a. Human abilities: Emotional intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology 59:507–536.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093646

    An in-depth look at EI that includes its scope and boundaries, informed research, varying approaches, measurements and models, and predictive outcomes. Discusses the significance of EI’s contributions to desired social outcomes, workplace and school performance, and both psychological and physical well-being. Lists key issues and questions for future EI research.

  • Mayer, J. D., and P. Salovey. 1997. What is emotional intelligence? In Emotional development and emotional intelligence. Edited by P. Salovey and D. J. Sluyter, 3–31. New York: Basic Books.

    Provides an overview of Mayer and Salovey’s four-branch model of EI. Merges theoretical foundations and anecdotal evidence into a compelling narrative that supports further investigation of potential EI applications and outcomes. Also discusses research and development of EI up until 1997 with a review of EI’s relationship to cognitive intelligence.

  • Mayer, J. D., P. Salovey, and D. Caruso. 2008b. Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist 63.6: 503–517.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.6.503

    One of the primary articles meant to clarify EI as a distinct set of mental abilities. Outlines theoretical tensions and evolutions of the field by comparing Goleman 2006 (cited under Competing Definitions) with Salovey and Mayer 1990 research. Shows the then-current (2008) findings of EI as measured with the Mayor-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT).

  • Salovey, P., and J. D. Mayer. 1990. Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality 9.3: 185–211.

    DOI: 10.2190/DUGG-P24E-52WK-6CDG

    Explores historical perceptions and definitions of intelligence and its relationship to social intelligence to help convey the value of linking emotions with cognition. Introduces an initial model for understanding core skill domains of EI. Provides initial research on the construct, with directions for future investigations.

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