Salovey & Mayer on Emotional Intelligence (1990)

by Melissa Karnaze

In their article from 1990, “Emotional Intelligence,” Professors Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer define emotional intelligence as:

“…the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions (Salovey & Mayer 189).”

This definition shows that emotions can be used to guide logical thinking and goal-oriented actions. That emotions can actually enhance rationality.

Salovey and Mayer conceptualize emotional intelligence

In the article, they also present a diagram that conceptualizes emotional intelligence, showing that it has three main branches:

    1) Appraisal and Expression of Emotion
    2) Regulation of Emotion
    3) Utilization of Emotion

Under the third main branch they list four more categories. Each of these categories encompasses one way that we can utilize our emotions. The four categories, or skills are:

    1) Flexible Planning
    2) Creative Thinking
    3) Redirected Attention
    4) Motivation

They list several studies that show how working with emotions can enhance each of these skills. Because their paper was published in 1990, there have no doubt been several more studies since then to further illustrate this point. And we will continue to see a surge of this type of research as we as a society begin to realize our need for greater emotional intelligence in all of our endeavors.

Salovey and Mayer address the complexity emotional intelligence

“The emotionally intelligent person…attends to emotion in the path toward growth. Emotional intelligence involves self-regulation appreciative of the fact that temporarily hurt feelings or emotional restraint is often necessary in the service of a greater objective (Salovey & Mayer 201).”

Thus, negative or painful emotions are not seen as being inherently flawed or useless, but as a necessary component of personal growth. And philosophically speaking, we may only be able to feel joy and happiness to the extent that we are likewise able to feel pain and sadness.

Salovey and Mayer provide one example of how sometimes feelings need be temporarily hurt in the name of personal growth. They refer to a case where a person helps others in the long-term, which may require self sacrifice and even emotional endurance in the short-term.

In the short-term it may not be pleasant or rewarding for that person to go through the sacrifices or emotional challenges, but the end result of successfully helping another may transmute the negative aspects of the experience into positive ones, or at least transmute the experience as a whole into one of value and personal meaning.

“Thus, emotionally intelligent individuals accurately perceive their emotions and use integrated, sophisticated approaches to regulate them as they proceed toward important goals (Salovey & Mayer 201).”

Emotionally intelligent individuals realize that there is a bigger picture at work, that dwarfs the limited perspective that we all too easily confine ourselves by.

Emotional intelligence means utilizing all emotions intelligently

Nearly twenty years ago, Salovey and Mayer touched on a most important aspect of emotional intelligence: utilizing all emotions, even the painful ones, to realize a greater goal.

According to this perspective where all emotions can be useful and instrumental in personal development and self growth, we need to adopt a mindset of working with, rather than against our emotions.

Those of us who do adopt this mindset may find it awkward, or even lonesome at first, pulling against the mainstream of thinking, where emotions are still viewed as “disorganized interruptions of mental activity, so potentially disruptive that they must be controlled (Salovey & Mayer 185).”

But together, we can learn how to befriend, rather than ostracize our emotional self, no matter how seemingly irrational-at-times that emotional self and all of its emotional baggage may be. And besides, emotions are only irrational to the extent that their underlying belief systems and assumptive networks reflect illogical thought. Sorting through all that baggage is a way to take inventory of all the cognitive processes that are driving our behaviors, and whether or not they are in our best interests.

Emotional intelligence means embarking on the path of self-actualizing

Another most important aspect of the Salovey and Mayer article is that they ask an important question about what emotional intelligence entails:

“People who have developed skills related to emotional intelligence understand and express their own emotions, recognize emotions in others, regulate affect, and use moods and emotions to motivate adaptive behaviors. Is this just another definition of a healthy, self-actualized individual?” (Salovey & Mayer 200)

The beauty of working with our emotions is that we naturally reap the benefits of getting to know ourselves more intimately. When we have a clearer sense of who we are and who we are becoming, we can make wiser choices in life by strengthening our response ability to everything that happens “to” us.

Self discovery is a lifelong process, and it can serve us for our entire lives. Self discovery is the basis for self care, and self care is the foundation for long lasting satisfaction and happiness in life, which are intricately linked to mental, emotional, and physical health.

Want to learn more about how to cultivate emotional intelligence? Sign up for the free e-class, Your Life is Your Construct.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

anwar khurshid April 1, 2012 at 8:06 am

I am student of Ph,d at hazar University, your this site seems to me as very helpful for the students. Thanks for helping in the journy of learning.

Yuti Doshi September 3, 2013 at 9:26 am

Im a MA(psychology) student. Very informative and organised material on this website. I would choose this website first for any of my research work or assignments. The font, the color, everything is just perfect. You feel sorted after going through the whole page. Thanks for the help! :)

Vj June 28, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Excellent article….helps a lot ….I am a Phd student in counseling.

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