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How Important is Emotional Intelligence?

By Dianna Ellis, Parents' Source, May 20, 2001.

Psychologists have long tried to define the meaning of intelligence. For most of us, intelligence is one's ability to solve cognitive-type problems, such as vocabulary and arithmetic. But we all know that general intelligence, or what psychologists understand is intelligence, is only a small part of a person's capacity. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) addresses the emotional, personal, social, and survival dimensions of intelligence, which are often more important for daily functioning than the more cognitive or mental aspects of intelligence. This less cognitive part of intelligence is concerned with understanding oneself and others, relating to people, and adapting to and coping with the immediate surroundings. These factors increase our ability to be more successful in dealing with ourselves, others, and environmental demands.

Cognitive or thought-based IQ offers little to explain the differences between individuals with roughly the same promise, schooling, or opportunity. A study was conducted on 95 Harvard students from a class during the 1940s, a time when students with a wider spread of IQ's attended Ivy League schools. The men's lives were followed into middle age. It was determined that the men with the highest test scores in college were not necessarily more successful than those with lower test scores. They did not have higher salaries, they weren't more work-productive, and they didn't have higher status in their jobs. They also didn't achieve greater satisfaction in life nor did they have more happy relationships. Sadly, these results seemed to indicate that academic success and high intellectual IQ did not predict emotional success in life.

Out of this study and many others, the notion of "emotional intelligence" was born. Emotional intelligence is in many ways a predictor of emotional and personal successes in the future.

Emotional intelligence is certainly something that can be evaluated in everyone. The ability to measure a child's or adolescent's emotional intelligence is important. Emotional intelligence testing measures characteristics such as empathy, social responsibility, impulse control, and the ability to relate to others in an age-appropriate and responsible manner. It includes the ability to tolerate stress, maintain an optimistic outlook, and solve day-to-day human problems. Emotional intelligence measures the skills one has to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures.

Long ago, psychologists came to understand that cognitive intelligence is relatively fixed. Certainly early childhood, environmental, and early life events shape intelligence, as do genetic factors. But by a certain age in childhood, intellectual ability is rather established. Those who are going to be intellectually bright will stay intellectually bright throughout their lives, barring any unforeseen brain trauma. Those who are intellectually damaged will stay intellectually damaged. This is not the case with emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the result of learning that can occur throughout the life span. Individuals who have intensive learning experiences often raise their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is not a fixed point, but rather it is fluid, dynamic, and the result of emotional teaching.

Where is emotional intelligence learned? It is learned at the sleeve of those around us. As parents, we can teach our children the value of emotional intelligence. We can demonstrate ways to handle stress. We can encourage and nurture their creativity. We can teach them to be empathetic. Many of these skills can be taught with deliberate effort and purposeful intervention. In his article "The Feelings Vocabulary", Steven Tobias, Psy.D. states, "Children can learn about feelings when watching television, sitting on a bench in the mall, or when reading. Point out the feelings that you see around you, and talk about them. Talk about how the characters on TV or in the book are feeling and why. Look at people you see and try to guess how they are feeling."

The assessment of emotional intelligence is a new area for psychologists and educators. Psychologists have long focused almost exclusively on cognitive skills. With the new focus on emotional intelligence, some instruments are beginning to be developed to measure emotional intelligence. One of the best tools for this is the BarOn EQ-i, a brief measure of emotional, personal, social, and non-cognitive intelligence. It assesses the individual's ability to deal with the immediate world around them by taking an inventory of emotional and social skills. It identifies personal weaknesses and strengths in individuals and in groups. For many, it can be the first step toward newfound personal growth and development.

The test takes approximately thirty minutes to complete. It consists of statements which are responded to on a five-point scale from "Not true of me" to "True of me". Like many traditional IQ tests, it is scored where 100 is considered average. Scores above average represent strengths, while scores below 100 represent areas of weakness.

The characteristics measured by the BarOn EQ-i test can be taught at home and in our schools. Some of them include:

  • Self-Respect and Self-Confidence. Does your child have a positive self-image, or is he uncomfortable with his physical appearance?
  • Emotional Self-Awareness. Is your child in touch with her feelings, or does she often have difficulty understanding and expressing her feelings?
  • Assertiveness. Can your child express his feelings and defend his rights, or does he sometimes feel self-conscious or tentative?
  • Independence. Is your child willing and capable of thinking, working, and making decisions on her own?
  • Self-Actualization. Is your child content with his achievements in life? Does he allow sufficient time for leisure activities and to pursue his interests?
  • Empathy. Does your child have a good awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the feelings of others? Is he or she willing to help others and avoid hurting their feelings?

By demonstrating to our children the value of emotional intelligence in their daily lives, we increase their ability to be more successful in dealing with the ever-changing circumstances of their lives as they grow through adulthood.

Dianna Ellis works at Gateway Counseling Services which provides the BarOn EQ-i examination for children, adolescents, and adults. They offer both EQ testing, as well as interventions to improve emotional intelligence. For more information or assessment, contact Gateway Counseling Services at (610) 323-8866.

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