What are the Definitions of Emotional Intelligence?

by Melissa Karnaze

istock_000008183124xsmall“Emotional Intelligence” is a complex term with many definitions.

This is in part because scientists have yet to agree upon a universally accepted definition for the term, “emotion.”

To illustrate, the term “affect” often substitutes “emotion” in cognitive-affective science literature — because it is more scientific, and less associated with folk psychology.

But even though emotional intelligence is a complex term (and controversial to some), we have a basic (perhaps intuitive) understanding of what it means.

In the words of Steve Hein from EQI.org (EQ meaning Emotional Intelligence Quotient):

Emotional intelligence is the innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions.

This definition makes it clear that the intelligence belongs to the person who is emotionally intelligent — not to the emotions themselves.

But what if the emotions are intelligent?

If we look at the term “emotional intelligence” from a different perspective, we see that it can be interpreted in at least three ways, describing:

    1) An emotionally intelligent person (which was just described above)
    2) The intelligence of emotions
    3) The intelligence of being emotional

We’ve already seen a definition fitting under the first interpretation, so let’s explore the second and third, which add something very special to the first.

Emotional intelligence describes the intelligence of emotions

mindful construct logoMany evolutionary psychologists believe that emotions have been selected for over the centuries.

This means that our emotional responses have carried on from our ancestors because they enhance our chances for survival and reproduction.

When you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, a compelling reason for an organism to develop emotions is to add an extra communication system (emotions) to the one that is already informing them about their environment (the nervous system).

This extra communication system (which is partly endocrine) is meant to alert an organism of important signals—especially ones that are a matter of life and death.

So when an organism faces danger, this extra communication system is optimally designed to alert the organism of threat with full force — and to immediately kick-in the defense system, or the fight-or-flight response.

But this extra communication system is not always contingent upon an accurate representation of the environment.

It can just as easily respond to a perceived rather than real threat, and this is because our brains are plastic. Well not literally; they have neuroplasticity, or the ability to be conditioned by experience.

A major type of conditioning is social conditioning — because hey, that’s what we are as humans, a socially dependent species (think about how long it takes for a human child to finally leave the nest and go off into the world).

So we can have some pretty dysfunctional belief systems (which are more fiction than fact) that in part govern our extra communication system, or emotional responses.

For instance, if you grew up in community where you must always put others before yourself, you will bound to feel some guilt when you start to prioritize your own needs — because your culture has conditioned your emotional responses.

And this leads us to the third interpretation of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence describes the intelligence of being emotional

mindful construct logoBeing emotional allows us to get in touch with our socio-culturally programmed beliefs, which are usually subconscious, because the emotions act out our extra communication system which has been socio-culturally conditioned.

If we don’t allow ourselves to act out these beliefs though our emotional responses, they may remain subconscious. It’s by acting them out that we have a chance to look at and analyze our subconscious programs.

And in order to increase our intelligence, we need to know what belief systems drive our behavior, and if they are (a) rational, and (b) in our best interests because they help us to co-create our life as our mindful construct.

By doing so, we exercise our ability to “validly reason with emotions and to use emotions to enhance thought,” in the words of psychologist John D. Mayer, who was integral in founding the theoretical framework for studying emotional intelligence.

Which means, we learn how to work constructively with all of our emotions, transforming them into powerful tools for personal growth, well-being, and resilience.

Integrating the three perspectives of emotional intelligence

By incorporating the second and third perspectives with the first, we come to a hybrid definition of emotional intelligence:

Emotional intelligence is the ability to constructively work with all of our emotions by: identifying and communicating them (through appropriate expression and exploration); listening to what they are signaling to us about perceived or real threats (or benefits) to our well-being, so that we may examine these perceptions; and becoming more aware of how they reflect our socio-cultural beliefs so that we may consciously choose which beliefs to live by.

Here are more articles that describe other perspectives on emotional intelligence:

Can you think of any other perspectives of emotional intelligence?

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Subscribe to Mindful Construct to learn more about the emotional intelligence, the intelligence of emotions, and the intelligence of being emotional.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

axel g January 29, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Emotional intelligence is a beautiful quality.

Great post!

omnia March 31, 2011 at 5:49 am

when someone feels a negative emotion like anger how do you work with it???????????I think ignoring it is easier
the whole concept of working with emotions is vague in my mind
I donot get it

Rodd August 6, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Omnia,
It is definitely understood for you not to get it because you were not given an instruction manual for your new human reality you were made aware of at birth. ” I think emotional mechanics would have been a well appreciated read”.
We classify the reaction to stimulus as a one worded nut-shell collection of sounds e-mo-shun, when it there are so many factors that are involved in that state of being. In fact it is the part of your human program that supports the link from your conscious mind to your physical reality.

Rodd August 6, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Omnia ll
With that out of the way I continue with this…….

The only way that I’ve found to overcome emotions in general is to absolutely ignore and disregard this reality as it being your reality and somehow create your own,but that’s another can of worms we’ll leave closed for now.
In short, know that your experiences trigger an emotional response,we will choose anger for now. First examine the EXPERIENCE using not your gut but your heart lung equilibrium then look to your intellect and gifted common sense to produce the best outcome to perpetuate wellness and peace in your reality. Good luck.

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